Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival, Finding Steve McQueen and Their OC Connections

Philip K. Dick (OC Weekly archives)

After stops in New York and Los Angeles, a film festival opening in Santa Ana this weekend is dedicated to the vision and legacy of Philip K. Dick, the science-fiction writer whose works were adapted for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and The Adjustment Bureau, as well as the current Amazon series The Man In the High Castle.

Santa Ana was also the final tour stop for Dick, who suffered a stroke in his home there and took his last breath in the city on March 2, 1982. Blade Runner, which is based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, opened three-and-a-half months later.

A short walk from Dick’s former home is the Ebell Society’s clubhouse, the site of many of the seventh-annual Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival events, including walking tours of historical sites that include the abode.

Kicking things off Friday evening are screenings of winning entries from the first Philip K. Dick Multicultural Dystopian Short Film Challenge, which drew filmmakers from Italy, Canada, Argentina, Colombia, Australia, Switzerland and the U.S., including Orange County.

The locals and their works are: Stefan Allen Buhr, Based on a True Lie (two siblings interact under the influence of social media); Alberto Solorio, Bedlam (a man plagued by visceral fear escapes from the depths of a murky chamber, only to find himself in a house with a mind of its own); and Alex Murphy and Kai Karafotis, Valentine (a young hacker discovers a new program created as a recreational device could change the world for the better).

Entrants were instructed to develop projects that analyze contemporary life in view of themes associated with Dick. Through the influence of the festival’s West Coast partner, Media Arts Santa Ana (MASA), a nonprofit that supports community cultural empowerment through special resources and initiatives, a push was also made to include shorts that speak to the author’s cultural influence on Santa Anans and represent the multicultural stories of traditionally underrepresented sci-fi filmmakers. As a result, 31 percent of the fest’s official entries come from directors or co-directors who are women or minorities.

“Anyone who has ever felt alienated should look up to [Philip K. Dick] because the heroes in his stories were everyday people attempting to retain their dignity in a progressively dehumanized world,” says festival founder and director Daniel Abella. “There is a new freshness entering the genre. Science fiction is based on exploring the ‘other,’ and no one is more qualified than those groups who have been marginalized to tell their story using the tools of sci-fi.”

Friday night’s film-challenge programs are followed by the world premiere of Tony Dean Smith’s Volition, a mind-bending thriller about a clairvoyant who tries to change his fate when he has a vision of his own imminent murder. After an audience Q&A with the movie’s cast and crew, the opening-night party goes off at La Santa Modern Cantina.

The festival shifts Saturday to different Santa Ana venues—Orange County Museum of Art and CFAE (Council for Art Education) Gallery—before returning Sunday to the Ebell Club.

“We are excited to bring the festival to Santa Ana and allow fans to see some great films,” says MASA director Victor Payan. “This will help create discussion about how Santa Ana and Orange County influenced Philip K. Dick’s vision and celebrate one of Santa Ana’s most treasured and influential artists.”

OC Weekly has partnered with the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival to give away 30 pairs of tickets to Sci-Fi Sunday. Go to ocweekly.com/scifigiveaway/ to enter.

The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival at Ebell Club, 625 French St.; La Santa Modern Cantina, 220-B E. Third St.; Orange County Museum of Art, 1661 W. Sunflower Ave.; and CFAE Gallery, Santora Building, 207 N. Broadway, Ste. P, all in Santa Ana. Programs start Fri., 6 p.m.; also Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m. Visit www.masamedia.org or www.thephilipkdickfilmfestival.com for individual program times. Most events are $5-$10; $50 festival passes are $10 off if you use code PKD4EVER! at checkout online.

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Finding Steve McQueen. Photo courtesy Momentum Pictures

Watching Finding Steve McQueen, which opens Friday for a one-week run at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, I overcame the fact that the United California Bank (UCB) at the center of the heist picture looks nothing like the building I was very familiar with in my childhood through late teens.

On March 24, 1972, a burglary crew from Youngstown, Ohio, entered the UCB branch in Laguna Niguel by blowing a hole through the roof, cracked open the steel vault door and popped open safety-deposit boxes before leaving undetected with $9 million in cash, bonds and jewelry. I spent many summer days during my youth in the retail center that included the bank and the closest store to my late aunt and uncle’s fabulous hillside home overlooking the coastline and Dana Point.

I can give Finding Steve McQueen director Mark Steven Johnson a pass for not using the actual shopping-center layout, which would pose problems to shoot and translate for viewers. What I cannot forgive is the movie’s ultra-bright look and tone. We’re talking about what was then the largest bank heist in U.S. history by an outfit supposedly targeting a $30 million slush fund of then-President Richard Nixon, although Tommy Reid sought to dispel the latter notion in his 2014 documentary Superthief.

Finding Steve McQueen’s rom-com and bumbling burglar elements overpower what should be a darker tone along the lines of a Ray Donovan episode or, better yet, McQueen’s own The Getaway.

However, the movie does make me want to check out the UCB heist stories and podcasts of its co-writer, Orange County Register reporter Keith Sharon.

Finding Steve McQueen was directed by Mark Steven Johnson; written by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon; and stars Travis Fimmel, Rachel Taylor and William Fichtner. Opens Fri. at the Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St., Ste. 100, Santa Ana, (714) 285-9422; thefridacinema.org.

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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