This weekend I went to the Science Fiction Short Film Festival at the Cinerama, sponsored by the Seattle International Film Festival. This was a 5 hour event consisting of two 2-hour sessions and a one hour intermission. Each session consisted of 10 films, so there were 20 films total.
It was enjoyable, though seeing as how this was my first film festival (of any sort), I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations. Synopsis, reviews and spoilers after the jump.
Overall, the festival was good. It had its fair share of humor, diabolical geniuses, monsters from other worlds, strange inventions and something without which no film festival can exist, sophomoric acting. Ooh, they even had a music video. But, for my tastes, there was just not enough science in that grab-bag of fiction.
Some of the films had incredible production values, some touched on sensitive and thought-provoking topics, most had a twist ending of some sort (why are those so prevalent in sci-fi?) and there was a great deal of humor. But let’s not spend too much time painting with such broad brushes and mention a few films that really stuck out.
- The festival opened with Adam, Vampire, a film about “a 1950’s B-Movie star” who ponders marital infidelity with an actress who shares his love of sci-fiction. This film has plenty of that much-aspired-for sophomoric-acting quality I mentioned earlier. I felt as if I was back in high school, watching a production of “How to succeed in business without really trying.” There was not much science and the intermittent scenes of a 1960’s lecturer-style narrator just worked to confuse. Overall, an OK effort.
- The third film of the night was Lucidity, a close-to-my-heart topic of gaining awareness of dreaming. This was a purely emotional tale, almost completely devoid of science. The only leap of imagination the writers took was to suppose that two people could intersect each-others dreams, in essence existing in the same dream. The story was mostly one of love and finding each other. Good execution, not much of a sci-fi story.
- Alpha Worm was the festival’s only animated feature (the music video doesn’t count as animation). While it started out as a humorous story of interstellar war with a twist ending, the film broke the fourth wall with an on-the-fly alteration of the cartoon, complete with the producers arguing amongst themselves about which ending is better. Funny, both on its own and also in making light of other Golden Age sci-fi fare.
- The Nothing Pill is one of those thought-provoking, emotional stories that deals more with humanity, and in this case dealing with the demons from our past, than with actual science. The story is set to the backdrop of an oppressive government, failing galactic exploration, a strange raitioning system and a post-apocalyptic society. Not much of this backstory is actually said at any time, so the audience is left to interpolate these facts from what little the producers wish us to see. In the end, the protagonist finishes a scientific project in the face of a seemingly-arbitrary deadline and escapes to some far away galaxy. To say that I was left confused… is an understatement.
- The only Star Wars-themed film of the festival, Not 2b Toyed With should have been… well, it should have been good. But it just plain sucked, IMO. There was no science and barely any fiction, just a weak story set to the theme “Adventures in babysitting”. Umm, not the movie, just the overall concept of adventures encountered while babysitting. Really weak and unimaginative.
- Monster Job Hunter was, for me at least, the funniest and one of the better-looking films. The basic story is simple and something sure to struck a chord with the audience: a game-obsessed man-boy is forced to put down the controller (for a Nintendo 64, for some reason) and look for a job, lest he wishes to end up in the doghouse/on the couch. The interview ends up being a test-by-fire at killing monsters, something that our hapless protagonist stumbles into following some predestined slip-ups. The film looks great, with both the opening video game and the final monster looking damn good! There’s the much-expected twist ending that manages to satiate the audience thirst for a conclusion and, gasp, an actual explanation of exactly what went on. Great film.
