The 5 Best Short Sci-Fi Films From Escape Velocity 2017

Friday, 01 September 2017 - 3:10PM
Convention News
Friday, 01 September 2017 - 3:10PM
The 5 Best Short Sci-Fi Films From Escape Velocity 2017
Image credit: Lukas Hassel
When I sat down to see the film blocks at this year's Escape Velocity (hosted by the Museum of Science Fiction for the second year!), I didn't know what I was gonna get. The magic of watching indie short films (as compared to Hollywood feature films) is that they can do anything, including crash and burn.

Let's get one thing straight: the number-one problem with short sci-fi films is their tendency to stuff a 30 or 60-minute story into a 10-minute slot. Telling any story in film is hard enough, but sci-fi adds in an extra stumbling block by introducing the fantastic or the speculative. In the end, the pressure to squeeze and cut and trim causes all kinds of weird and confusing contortions in the way the story is told, meaning that the plot usually breaks before the rest of the film does, leaving audiences bewildered and frustrated, rather than awed or entertained.

With that in mind, these were the films that stood out to me—they were promising enough to outshine their flaws, or they played their cards just right.

Real Artists


Real Artists - Trailer from Charming Stranger Films on Vimeo.



This short film is based on a sci-fi story by Ken Liu, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning sci-fi author. The plot is that Sophia, an aspiring filmmaker and creative, is invited to an interview at Semaphore Studios, a movie production company that's kind of cross between Pixar and Google. It's Sophia's dream job, but as the interview goes on, more and more is revealed about the company, including their in-house AI, Big Semi. Semi is revealed to be the driving force behind the studio, rather than any human director: the AI has cataloged thousands of potential character and plot archetypes, and mixes and matches them into films, which are then shown to test audiences. Semaphore tracks the audiences' emotional responses using biometric scanning, and the success of the movie is judged on how well it elicits the right responses. Finally, Sophia is provided with a choice: join the Studio and help Big Semi, or lose her shot at the big time.

This was one of the strongest films at Escape Velocity, not only because it was beautifully shot or because it worked as a story, but because it explores an interesting sci-fi question: if stories are just formulas, can't imagination be reduced to an equation?

You can check out the website for the film here.

Memoir




Memoir is about a scientist who's trying desperately to relive his last moments with his dying mother. Mixed into the story, however, is a time travel plot, a multi-lingual little girl, a mini-heist, and a dystopian future where an unknown tyrant is able to alter people's minds. Memoir doesn't succeed in presenting a plot that's easy to follow, but the humor and humanity brought by its protagonist, Dr. Theodore Maine, is enough to carry it through the rough parts. Too many sci-fi films try to push the "EMOTION" buttons too quickly, but Theodore feels genuinely human, and his pain and heart come through in the film. The sets, costumes, and special effects work well, and the final scene is simultaneously sad and satisfying.

You can check out the website for the film here.

Haskell



It's hard to say what Haskell  is about, but the bones of an amazing supernatural thriller are in there. The film starts with a young boy in an empty gym with a researcher or scientist, who's testing his ability to predict what card she will pull from a deck. As he does this, he begins to flicker in and out of existence. After his mother pulls him out of the room, saying she doesn't want her son involved in any more experiments, the movie cuts to Haskell as a middle-aged man, being confronted by a friend of his outside of a beautiful villa. It appears that Haskell has lived a life of crime, using his precognitive abilities to rob banks with his partner in crime. Soon, however, it's revealed that Haskell doesn't just see what's next—he's able to change things. This is where the movie moves into more confusing territory, but the central idea, of a haunted man with supernatural abilities trying to make things right, stuck with me.

You can check out the website for the film here.

Embers & Dust




It's interesting to imagine what it must have been like to listen to Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and I think Embers & Dust is probably one of the more vivid depictions of the terror and excitement. To be clear: this is not a short film based on War of the Worlds, this is a film about the radio broadcast Welles did of it on Halloween in 1938, which supposedly caused a mass panic when people couldn't tell if it was real or not. The entire film uses a voiceover from the actual broadcast, creating a running narration as two parents rush off in the middle of the "crisis" to find their lost son, who encounters something in the woods. Throughout the movie, you're wondering if the terrifying things Welles is saying are actually coming true, and that tension between real and fiction makes the whole movie a beautiful little piece of sci-fi cinema.

You can check out the website for the film here.

Into the Dark


Into the Dark - 1 minute trailer from Lukas Hassel on Vimeo.



Into the Dark was my favorite film at Escape Velocity this year, hands down. It's only about 10 minutes, has a cast of one person, and it has one setting: the inside of a steel pod rocketing through space to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. The person in the coffin is a former Lunar Penitentiary prisoner, and this is his execution. The fun (if you want to call it that) is when the prisoner realizes that his pod is actually a "Siamese" model—meaning that there's another person strapped in with him. The two are bolted to two opposite sides of a metal sheet, meaning that they never see each other, but over the course of their last ten minutes alive, there's more raw emotion here than a thousand melodramas.

Everything, from the intense, super-close shots of the main character's face to the surreal angles and creepy filters used to depict the pod's interior, tells you that we are trapped inside a claustrophobic metal coffin with the protagonist, and through artful visuals alone, the film is able to portray a pretty compelling idea of what hell would be like. In the face of that, though, there's humor, rage, terror, and a genuine human connection that joins two anonymous people for a moment in time, before they burn up in Earth's stratosphere. It's compelling, it's visceral, and you have to check it out.

You can check out the website for the film here.

Stay tuned for more coverage from Escape Velocity 2017!
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