Imagining a better world

The Utopia Festival brings sci-fi’s fantastical perspective to Tel Aviv.

Utopia founder Uri Aviv at last year’s festival. (photo credit: REPUBBLICA CONFERENCE/PR)
Utopia founder Uri Aviv at last year’s festival.
This summer in Tel Aviv felt, due to Operation Protective Edge, surreal to many. Each time a rocket was fired from Gaza toward the city, a futuristic and unprecedented machine shot from the ground to the sky and poof! – the threat was contained.
It was no fantasy, but seemed to many an uber-real, post-modern war machine.
Futuristic weapons aside, and with a cease-fire in place, cultural events in Tel Aviv have resumed and life has returned to the status quo. To science-fiction fans, however, the status quo has a different meaning, as utopias and dystopias hold a place in their imaginations.
The Utopia Festival, celebrating science fiction and its place in Israeli society, is taking place in Tel Aviv from September 13 to 20 throughout the city.
Providing a wide range of events for its second annual festival, Utopia aims to address a gap in Israeli culture that has yet to be filled.
Sci-fi festivals take place around the world, with the largest held annually in Catalonia, Spain. The founders of Utopia Tel Aviv aspire to eventually grow the project to an international scale and say that this year they expect around 10,000 participants.
The week-long festival comprises a wide range of films, both Israeli and international, with premieres and special screenings alongside a variety of science, imagination and future-vision events such as conferences, micro-talk sessions, exhibits and performances.
Each event challenges audiences to utilize the platform of science fiction to discuss issues of technology and society, science and ethics, and perspectives on the future; the initiative draws onlookers interested in post-modern reality and fantastical worlds.
“The festival aims to use science fiction to talk about bigger things: ethics, technological innovation, digital media, art and culture,” festival founder and director Uri Aviv tells Metro.
“We are expecting many international visitors. The city of Tel Aviv is going to be flooded with all types of people who have come to participate and think together about science fiction: the creative and innovative, techies and art folk,” Aviv says. “This is a great festival for creative minds.”
The festival is organized by the nonprofit Utopia Association, in collaboration with the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where the films will be screened; the Tel Aviv Municipality, Israeli Film Council and Foreign Ministry have also lent support.
Primarily an international festival of fantastical film, sci-fi, fantasy and horror films will be screened for the public throughout the week. Moreover, the Israeli Feature Film Competition, presented for the first time this year, features five local films by Israeli filmmakers with a passion for science fiction. The films will compete for one spot to screen their film at the Sitges International Fantastic Film festival of Catalonia, one of the largest and most respected in the world.
Along with the locals, international filmmakers are also participating: Films from Spain, France, Japan and Indonesia are all being screened, with Hebrew and English subtitles.
“This is more of a curated festival,” Aviv explains. “We both receive submissions and request screeners in order to make our selection. We sifted through hundreds of films to come up with the renowned choices.”
Aside from the film section, there will be intellectual panels taking place throughout the week to stimulate discussion about science fiction and its ramifications.
These panels include the Idea Bazaar, comprised of micro-talks and open discussions, and the Utopia Futurological Congress, consisting of three panels on tech and science, society and cultural perspectives, under the title of “Hope, Anxiety and Israel.”
An additional panel, called Robots in Human Society, is a mini-symposium to analyze the ramifications of the introduction of robotics into the human environment.
An academic forum, featuring professors from Tel Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, it will explore the idea of robots living alongside humans.
Lior Zalmanson, a PhD candidate at TAU and an organizer of the event, tells Metro that “the discussions will involve not only science, but also humanities and social aspects, especially in terms of robots and the ethical dilemma...
Can we imagine a day that humans aren’t the center of the world, and instead robots are? That is one of the questions,” he says.
“We examine, in the psychological sense, what it would mean for humans to work alongside robots. Imagine having a robot as a colleague or even a boss.”
Tel Aviv makes the perfect location for such a festival, with the hi-tech sector in its prime, Zalmanson explains. As the ideas of robots and science fiction become more real, humans are faced with questions of reality and the future.
“Utopia brands itself as talking about future and showing how science fiction has, in fact, had an effect and become reality. In that sense, the robot conference is part of their initiative to bring in this discussion and make it more relevant,” he says.
The festival has also teamed up with Tel Aviv DLD (Digital-Life-Design) Innovation Week, an international digital network of conferences, founded and co-chaired by entrepreneur and investor Yossi Vardi and media innovator Hubert Burda of Burda Media. The collaboration will showcase talks that emphasize the importance of technology in society, looking at it from ethical, moral and social standpoints.
“Our goal is to create a wider-angle perspective...
not to just enjoy science fiction as we do, but utilize science fiction as a platform for social discourse and political and philosophical discussions.
This is especially relevant in a city like Tel Aviv,” Aviv explains.
For screening and event times, check out