(The image above is a still from Swell, one of the standouts of Fantasia’s sci-fi shorts block.)
One thing I love about attending festivals are the shorts programs. They provide tastings of different stories from all sorts of points of view, and Fantasia 2017’s international science fiction showcase block was an eight-course meal that varied in savory, sweet, and a little bitter.
The block starts off with Amo, a which is about a creator of androids. The one he’s currently working on can’t pour milk correctly, but she looks great doing it. A smaller, child android becomes jealous of all the attention the new model gets, and then the film ventures into uncomfortable territory where the child tries to seduce her creator, a 60-something man. He then reprograms her when she demands too much of him. Amo is beautifully shot and acted, but its story left a bad taste in my mouth.
We then venture on to Haley, a high-budget-looking post-apocalyptic tale of a man searching for his daughter. There’s a scene where the lead leaves his backpack unattended for an unknown reason, then threatens the people who find it. With a tighter edit, this one could be promising, but it’s a bit too long.
Haskell is a meditation on growing up with psychic abilities and what happens when you grow far into adulthood with those powers.This one provided more to chew on than your typical sci-fi fodder.
Next, we go to Hum, wherein we travel through different dimensions with the characters to investigate a strange humming noise. They discover a plane of existence that may be the afterlife. The film sports cool visual effects and a well-paced story.
From here, the program gets really interesting. Miriam Goes To Mars is the tale of a woman in a psychiatric ward who enters a contest with a space company to be part of Mars colonization mission. The lead character is played by an actress who holds her own against the meaty role of a woman who hears voices — and tries to convince her little boy that he can go to space if he wishes hard enough. Miriam Goes To Mars is an effective, touching film on some of society’s more fractured souls.
Swell is a mostly manic exercise into the “what-ifs” of technology. Much like Black Mirror, Swell warns of what could happen if we let tech control us. In this case, a couple takes on the moods of the music app that’s accidentally switched to a browse setting. Their feelings are constantly manipulated by the app, but unlike Black Mirror, Swell ends on an optimistic note.
The Last Schnitzel is a strange farce: during Earth’s last days, the Turkish president refuses to evacuate his country into awaiting spaceships until he gets to eat a chicken schnitzel. Problem is, the last chicken went extinct 200 years ago, and it’s up to the president’s assistant to make this megalomaniac’s request happen. That’s if the entire country isn’t annihilated by the United States’ president first. He’ another jerk in power, and has launched missiles headed toward Turkey because he wasn’t invited to a certain dinner. The finale of how the meat for the schnitzel is achieved is funny and much worth the wait.
Finally, the block concludes with The Sleepers, a quiet meditation on four downtrodden women. We see each woman’s past and hear about why they came to the sleep clinic. One escaped an abusive man; another has been depressed for years. One came from the prison system and another can’t cope with life without her spouse. The weighty material is handled deftly with a decidely light hand — effective without venturing toward melodrama, but giving the story real depth. This poignant tale was a great way to close out the program.