Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 1 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 1-10.


A MODERN MAGICIAN

This story, directed by Mark Heller, focuses on Jim, a quaint, nerdy kid who has obviously been bullied for much of his life. He takes a shining to a fellow schoolkid called Helen and it seems like he continues this crush or obsession into adulthood. He’s determined that he is different to others and that he has some sort of paranormal ability but it’s not totally clear if that’s the case. His main focus upon realising this is to exert as much power and influence of himself onto animals, in the form of killing them and he soon moves to larger targets. Or does he? I really found this short very uncomfortable, and I know this was the intention… even the narrator was saying how pathetic the protagonist was, but I think that creating this sort of character can be quite harmful because it seemed like Jim actually had quite severe and destructive mental health problems, even if his abilities were true. The abusive, stalker nature of his relationship to Helen as well… As someone who has been the subject and focus of unwanted attention, I didn’t really enjoy this unfortunately.

ADAM& EVE MK II

This very short story, directed by Sebastian Kuder, follows an android called Adam. He has just woken up from a human brain data transfer and is alone. He ventures around the ship that he is on, only to realise he is far from earth or any other planet. Even though there was no dialogue, it was quite an emotional thing to see Adam reach out and touch the window whilst he looked at far away planets. That sense of isolation really came through, and the emotion felt very human. But he realises he is not alone, for he has Eve. I thought that the colour schemes was a bit gendered which to me is quite basic, like it needn’t have been that way, i.e. Adam was blue and orange, Eve pink and purple. That idea of gendered colours doesn’t seem very futuristic. That said, the CGI was top notch, I liked the ethereal soundtrack and the symmetry of the shots was really good. Would be interested to see this as a feature. It’s so short that I had a lot of questions that went unanswered like who, what, how, when and where!

APPYNESS

This short, directed by Ryan Turner and story by Kathleen Roosa, follows protagonist Cassie who is applying for a job at a friend’s company and is using an experimental implant called APPY BETA (“Control your emotions, control your destiny!”) to control her emotions. Cassie has a Stepford Wives look to her, and in fact embodies the same desire for perfection. The film has pleasing colour tones, this blueish hue. I thought that it was acted in an over-the-top, forced Americanised way but I think this added to it. I really liked the ending, where the app glitches and Cassie is stuck in this DC Comics, Joker-esque, laughing gas mode. It’s for quite uncomfortable watching but in a really excellent, intense way. The smarmy Michael Buble-type music to end it on was a super nice touch as well. Good job, would watch again. I think it’s perfect as a short though. Nice and punchy.

BROTHER

This short, directed by Tulsi Shivaanand, follows two Chinese brothers living in what looks like London. The narrator at the top of the short film talks of an entity called Baku who dwells between the waking and the dream world and says to take this charm if you have a nightmare, use it to call the Baku but don’t call too much or you will invite the cold into the waking world. One of the brothers is having severe nightmares so, of course, calls on Baku to spare him these terrors which brings the cold… I thought this story was so original. I’m personally really interested in peoples dreams (message me your weird dreams, I love them). I just recently read ‘The word for world is forest’ by Ursula Le Guin with SOPHFIFEST’s THE READERS club, which was all about an indigenous people who believe the dream world and waking world are one. Check it out, dream-lovers. Anyway, I digress, check that book out. But also check out this short. I hope this gets made into the larger film. The concept is very cool and there’s scope for expanding this world. It would be cool to see what he is seeing in his dreams and explore this topic more because it could be a really spooky sci-fi/horror/thriller.

BUGS & NIXON

This short, directed by Jackson Lowen, follows two agents who are trying to trick a psychic into thinking they mean him no harm, dressed up as, you guessed it, Bugs & Nixon! The childlike look of the film is offset by the darkness of the film, i.e. their intent to murder this unusual child. I really enjoy the look of the Psychic, James, as I enjoy DIY films that look like they’re made with bit of vacuum cleaners and stuff like that though this is extremely budget. It’s obviously just a storage container filled with balloons and red paint and fake blood, and the acting is quite corny but it’s an enjoyable watch!

CEPHALOPOD

Directed by Lewis Peake, this short film follows the story of an experiment at N-CORP. It features someone called subject V22 who must complete tests using a special ability bestowed upon him through genetic/cyber enhancements. It appears he is doing so without consent and has to be ‘disciplined’ to take part, before he revolts and destroys the voice in the tannoy. It has the same grimey, handmade feel as an episode of Robot-Wars and I really liked it. Good stuff.

