'Star Trek,' sci-fi fans gather for 'Farpoint' in Timonium

Visitors call convention smaller and more personal

February 20, 2011|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

After working all day in their jobs with the federal government, Ann and John White don't like to come home and watch reality TV. They prefer to get immersed in something they consider more thought-provoking: science fiction.

Over the weekend, the Laurel couple went to Timonium to meet with others who feel the same way at Farpoint 2011, a "fan-based" sci-fi convention at the Crowne Plaza Baltimore North hotel.

"Fifty years from now, they probably aren't going to have a 'Survivor' convention or a 'Jersey Shore' convention," said Ann White. At science fiction gatherings, "it's fun to discuss things with other fans and get different viewpoints."

John White, a computer security engineer, said he and his wife contradict the stereotypes about science fiction fans.

"Trekkies actually get married," he said. "They reproduce. They don't all live in their moms' basements."

The Whites were among nearly 700 people who came to the 18th annual Farpoint convention to meet TV stars, sit in on panel discussions, attend a masquerade ball, and shop for memorabilia from their favorite shows.

One vendor featured "steam punk," clothing that looked as if it came from the Jules Verne era of steam-powered engines, but also had a rebellious, "punk" sensibility. Speakers devoted panel discussions to the pros and cons of 3D movies; navy robotics and a talk about "Vampires: Something to Sink Your Teeth Into."

Unlike some sci-fi conventions that draw thousands of fans, Farpoint, organized by Farpoint Enterprises of Waldorf, is known as a more intimate, three-day event that gives fans a chance to catch up with each other and interact with celebrities.

Many of the participants hung out in the hotel's atrium to trade stories about their favorite movies and TV shows and get autographs from the likes of Bonita Friedericy from "Chuck" and Laurie Holden from "The Walking Dead."

Although Farpoint has its roots in "Star Trek" — its name comes from "Encounter at Farpoint," the first episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" — organizers say it has evolved to encompass "what sci-fi fans are into nowadays."

That includes newer shows such as "Battlestar Galactica," "Buffy," and "The Big Bang Theory," and other genres such as fantasy, horror and nostalgia. It also features new forms of sci-fi entertainment fueled by the growth of the Internet, including fan-zines, Web comics, and fan-produced podcasts and DVDs.

A Washington-based group screened the latest installment of "Starship Farragut," a series of fan-made films for the Internet, set on "a sister ship to the famed USS Enterprise." Another group promoted a 90-minute DVD called "Browncoats Redemption," inspired by the short-lived Fox series, "Firefly."

Rebecca Jarvis, from West Virginia, brought her son Aaron, who won an award at the Masquerade Ball for dressing as the Starship Enterprise.

Mark Gross, a writer for Autograph magazine, said he likes Farpoint because it's not overly crowded. In terms of getting access to celebrities, he said, "this is one of the best shows around."

Alison Hindenlang, a patents examiner who lives in Alexandria, Va., said she came with two friends she met at the larger Dragon*Con convention in Atlanta. She and her friends all wore "Tiaras for Tatas" to promote the Susan G. Komen for the Cure campaign to fight breast cancer. She said one highlight of the day was meeting Friedericy, the actress who plays Gen. Diane Beckman on "Chuck"

Compared with larger conventions, Farpoint offers "more quality time with the people who are here," Hindenlang said. "You get a lot more interaction. It's a great memory to take with you."

The Whites said they like conventions such as Farpoint because they bring sci-fi fans face-to-face with celebrities who don't often appear on TV talk shows.

"Our stars don't usually make it onto Letterman or Leno," John White said. "This gives us a chance to meet them."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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