Saturday was the second annual SF short film festival at the Cinerama. I’d have a hard time saying whether the overall quality of the entries was significantly different from last year. In other words, good stuff!
Here’s quick takes on the films (in order they were shown). I’ve put links where I could find a web page or trailer or the whole movie online. Some have multiple links. Hover over the links to see what they point to.
Fantastic Fortune: computer animated dialog-free story about an asteroid miner who finds a super-rich rock that turns out to be inhabited. Cool whimsical tri-laterally symmetric aliens, and a refreshingly civil first contact.
Spaceball: not sure how this made the cut. A dude in a cheesy space suit, a big rubber ball, and liberal use of mirrored split screen set to music. Nothing really happens.
The Realm: Cyberpunk noir. One of the lowest budget feels of anything in the festival, but I gave it points for intent despite the low quality.
The Inedible Bulk: A broccoli farmer and inventor has an unfortunate interaction with the machine he designed to imbue broccoli with the properties of other more savory comestibles. Think The Fly. Pretty funny in spite of its fizzle of an ending. The maker of this one was there and was so annoying in the post-screening Q&A that my memory of his film has suffered some degradation.
Atomic Banana: Another computer animated offering. Similar MacGuffin to Inedible Bulk in that a gadget causes the principal characters to make a transition from animal to vegetable. This one was more short and sweet than the other, making its joke and getting out while the laughs were still going. Very cute.
Machinations: A malfunctioning garage door opener leads to a startling revelation about a politician. Nice cohesive story with a simple, but resonant SF element.
The Un-Gone: Relatively polished entry from the UK explores the question of what happens if your matter transmitter transmits but fails to dematerialize. Fun dystopic comment on technology. Second prize winner.
F*ck You, Pay Me: Another high-budget dystopia, this one follows around a couple of Debt Enforcement Officers through several different cases highlighting different aspects of our consumer culture. Funny, but dark and just plausible enough to be scary.
Life Signs: Computer animated, but in a style that made me think of those computer animation samplers from the late 1980s. A few chuckles, but not otherwise a contender.
Singularity: A paraplegic gulf war vet accidentally creates an AI (by doing a web search. Whatever.) Better than it sounds. Great example of how a good meaty idea and a smart script can have more impact than a bunch of digital effects.
The Tragical Historie of Guidolon the Giant Space Chicken: Story of a movie monster’s attempt to direct his own biopic. Computer animated with a bright painterly style and an irreverent sense of humor. Beautiful and hilarious. This film maker was at the festival and the movie was clearly a labor of love for him (and his understated cheerful enthusiasm made me like the movie even better). Go watch it.
13 Ways to Die at Home: Very short short with quick title cards describing the 13 menaces (“carpet leech”, “poison toad”, etc.) with the action being clips from old 1950s-style household scenes doctored to include the danger in question. The audio seemed to have been clipped from similar sources and was a little elliptical and hard to follow. Went by too fast, I want to see it a few more times. Huge laughs for this one. Interestingly it got the Trumbull award for best visual effects. Also third place overall.
Project K.A.T.: Try at a big-budget actioner except short and low-budget. It was a little hard to follow the action. Highlights the fact that the only real attraction of this kind of movie is the spectacle. Without the spectacle there’s nothing really there.
Transgressions: Look at a dystopia where the law is focussed on punishing what we would consider minor infractions yet ignores what we would consider more major offenses (murder, spousal abuse, little things like that). Excellent pacing and a wonderful twist ending. Well-deserved recipient of the festival’s grand prize.
Agnieszka: Woman finds a little box, takes it home, and all hell breaks loose. The most beautifully photographed of all the films in the festival. There were a few shots that just took my breath away. The leggy scantily-clad Polish lead actresses didn’t hurt either. Nonsense plot, more of a Lovecraftian creeping dread kind of thing. Not that that’s bad.
Maklar, Anyone?: Audience award winner. Kind of a cross between Galaxy Quest and Terminator with a sprinkling of other homages. Very funny. I liked it better after hearing in the Q&A that it was created in a film shootout so it was written and produced in something like 48 hours.
TV Man: What’s with all the dystopias? TV advertising-dominated world love story. A little confusing. Nice production values.
Mizar: I thought this was a shoo-in for the Trumbull award. First off, it was the only movie in the festival shot in a wide enough aspect ratio to use most of the Cinerama’s huge screen, and even projected at that size (and viewing it from the 7th row!) it looked better than some big hollywood pictures. Very pretty visuals. Last year’s Trumbull went to a film that did a decent job depicting zero-gee, and that might point to why this one was overlooked since it had magical gravity generators on its space ship. It also had a nonsensical plot and stilted acting. Lovely to look at, though.
Haunted Planet: Talky story about a woman who sees dead people (and animals) and her theory that it’s all a dream. Great production values, nice effects and a decent script, but the dream thing seemed like something that would sound better in the dorm room after a couple tokes than it did on the screen.
Face Machine: Weird title. Set in a world where the atmosphere is unbreathable so everyone wears full face oxygen masks and images of the human face have been outlawed. Story follows a couple who fight the system for love. Not bad, but needed something to get me emotionally involved enough to appreciate it. Not sure what. Maybe a snack, cause I was pretty much worn out by this point in the festival. Speaking of which, there was no explanation of how people ate with their permanent masks.
As with last year’s lineup I found something to appreciate in every single film. And that made me a little bummed for the film makers who didn’t win one of the five awards the festival gives. A number of excellent films didn’t get any recognition at all. Except for being chosen for the festival which I guess is something. Still, it disappoints me to see so much great stuff get brushed aside when it comes time to give the awards.
The festival also makes me really curious about the economics of short films. Does anyone make any money off a short film? If so, how? You don’t seem to be able to buy them. Is there a market on some cable channel somewhere? As with last year, I’d love to be able to buy a DVD of all the films. Only a couple of the films are available online. Are they just portfolio pieces? If so, why aren’t they all online? Color me confused.