Fantasia’s showcase of provocative science-fiction shorts returns with nine works from six countries that will stir emotions and juice your imagination.
A series of shorts that could be made into features such as their world-building and stories. You actively want to know what happens next to these characters and what caused them to be in the position they find themselves in when we meet them. Such is the talent on show; every short deserves your attention. We need to see a lot more from each filmmaker and as fast as possible—a wonderful showcase.
Mark II – Director Brent Howard – USA, 8mins
After finding out that a work colleague goes through a high tech self-improvement procedure, Mark (John Ennis) decides to follow suit.
A light entry to kick us off here, but one that still has some very pertinent themes. It feels nowadays that we have grown to dislike ourselves; comparisons are rife with media instigating the idea of how we should be looking and acting. So in this retro-futuristic timeline (where older computers and wonderful floppy discs exist), we see how the pressures get to you. Some people just want to be like someone else, to be different from that they are, even if they have people around them who love and support them. Howard takes us through the looking glass into what is possible and leaves us with a finale that delights.
Freya – Director Camille Hollett-French – Canada, 16 mins
Jade’s life is coached daily by her FREYA – an omnipresent personal assistant whose friendly name stands for “Federally Regulated Enquiry and Yield Assistant”. A system that plies her with information, stats and guidance, it’s also helpful with managing her social media presence. However, a fateful string of events soon has Jade reconsidering much about the ways she’s become conditioned to live.
What causes you to shudder the most during Freya is how possible it all is. We already have all of the apps, websites, and smart hardware to help us with our lives; why couldn’t technology go down the route that Camille Hollett-French’s film does? The cold, almost sinister way in which the system works gets deep within you. When Jade experiences something traumatic for a person, Freya’s cold robotic voice just gives her instructions, and worst of all, it updates her social media accounts with the news. It continues with the advice and reminders like it was nothing.
A crushing film that gets deep under your skin due to the lack of humanity within it; even with some of the humans who are so used to this system in their lives, they appear to have lost themselves—a stark reminder of where we could potentially be in a few decades.
The Girl on the Moon – Director Georgina Jenkins – Australia – 5 mins
In 2069, an aboriginal girl, Luna, lives a lonely existence as the only girl born on the moon. She yearns to visit Earth, which she can only experience through enhanced VR tech.
Utilising a virtual set similar to what we have seen in The Mandalorian, The Girl on the Moon allows for Jenkins film to have a grander scope and gives it the chance to have great use of VR. While the visuals never really merge as you would like, it is more the scene with Luna (Kiva Simon) and her mum (Sandy Greenwood) that stands out as both try to reason with the other. Luna’s mum rightfully fears what might happen physically to Luna if she entered Earth’s atmosphere, but also she is afraid to lose her daughter to the planet. A solid short that takes another step forward with using new technology.
Updated – Director Nivi Pedersen – Greenland – 17 mins
With his wedding day approaching, a man (Ujarneq Fleischer) and his fiancée (Connie Arenas) grow increasingly concerned about whether it would be wise to invite his dementia-stricken mother (Vivi Nielsen). As she’s using implanted assistance equipment, they ponder whether updating its software could help her function through increasingly frightening hallucinations.
Sometimes even the most well-intentioned of technology can go awry, and that is what happens here. We see a man who wants to look after his mother but cannot do so 24/7, so he takes the only route left to him. He can watch what she is up to without having to leave his office desk. But what can he do when her dementia gets progressively worse? Could you remove someone you loves privacy in exchange for keeping them safe? Would you give them a treatment to ease them as much as possible?
A very humanist story that asks all the right questions and leaves us to ponder what we would do in a similar situation with our parents. It is at times quite a difficult film to watch, and that is down to the fantastic acting from Vivi Nielsen, who breaks your heart time and time again. An impressive short that stays with you.
The Offer – Director Sam Shapson – USA – 13 mins
A final weekend between two sisters in the mountains is overwhelmed by the shadow of a mysterious offer being considered.
Proof that sometimes science fiction and genre films, in general, need to have a great script to get to you. Kristen Vaganos and Koko Marshall spellbind as the two sisters trying to reason with one another in Sam Shapsons riveting short. In a film rife with tension and atmosphere, and striking imagery, you are reeled in with the greatest of eases into their discussion. Do you agree and do something on blind faith alone because the person or thing offering it seems better than those you know? This is the question pondered here, and as you listen to both sides, you begin to question what you would do if you had the same offer. A fantastic film that works on so many levels, from a filmmaker who has a track record of producing great films.
Rachels Don’t Run – Director Joanny Causse – USA, France – 15 mins
A customer support rep Leah (Sera Barbieri), monitoring late-night calls at an AI companionship service, impersonates an artificial hostess to speak with a client that she’s developed an affection for.
