Twenty films played in two programs, afternoon & evening, at the one-day Second Annual Science Fiction Short Film Festival in Seattle, February 3, 2007.
It was particularly thrilling for me because one of the filmmakers had based her film on a short story of mine, & I got to sit in the special guests section, yee happy.
The second half of the festival was by far the best, & Danielle Stalling's Haunted Planet was second-to-last up there on the screen. I'd already seen the film a bunch of times & had people over to watch it at home & took it with me to friends' houses. But seeing it on the Cinerama's enormous screen was like seeing it for the first time.
Having been based on my story "Atrocities" from A Silver Thread of Madness I obviously feel a personal investment in this little movie & may not be an entirely impartial judge.
I was prepared to be thrilled even if it had come out mediocre, but it struck me as a beautiful, beautiful film with stunning cinematography & a superior soundscape.
So many of the films at the Festival were frankly amateur, but a few of them were great little films thoroughly professional, & Haunted Planet I was delighted to realize stood among the top two or three.
It's about a woman who can see the ghosts people & animals that died in pain or with unresolved issues. The FX are tremendous, with a special thrill in the diner with the ghosts of eaten chickens & pig.
Our irrational world of wars & environmental degradation is discovered to be the dream of a man in a coma, & our heroine sets out to cross the barrier into that other dimension where the sleeper dreams, to kill him & put an end to the cruelty of creation, & supplant reality with a better dream.
The original short story was such a head-piece I was not certain how Danielle was going to transform it into a visual experience. With well-chosen location sets & some good acting & that startlingly good soundscape she creates a dreamlike & authentic Zen experience that is by no means experimental, but a clear concise story.
Seeing it in a sell-out audience was also tremendous as there are bits of pokerfaced humor that delighted me, but which only in a crowd can one be certain everyone gets. Visit the website www.hauntedplanet.info for more about the film.
Marcos Soriano's Singularity (2006) was the last film shown in the first program of ten. To some degree this is a stripped down simplified twelve-minute version of Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) or any number of Artificial Intelligence Takes Over Planet films & stories, but it's strength is in the acting, & the tale has genuine heart.
An artificial intelligence has evolved on the world wide web due to a collection of search-engine memory caches created by one hacker sitting in the dark twinking with his computers. The new life form is rapidly evolving. When only a few minutes old it begins to communicate with the Creator, even as it absorb's the sum of human knowledge as is accessible on the web.
One man in a wheelchair speaking to a face on a computer screen is minimalist filmmaking, & almost entirely "talky." Yet it is done so well as to be a perfectly well-told story.
The new AI soon comes to the "logical" conclusion that to save the planet as a whole, the destructive human species must be eradicated, & it can be done by unleashing humanity's own weapons on the cities.
There's a marvelous scene in Dark Star (1974) in which an astronaut has a philosophical discussion with an AI bomb whose only purpose in life is to blow up. The bomb is stuck in the bombay doors of the ship, & there are only a very few minutes to talk it into wanting to continue its own life by not exploding. Singularity is the serious version of Dark Star's comic conversation.
Valerie Weiss's Transgressions (2006) begins with a fair-enough story scripted by Isabella Marinov, & plays it out with effective acting, captured by a highly skilled cinematographer.
Set in a dystopia sometimes reminiscent of THX 1138 (1971) with its population numbed by television violence, it's a world where small crimes, like scratching someone's car even by accident, are punishable by death. Enforcement os carried out on the popular Transgressions Television Network's torture & death programming.
It's also a world where women have no rights except to be obedient to the husband. Though minor property damage is punishable by death, spousal abuse appears to be legal, as long as only the wife is abused. But in such an out of balance society, a clever woman just might be able to escape an abuser if she is clever enough.
To some extent the story seemed oh-so-1977, as though it were workshopped in a Consciousness Raising Group of neo-feminist housewives, every single one of them aching for a divorce, & daily fantasizing murder.
But hey, so many films are little more than boys' misogynist fantasies, I suppose it's a good thing to see that kind of gender hatred gets reversed now & then. Takes no genius though.
The larger fault of this film it is that the premise of small accidents & non-crimes punishable by death renders this too much of a political cartoon. It could've been a subtler stronger story.
A similar dystopian device too exaggerated to convince was used in another of the festival's films, Christopher Derrick's F*ck You, Pay Me (2006) in which the debt collecting police arrest debtors within minutes of missing their credit card payments. Of these two dystopians Pay Me is less "slick" on the surface but a better film even so, as it had spirit.
