Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2014 in short films

My favorite genre picks from this past year.

The most action-packed was a fan film tribute to cyberpunk classic Deus Ex: Human Revolution. One with surprisingly high production values. While it starts out too slick and Hollywood, there are unexpected reversals and some fluid choreography, as well as well-developed tension in the final third.

Courtesy of Machinima Prime.

Fortress, by Dima Fedotof, delivers chilling moments in a conflict that has long since taken on a life of its own.

"The Great Martian War". A music video rather than a short film, but one with good War-of-the-Worlds style imagery, as well as solid visual storytelling.

Imagine discovering that your father murdered history.

Scattered, by Joshua Bergman, is a multi-leveled father - son confrontation over the meaning of the past, as well as growing up. It's also about how old collisions between cultures define our present, and the possibilities of using new technologies to erase the raw material of history in an attempt to save humanity from itself. What would this cost us, and what might it gain us?

I've got mixed feelings about Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl's short, Prospect. On one hand, it feels like a film without an ending. Or at least there's not enough set up for the fade out. On the other, the first ninety percent is a solid story of risk-filled exploration and resource exploitation on the cheap, as experienced by a father - daughter team on the frontier of human space.

Prospect (Short Film) from Shep Films on Vimeo.

Exit Log is an interesting take on the effects of advanced space flight technology on time.

Shades of Akira in this bleak, but intense and well-shot short, set in rural Australia. Yardbird and the previous pair of films capture this year's trend of rising cinematic quality in short films, combined with the ongoing dourness that has been apart of literary science fiction for the past two decades. By Bridle Path Films.

Yardbird from Bridle Path Films on Vimeo.

Antarctica, free of ice. Now home to humanity and questions of love, identity, and organic and synthetic life. Yes, the couple is a little too lovey dovey in their home videos. And as always, the automated house of the future is a shade too cheerful and in-your-face helpful. Thankfully, the underlying conflicts in Similo are more interesting and complex than a dystopian reveal. Rather, this is a story of ongoing adaptations to a changed planet and evolving technologies, and it delivers a hopeful ending. Also, one of the more arresting films in terms of sheer visual beauty. NSFW.

My favorite short from last year was by scientist Xiangjun Shi, who used her illustration skills to depict her love of physics -- the mathematical poetry of our universe. As much as I deeply enjoy science fiction, the genre is often hard pressed to evoke the same level of wonder that the study of the real world's underlying mysteries so often does. Which is probably why some of the most influential genre fiction ties into science and history to produce an impact that pulp can seldom match on its own.

It's also why this year's favorite, Wanderers, is so engaging. The past decade and a half have been a gorgeous period for imagery when it comes to celestial and extraterrestrial photography. Each week seems to bring us new high-resolution photos of other worlds and heavenly bodies. Erik Wernquist transforms some of these images into settings, layers a classic Carl Sagan voice track over them, and fuses all this goodness with stellar CGI. In doing so, he summons up the sense of awe that only exploring our parent star's domain can evoke in a species of once and (hopefully!) future nomads.

Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.