It’s Revenge of the Nerds at This Israeli Sci-fi Fest

The Icon Festival taking place in Tel Aviv preserves the underdog ethos of science fiction fans.

Dan Ofer

Just after the Utopia science fiction festival closed in Tel Aviv, the Icon Festival for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Role-Playing opened on Sunday. The two festivals split off from each other this year – which means we can now enjoy an additional celebration of fantasy, science fiction and fringe.

Utopia has been trying to open up to the non-geek world as a big festival with mainstream premieres, competitions, judges and foreign guests. In comparison, Icon preserves the ethos of the underdog science fiction fan, who enlists us in fringe acts and even emphasizes it proudly. The festival also calls itself officially the 18th Festival for Geek Culture.

This difference is sharp and clear when you compare the two crowds at the festivals. Icon very much directs itself at young people who are living in a movie, so to speak (fans of “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and all sorts of even more esoteric films), gamers with glazed looks, dreamy bookworms and cosplayers (who dress in the costume of a character from a movie, TV series, comic, Japanese manga comic or computer game).

All of these people will fill the Eshkol Payis center, at 4 Sprinzak Street in Tel Aviv, and demonstrate the wonderful collapse of all these separate fantasy worlds, one into the other. This year, in addition to the traditional costume competition, an official Star Wars category will be added – and Disney Israel will award prizes for the best costumes. A separate lightsaber party will also be held.

A woman wearing a costume at the ICon Festival. Photo by Dan Ofer

This is not a festival aimed at children and teens, and certainly not exclusively so. It’s theme is “secrets.” Previous festivals had themes of identities, discoveries, revolutions, fairy tales, dreams, illusions and gods. One of the highlights this year is the Geffen Award, which has been given annually at the festival since 1999 for the best Hebrew and translated science fiction and fantasy. The idea is to raise the awareness and prominence of the Geffen prize to the level of the international Hugo Awards, one of the two most prestigious annual science fiction prizes, alongside the Nebula Awards.

Festival visitors and readers will choose the Geffen winners in the categories of original short story, original book and translated science fiction, translated fantasy fiction, and translated youth fiction book. The Einat Prize for short stories will also be presented at the festival.

A woman wearing a costume at the ICon Festival. Photo by Dan Ofer

Two well-known foreign authors will be guests of the Icon festival: Nebula Award winner Walter Jon Williams and Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. Both will launch books newly translated into Hebrew at the festival and will speak about their works, as well as leading writing seminars. New Israeli cooperative board games such as “Kings of Israel” and “Once Upon a Time” will also be launched at the festival. A mass community “Quest” game will run all through the festival.

The wide range of lectures and seminars will offer the pleasure of listening to marginal theories while sitting surrounded by trolls, elves, fairies, Vulcans, robots and many others. Nir Lahav, a doctoral student in physics, will speak on the 15th anniversary of the first movie in the “Matrix” series - and will most likely explain that we really are living in the Matrix (Don’t laugh, new theories that the cosmos is really a virtual reality program are moving very, very slowly but surely into serious theoretical scientific discussion.) Translator Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman will expand on the history of secret tales.

Photo by Dan Ofer

The festival is also a film festival in part. If you attended Utopia but missed out on Liv Tyler in "Space Station 76," a funny melodramatic retro film, you can still catch it at Icon. “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" will be shown in 3D and at full volume. A few recent movies that can only be seen in Israel at the festival will also be screened, including the Greek film from 2013 “The Dragonphoenix Chronicles: Indomitable,” and two American films released this year : "Space Trucker Bruce" and "Time Lapse."

The major film attraction will be a pre-premiere showing of "Star Trek Phase 2: The Holiest Thing." A number of short Israeli fantasy films will also be screened, as well as a local documentary about the life and death of the Olamot (Worlds) science fiction conference - and on the urban legends and conspiracy theories surrounding it. It appears the movie claims the conference actually continues to exist in the same Eshkol Payis complex - only in a different dimension. There is also an opening ceremony, whose content is a deep secret, as appropriate for this festival and its theme.

Photo by Dan Ofer