Another short that utterly devastates you as we watch the lonely Leah take the unwise plunge into conversing with a client. Set in the no so distant future, men have “companions” who they can talk to, Rachels Don’t Run opens with a call from clients that anyone who has worked in customer service will immediately relate to, and we get to see a lighter side to the film. This, however, doesn’t last long as once Leah finds Isaac talking to his companion Rachel the film takes that heart-breaking turn. As Isaac struggles with the loss of his mother, Leah relates and wants to utter hers to him to show a semblance of similarity. Eventually unleashing all of her worries and pains onto him in a cathartic moment.
Causse gives us a story that is simultaneously full of humanity yet also able to rip it away from you just when you need it the most. Which, in truth, could be the perfect symbolism of humankind. It feels like a miracle when we find a partner who gives as much as they take and compliments us perfectly. But, if those traits are not shared in a current or potential relationship, then we get the crushingly brutal finale. Sera Barbieri is astonishing in this short as she takes you on a wild wave of emotions throughout the 15 minutes.
In the beginning of the film, we love and relate to her, but soon we see the loneliness and trepidation eke into her as she listens to Isaac. From here, we focus primarily just on Barbieri’s face as the camera pushes in on her. You become unprepared when she breaks down emotionally but keeps a professional tone to the person on the other end of the call. Frankly, it is an unforgettable performance in an unforgettable short. Perfect.
Silly Human – Director Cory Williamson – USA – 13 mins
An emerging actor’s big break lands when she’s cast on a 1950s sitcom. Her excitement gives way to dread when she realises that her director is a fastidious AI that demands perfection but cannot articulate what it’s looking for in a performance.
From the beginning, Cory Williamson’s short never lets you settle as Linda is rehearsing her lines to the jarring on set rehearsal. You just don’t feel at ease, and that is confounded by the AI director that initially gives the feeling of the director being in a studio village and being distanced from his actors. When the less than helpful direction notes come the actors’ way, your unease grows. Why would actresses who play Martha not last more than two episodes?
The mystery is revealed right before the duo go live on TV, and from then on out, you are wrapped in tension as the two try to give as perfect a performance as possible. Alicia Blasingame and Corey Landis are great here as the two actors. Blasingame comes across as an actor who was left with few options to do the show or thought that by doing the show, it would make her. Landis is a veteran and calm about the whole situation until our director has him repeats his lines. Again, we see the actors tense up yet keep performing. It is the little things that you notice here in their performances. In the end, we have a bleak short film that does so much right.
Standing Woman – Director Tony Hipwell – UK – 15 mins
In the near future, the British government has developed an environmentally friendly program that abolishes prisons. Criminals and undocumented immigrants are chemically transformed into trees and put on public display.
Government based sci-fi’s should be everyone’s jam, and with Standing Woman, we have a thoughtful and disturbing film. What happens to society when the use of such a program begins to become less about the crimes and more about the government wanting the “perfect society”? We see people in various stages of transformation for reasons that they really shouldn’t be. When Tom (Anton Thompson) visits a park, we see how far broken the system has become in quite a disconcerting manner.
Instead of venturing towards asking what people do when they are stuck in this situation, Tony Hipwell’s film doesn’t go for the standard investigation as to why this is happening and how to stop it. So we watch Tom try to come to terms with the decisions that he has made that has caused a catastrophe for his personal life. His struggle to accept that he gave in so easy and is helping the government with his video editing on specific videos. When he has his final on-screen conversation with his wife Mari (Yuriri Naka), your heart crumbles for them. Standing Woman is a very well made short with some great special effects to create believable transformations.
The Recycling Man – Director Carlo Ballauri – Italy – 13 mins
A wheelchair-bound boy Jacob (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), spies on his neighbours from his bedroom window and witnesses a terrible attack, while his mother, Valerie (Virginia Newcomb), tries to help a pregnant neighbour.
Another film that does some exceptional world-building, in fact, all have done so in this showcase. In a fascist police state, the government have made decisions for their citizens to keep everything going smoothly, and for that, there are some horrible decisions to be made by our characters. Ballauri has two stories at once here with Jacob in a Rear Window situation, seeing events out on the street where a possible new friend is; little does he know that there will be more horror coming his way. Meanwhile, Valerie obviously has a secret role within her community and is haunted by it. Or that is what we think anyway; there are little mysteries spread throughout that, when revealed, are genuinely surprising.
With twists that get you and some outstanding production design from Marta Marrone, we are given a film that allows young and old actors to excel. Ballauri juggles the themes and his story very well to provide us with a very confident film. Like most of the movies on this showcase, his is another that has you begging for more of their world. It almost feels unfair that we have these stories and characters for as little time as we do.
For more of our coverage of Fantasia Fest 2021, have a gander below! We will update each day!
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