- E:D:E:N was Brad’s (my coworker who brought the festival to my attention) favorite film of the night. In this Italian masterpiece a group of explorers find a life-sustaining planet that can mean survival for humanity, but there is a slight catch: the planet is already inhabited. The audience finds itself at the apex of the debate, smack dab in the middle of a good ol’ fashioned Mexican stand-off: the captain has started the countdown sequence to wipe all life from the planet, while some of the crew is against the eradication of an entire world for humanity’s sake. The argument is whether to cleanse this planet or continue in their search. By the end we are treated to a beautiful zero-gee shoot out and the deployment of the doomsday device on a planet populated by dinosaurs. Yup, dinosaurs. Talk about twist-endings. The movie then fast-forwards 65 million years to today. Wonderful. Apparently, humans wiped out the dinosaurs to populate the planet on which they will later evolve. The lack of science or a sensible story really irked me. Though I do have to say that this is the best-made film of the festival, having the look of a Hollywood-style film. In fact, it seems as though this is your average Hollywood flick: looks good on the surface, but a cursory analysis will quickly show faults with the story and the overall premise.
- The last film of this session is The Recordist, a too-short story of a college student’s encounter with a conspiracy theorist and the subsequent doubts over her very existence. The film and the conspiracy theorist suggest that not only are aliens real, but they are present at and record major events in humanity’s history. As if this isn’t enough, we are then told that the theorist believes the protagonist to be one of these “recorders”, someone who collects information from the five senses and excretes the data in the form of small beads. Even when the protagonist locates one of the “data modules”, we are still not entirely certain that what’s happening is real: the theorist fed the “recorder” some pomegranate, so the seeds of the fruit may have been mistaken for something far more interesting. Power of suggestion is not reserved for the audience. Throughout the film, we are never certain of whether the protagonist is actually an extraterrestrial sent to Earth to document some world-defining moment or if the theorist is one beer short of a six-pack. The final scenes attempt half-heartedly to convince us of the former by placing the Recordist on American Airlines Flight 11, but to me this ending seemed tacked on and added solely for shock value. Overall, the film was well made, but lacked what I would describe as a good sci-fi story.
- The second session opened up with Escape From Robot Island, a version of the Golden Era mad scientist, gorgeous daughter, island of monsters, adventure story that takes itself less seriously than the genre it lampoons. This was the funniest film of the festival and it’s a shame that I don’t have anything else to say about it.
- Operation Fish was the festival’s third and last non-live-action film (the other two being Alpha Worm and the stop-motion animated music video EEE-Funk), this “Nightmare Before Christmas”-esque feature told the tale of a villainous gold-fish thief (who obviously used the cute fishies in a diabolical plan to take over the world) and a time-displacement-gun wielding super agent. The production looked absolutely amazing, reminding the audience that great-looking computer generated films can come from small studios. Dreamworks, beware. Overall, the film was funny, memorable and had a wonderfully executed twist ending.
- The last film of the festival, Forecast, was my absolute favorite.This story of time travel is very well-told, submersing the audience in its world with a few carefully placed set pieces and hand-crafted lines of dialog. The production values seemed to be comparable to those of a TV show (which, while high, is still a step below those of E:D:E:N). I enjoyed this film the most for the simple reason that it was the most science fiction-y of the whole lot. Perhaps the concepts were simple, those of fate, uncertainty over ones life and purpose, the pain of loss, redemption and ultimately love, but they were very well executed and woven together, forming a complete and self-sustaining narrative on par with the classic short stories of Asimov or Bradbury.
That’s all the movies I’ve wanted to rant about, but there are still a few things I feel I should mention:
- The second session was more serious in nature, dealing with questions of life and death, loss and revenge.
- Graw was a curious post-apocalyptic tale of love and Christmas. Short and nothing really special.
- Four Corners was just a weird “story” about a guy stuck in the desert. Booooring.
- The Mourner was pretty good, but unexceptional. This film tried to seem deeper than it really was.
- Avant Petalos Grillados. This collection of black-and-white plot-less shots was filled with mantis-dressed weirdos. Umm. WTF?!
- I Was a Creature From Outer Space was boring as sin. Ooh, look, there’s an alien, but no one gives a rat’s ass. And then the alien swaps minds with a careless scientist. No sci, barely any fi.
Well, that’s about it. In the end, I did enjoy the event and I’m definitely planning on attending next year’s festival.
Oh, and if you’re curious about the name of this post, these were the instructions given by the organizers when they were doing their shpiel (sp?) about turning off cell-phones and not texting.