Martin Gauvreau's Agnieska (2006) was an international production from the UK, Spain, & Poland. It seems to have been filmed on damaged filmstock & no two scenes quite match for focus, lighting, or color saturation, so on one level totally amateur. But some of the imagery is so powerful, frightening, & beautiful that even the amateur production values become a kind of style capturing some of the insanity of the situation.
A femme dyke sneaking around town finds a small black box & takes it home. The next morning she sets out into the world, probably up to no good though it's hard to tell if she's a hooker or an eccentric or just going shopping. Her lover sleeps in, dreaming of a hellish world of animal-headed people & a demonic white prince.
The little black box opens & a thorny mass begins to grow out of it, piercing & killing the young woman, then exploding out of the apartment block & growing to enormous size. The woman who found the box sees this cosmic sticker-plant rise into the sky, develop a shining seed-head, then fallilng to the street before her. The glowing seed-head is a doorway into the world of the demonic white prince.
More than any other film in the series, Agnieska continues a very old avant garde attitude & tradition in filmmaking where hints of meaning are more important than simple plots, & a virtue is made out of lack of budget. It's probably the most purely arty of all the films at the festival.
Justin Simms' Face Machine (2006) from Canada concluded the second program. Even more than Transgressions it takes most of its dystopian cues from THX 1138 set in a world where it is illegal to look at faces & the State controls every aspect of the population's lives by controlling their access to oxygen, provided through irremovable masks.
A man & woman fall in love without state permission & though they cannot change the system & cannot be united, they manage through bribery to get one minute in an oxygen chamber with their masks removed.
Although the story doesn't work on the level of logic, it has considerable power on a symbolic level.
William R. Coughlan's Machinations (2006) can be watched on the web if you follow that link. It is a small satire about a robot that almost succeeds at running for public office. It's ultimately only a joke.
Josiah Pitchforth's The Realm (2006) takes a film noir attitude for its hero who specializes in entering Matrix-like virtual realities to bring back gamers who've gone comatose.
The production values & the acting are simply too low for any of it to work above the level of highschool skit. The virtual reality world lacks any content that might contribute to any purported game, so that it really didn't make any sense.
Yet it was possible to see the germ of a better film the director must have had in his mind & never got onto the screen.
Samuel Jorgensen's TV Man (2006) presents the amateur-visuals version of Blade Runner (1982) set in a world saturated 24 hours a day with multiple levels of advertising. Our hero's periods of sleep seem to be becoming increasingly catatonic, as he reshapes figures from commercials into family, friends, & especially a lover.
Yuting Hsueh's Mizar (2006), a US/Taiwan production, comes off as the rough outline to a very bad direct-to-video sci-fi adventure: a little sex, a space ship slammed by planetoids, occasionally almost commercial in its appearance, like a fragment to be used to raise money to make the actual film which this isn't.
I suppose among all these short films Mizar is the one that most represented the commercial down-market as predictable genre pablum. Even though this fragment fails, it's easy to imagine this director making V-film space adventures someday.
The whole film is posted on line, both at You Tube & at Hsueh Yuting's website. So you can judge it for yourself.
A similar failure but with moments of appeal is the story of a woman resurrected as a cyborg girl ninja wuxia assassin setting forth to kill all the bodyguards between her & the man responsible for her death.
This was Erick Pham's Project K.A.T. (2006) & if it had had any content besides the fight sequence it might've been more worthwhile. But as even the fight choreography is amateur & unconvincing, it just doesn't come off all that well, though like Mizar you can easily see the V-film low-market commercial inspiration for the bad try.
Comical fantasies & slapstick sci-fi provided a whole different level of the festival. At least two of these piece were great, Frank Wu's The Tragical Historie of Guidolon the Giant Space Chicken (2006), & Lee Lanier's 13 Ways to Die at Home (2006).
Wu's film is "traditional" animation spoofing Japanese monster movies. The cosmic chicken who became famous for destroying Tokyo early in his acting career is trying for a come-back.
Guidolon has backing for an independent feature, so is making an autobiographical film about what it's like to be a giant avian alien with the soul of Shakespeare who even at the height of his career could only get roles in exploitation monster flicks. This brings him into conflict with his financial backer, who really only wanted a remake of the old monster flick.
