February 6, 2006

Sci-fi in Seattle.

Sean Axmaker sends along the following disclaimer with this dispatch from Seattle: "In the interests of full disclosure, let me reveal that I am a member of the Film Advisory Board of the Science Fiction Museum, but I was not a judge nor was I involved in the creation or the presentation of this film festival. I just joined the sold out crowd to see some fine examples of short filmmaking."

SFSFF "I love movies," confessed science fiction author Terry Bisson as he introduced the 7 pm program of the inaugural Science Fiction Short Film Festival, presented by the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and the Seattle International Film Festival on Saturday, February 4, at the Cinerama Theatre in Seattle. "They're like a time machine. They let you know what was going on 10 years ago." There was polite laughter until he got to his point: short films, especially the short science fiction films, are a much more accurate reflection of the contemporary zeitgeist. And while so many tend to fall in to the same narrative gullies as their feature counterparts, the best are usually more adventurous, ambitious, experimental and unique than the Hollywood product.

The program of 20 films on this one-day event bore out his claim. While many of the films lacked polish and a few showed a conceptual laziness, most of them showed no shortage of imagination, from Welcome to Eden, Erin Condy's clever take on theoretical physics and religion via a rocketship tale executed in a creatively eccentric mix of animation styles, to Stephen Plitt's Super-Anon, a mock-umentary on a support group for ego-embattled relatives of superheroes.

With luminary author Greg Bear presenting, the nine-member jury (which included award-winning science fiction novel/short story author and screenwriter Vonda McIntyre and director and visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull) awarded the grand prize to They're Made Out of Meat, directed by Stephen O'Regan, an Irishman based in New York, from a short story by Terry Bisson. It's a single-concept premise with adequate execution but lacking in the imagination others displayed.

Cost of Living My favorite of the fest took home the audience award: Jonathan Joffe's Cost of Living. A minimalist piece with two actors (including X-Files icon William B Davis) in a single room, it's so focused and dramatically honed on issues of life and death made immediate, along with a deal with the corporate devil you can't refuse in order to hold on to life, that you might miss the sophistication of the perfectly integrated special effects, the sharpness of the script, and the acute direction of actors.

A special "Douglas Trumbull Award for Best Special Effects" award went to the inventive David Sanders's Microgravity, another minimalist piece in the claustrophobic environment of a one-person space capsule, this one directed and shot with a Kubrickian precision. Sanders makes the experience tactile, which is what Trumbull always aspired to. And of the many honorable mentions, let me single out the carnivalesque Circus of Infinity, Seattleite Sue Corcoran's portrait of human life as a brief entertainment for a distracted God, and Omri Bar-Levy's Heartbeat, a delightful piece that combines musical performance and animation into a unique take on Genesis with music and rhythm as the seeds of life. And let me give a shout out to Andy Spletzer, the founding film editor of Seattle's alternate weekly, The Stranger, and a longtime friend of mine, for Wireless, a techno-paranoia thriller by way of old school private eye mystery. Douglas Trumbull was impressed enough with Spletzer's work to send him a personal note praising the film.

The festival has some bugs to work out before it returns next year - there was a huddle before every winner was announced, as if they were deciding on the spot - but the projection and presentation of the films themselves was a dream. Both the DV and the 35mm film shorts looked magnificent on the Cinerama screen. Just seeing their film bigger than life while a sold-out audience watched on may well have made every contestant feel like a winner.

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Posted by dwhudson at February 6, 2006 8:48 AM