By Charlotte Willis

Sydney's sci-fi lovers are in for a treat.

Starting Friday in Newtown, the second annual Fantastic Planet festival kicks off, showcasing 14 feature films – including 12 Australian premieres – and a total of 40 shorts.

Launched last year by co-directors Dr Dean Bertram and Lisa Mitchell, the festival was spurred by its sister – A Night of Horror – which is rolling into its fifth year.

“We became aware that there was no other festival filling that sci-fi void, so Fantastic Planet came out of our awareness of a need to showcase those films,” said an animated Bertram, who wrote his PhD on the sci-fi genre.

Robert Rodriguez’s highly anticipated film Machete, starring the superb Danny Trejo, is one of the highlights of the festival, as is Finland horror flick Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale…is a dark twist on the Santa legend and is a beautifully shot film that the audience will really love,” Bertram said.

When faced with the exciting role of sourcing and watching the films, Bertram noted “the most important thing is to make sure you’re screening films that are worthy, and what the audience wants to see”.

“I’m a big believer in the story being king, and I like to see something that takes the genre and plays with it, twists it and delivers something previously unseen.”

Among the cutting-edge shorts, one of the categories ‘Realities Strange, Dark and New’ features shorts that embody the rising interest in alternative realities within the film industry.

“This section was born out of the fact that a lot of films are ticking that box this year”, Bertram said.

Of the 14 feature films, several are anticipated to dominate, including Radio Free Albemuth, an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel by Phillip K. Dick (author of Blade Runner and Minority Report), based on his impending state of paranoia following a series of conspiracy theories. It features a solid performance by Alanis Morissette.

“It is a particularly interesting film, combined with the fact that P. K. Dick has such a big fan base within the sci-fi community,” Bertram said.

Matthew Avant's Lunopolis – described by Bertram as an “X-Files meets Blair Witch Project" film – is a ‘mockumentary’, uncovering the biggest moon conspiracy the world has ever known and is also said to be a crowd pleaser.

The cyber-action film Hooked, directed by Pavel Sanaev, is a Russian film about a group of competitive gamers which Bertram has pegged as a ‘stand-out’.

“People can and do come [to the festival] as it’s a place where genre fans can come every night and see the latest horror and sci-fi films," he said.

“A lot of the films won’t go quickly to the big screen. They will do the festival circuit for a long time, so it’s a chance to catch the first glimpse of the newest films.”

Also included in the festival is a forum on genre filmmaking, where the festival’s audience is able to interact with three local producer-director teams who have made features. This will take place at the Metro Screen in Paddington on November 3 at 6.30pm.

Fantastic Planet will be held between Friday, October 29 and November 5.

For the full program, visit the official site.

Machete: starring Danny Trejo

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