It's wittily designed & action-packed & funnier than all hell, co-starring the sexy Triceron, eight-jet-probelled Octoron, & other cool monsters.
Animation fans & rubber-suit Godzilla fans will get the biggest charge out of it, but anyone with a sense of humor will like it. Visit Frank Wu's website & you'll find out more about this & other of Frank Wu's animated works.
Lee Lanier's 13 Ways to Die at Home (2006) starts with an old piece of instructional film footage & begins twinking with it by adding animation animation.
In rapid succession we're treated the thirteen vignettes about how to die at home, including murdered by a symbiotic twin, attacked by carpet leeches, & so on, gag after gag, none of them a dud.
As a film it's cleverly constructed & as a comedy it's genuinely funny. Learn more about this talented filmmaker at Beezle Bug Bit.
Would-be filmmakers without filmmaking talent often try to patch over their bad storytelling abilities & their complete bewilderment about how technically to make a film by trying to at least be funny. They usually discover that suicide is easy, but comedy is hard.
Now in the hands of a Frank Wu who really is funny both the filmmaking & the comedy is real. For all too many, neither one is real, & joshing around does not stop a length of video tape with a comedy sketch on it from being abominably bad.
Two of the worst films at the festival were really just childish skits that didn't need to be filmed. Nevertheless they were crowd-pleasers & one of them got an "audience choice" award without my assistance. This was Phil Guzzo's Maklar, Anyone? (2006) written in a day & filmed in a week, if that.
It's packed with alleged in-jokes right from the title which does not allude to the city in Eastern Europe that the filmmaker probably never heard of, but to the planet Maklar from an episode of South Park, where the word maklar is used by the race of Marklars to mean anything you think it means.
In just under ten minutes Maklar, Anyone? had one good gag which went by very quickly, the "captain's chair." It was otherwise a spoof void of wit, just another in a decades-long line of tiresome spoofs on Star Trek fandom of the sort that might've been acted out live at a trekky convention where it would've been great done as an ephemeral live event between toastmaster & guest of honor speeches.
There were obviously enough trekkies in the audience to vote for this film above any that were actually good, which I don't think says much for trekkies other than they like to see themselves spoofed with affection.
Essentially it's the story of a trekker (refashioned a Star Quester) who by absorbing the pseudo-sciences of the several television series is destined to invent time travel. But only if he survives the present meeting of fellow Questers, in which he will choke on a cocktail weanie & die, unless the beautiful time traveler posing as a Quester gets to him in time with the Heimlich.
It's also about successfully getting laid, as opposed to Conan O'Brien's mistaken comic vision which requires a foolish belief that nurds don't screw nurds. You can watch Maklar, Anyone? at YouTube & you just may like it better than I did; certainly YouTube is the right place for it. You can also see it at the website www.maklaranyone.com.
Even worse was director "Mad Martian's" punningly titled skit The Inedible Bulk (2006) in which a farmer keeps testing hybridized broccoli on his family until he comes up with a broccoli that tastes like chocolate.
While following up on his invention, he accidentally gets locked in the hybridization chamber with a brocoli top & gets turned into Broccoli Man, which is like a regular man with a paper mache helmet shaped like a broccoli.
The director was present dressed in green tie & tails & wearing a green Saint Patty's Day clown wig. So there's no question but that he contributed mightily to the "event." But he sure didn't make a film of any merit. Though once again, an audience that could give a audience-fave award to something as awful as Maklar, Anyone? would probably have awarded the broccoli skit if the trek skit hadn't been there.
Erik Kling's slick cartoon animation Atomic Banana (2006) has a scientist & his monkey fighting over a matter transformation device &a banana. Their equipment is like that seen in Mad Martian's The Inedible Bulk & in sundry film versions of The Fly.
They ultimately get turned into a single entity part chimp, part man, part banana. A good deal of animation skill when into a rather retarded joke, which might be a suitable space-filler on MTV or the Cartoon Network, but only during the retarded joke hour.
There are a few also-rans that were not embarrassing but haven't left enough of an impression for me to comment. And there were a couple shorts so bad they're simply unworthy of comment, & amazing to think the judges who selected the films must've been rejecting stuff even worse.
It was overall a lovely all-day festival event & big kudos go out to the Seattle International Film Festival, the Cinerama Theatre who donated their giant screen, & the Science Fiction Museum & Hall of Fame, all of whom colluded to make it work.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl