A love of science fiction and fantasy permeated my teenage years, just a kid when Close Encounters of the Third Kind hit the cinemas, couldn’t get in to see Star Wars, but eventually mature enough to enjoy the phenomenon that was ET!
As my interest in real flying saucers began to diminish, my interest in film increased. What better way to really get stuck into the genre than to join an amateur film club. A step up from the video rentals store, although we’d been avid members for a couple of years, and got to taste plenty of obscure movies that the cinema wouldn’t allow us to see. (I recall being turned away from ‘Blue Thunder’ as I was underage, which seems quite ridiculous to me now.)
After spying an ad in the ‘Bristol Evening Post’ for people to join in with amateur film-making, to talk about, watch, and ‘re-create your most famous sci-fi moments’. We couldn’t resist but to go along and sign up to the club called ‘Nemesis’.
At first, what we found appeared to disappoint. There assembled a bunch of people, young and old, that expressed an interest in sci-fi and making movies, but they seemed hell-bent on one aim. We sat to watch the premier of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and it wasn’t until the credits rolled that it dawned on us.
The name of the group should have alerted us sooner. Nemesis, as it turned out, was a Star Trek fan club, something not mentioned in the ad. Members of the public that had gone along to the meeting at the city center hotel, and to sign-up for membership, soon dwindled as the hour-long introductory talk went on.
In the end, all that was left was a ragtag bunch of college students, a family of four looking for a hobby they could all participate in, a post-graduate drama student looking for work, two biker dudes, and us.
We weren’t sure if it was a good idea, as given the choice, we preferred Star Wars to Star Trek, but what the heck, we were looking for a laugh, to socialize with other sci-fi fans, and basically see if we could get some amateur filming done and under our belts.
The Bristol docklands have a long and morbid history. Once, on a school history trip, we sailed along the canal that runs through the length of the city, along winding narrow waterways, under stone bridges, and scenic views of the parks that have now been converted to office blocks and an indoor tennis club, while the captain of our boat (barge) talked about the slave ships.
He recounted tales of how Bristol was the first port of call for unloading slaves from Africa back in 1730, and how the ones trying to escape were drowned in the river and hung up from chains under the bridges, to serve as a warning to others.
“See over there?” He pointed to the rusted chains pinned on the bricks of a short tunnel we traversed. “The river’s full of dead men’s bones!” I remembered his words as we walked along the cobbled streets of the docks, just a stone’s throw away from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, in search of the Star Trek club house.
Eventually we saw it, an old lighthouse ship, permanently moored near a bridge, painted orange-red, with a small broken neon sign fixed above the starboard side of the deck reading ‘The Lightship’. It was now a pub and disco. Not a particularly classy joint, but the frequent of many young people in need of cheap entertainment and even cheaper beer. This is where our ‘film club’ met every weekend.
Over the months we participated in talks about movies, practiced our amateur dramatics – re-creating favourite scenes from various movies, not just the Star Trek franchise. We watched videos relentlessly, and even did readings of Andy McNab’s ‘Bravo Two Zero’. I stopped short of wearing the Deanna Troi outfit and attending the opening of a new local supermarket with Worf - Son of Mogh!
On Saturday nights these loveable Trekkers held ‘Queen’ appreciation discos, and we listened to nothing but ‘Queen’ songs… all night. It was very freaky but great fun. Yes, some members spoke fluent Klingon. Trekkers and Queen seem to have an affinity to one another it seemed.
I have great respect for the fan club, as this group of people were the most kind-hearted, passive, and well-meaning bunch of people I’d ever spent time with. The girls in the group used to carry mix-tapes around with them to listen to Patrick Stewart’s voice (Captain Jean-Luc Picard) whenever they wanted. He recited Hamlet to them weekly, along with the regular Star Trek diatribes. They were in awe of him.
I soon realised what it meant to be a real die-hard fan. I admit it did take a while to understand this strange fascination with the Star Trek Universe. The group eventually disbanded due to some internal misunderstanding between the ‘leader’ and his ‘followers’, after a spoilt evening of trying to organise a cinema trip to see ‘Star Trek: Generations’, and a further disagreement about the latest script written by a member of the club.
Our ragtag bunch got back together for a short while, joining us were a couple of members of the local Doctor Who Fan Club, under the moniker of ‘Penultimate Productions’. Soon work got underway to make a real movie, with real actors, a half-decent script, some great hand-made sets and costumes. An unfinished three minute clip was shown on the UKs Channel Four, Film Four Beginners special competition (1994). We were famous for … about three minutes!