CIRCLE OF STONE

Directed by Mark Andrews, this short follows the case of missing girl, Maddy, in a rural town somewhere in the United States who reappears some 60 years after she went missing. She is found by a cop and they both find themselves in the middle of a strange, supernatural world of beings that look like black and white deer gods with swords called The Golden Ones. More cops are called out to the woods when the aforementioned cop is attacked but the strange beings pick them off one by one. The only survivor, Parker, wakes to find himself NOT IN KANSAS ANY MO’. Excellent choreographed sword fight scene and whooshing sound effects. Even though it’s set in the daytime, it’s no less gruesome. Could be spookier though. Props looked realistic and gross. Acting was a little corny but would be cool to see where this film goes because it could be a cool Sci-Fi/Horror feature with a bigger budget. Nice twist at the end.

CLEAR GOLD

Directed by James Copplestone Farmer, this Qatarian (yay!) short film follows the story of a dystopian water shortage and an astronaut who is on a mission on the moon to find a solution to this. The CGI is so good between the tech, the space suit and the landscape of the moon… The protagonist explains the dire situation humans are in and the wars that came out of this problem, as well as logging his findings as time is running out. It looks very futuristic and seems topical right now following the the SOFIA observation findings of the moon which shows us that the moon DOES have a viable water source (not just in shadowed craters but also on the surface where they had expected water to evaporate). I like that the short is exploring a real, human problem and condemns humanity’s failings: poverty, war, neglect, fucking up the planet and inequality, and it asks one important question: “Why do you deserve it?” Really excellent and important work. Well done to those who made this happen.

DEUS OTIOSUS

Directed by Mat Brady, this short translates to The Idle God, follows a pregnant hunter who has recently lost her husband. She is tracking a reclusive self proclaimed “gardener” who the others think has magical powers. The people need his help to get rid of a blight. Her journey leads her to a mystical small pyramid with ‘dangerous technology’ and she makes a discovery that will change her flat-earth world forever!! Costumes are excellent and I enjoyed the characters/script. It has Willow, Maid Marion and Lord of the Rings vibes to me and it was refreshing to see strong female and POC characters (mainly the lead protagonist)! I have so many questions that will go unanswered but mainly, what is the technology?! Is that what happened to us after things fell apart?! What happens when you put the headpiece on?! Nice short!

DOPPELBANGER

Directed by Sofian Khan, this black & white futuristic short starts with a human man having sex with a sex robot(?) which malfunctions during intercourse. His George II unit comes home from his human job and recharges after a long day working in real George’s job. George attempts to investigate what has gone wrong by contacting the owner of the serial who agrees to help him and they have a nice interaction. George II reports George to the cops after a perceived illegal action and a fight ensues. Excellent! The programmer is a woman (woohoo!) The look of the short is one of the most polished shorts of the festival so far that I’ve seen, the CGI/visual effects for the short are really well done, as well as the use of light/colour for emphasis. This HAS to be made into a movie!! Like who is George, where did the girl take the robot, what happens to her?! So many questions! Please make this into a feature because I want to know more about this world!

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are only available to watch until the end of today (Sunday) but please do seek them out. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Cosmic Candy [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“You must not do the things I do…”


Cosmic Candy almost didn’t happen due to budget constraints but I’m so glad it did. This film – a first time feature film for director Rinio Dragasaki – follows protagonist Anna. She works in a supermarket which stocks a product called ‘Cosmic Candy’ which is “a potent version of Space Dust/Pop Rocks that sends its user into a dreamlike, hallucinogenic state”. In real life, Anna’s world is drab and seems to be orderly which is illustrated beautifully through the almost militarily organised shelves at the shop and the shelves in her home, but behind the curtain Anna is spiralling. She cannot function in real life without some sort of drug.

One day her whole world is turned upside down by a young girl called Persa who has been abandoned by her father. He has supposedly told her he will be back for her. Anna is faced with caring for this child who pulls her more and more to reality and brings to the light her idiosyncrasies.

I really liked Anna’s character. She was a pretty complicated, dysfunctional person who just wasn’t capable of dealing with normality and had this childlike personality. You could imagine that she was a teenager and not a 30-something year old but she is also capable of change, and that’s what is so refreshing about her character. I noticed that as the film progressed you see that the shelves and the tidiness around Anna gets more chaotic as she unravels, and I really liked that device.

The visuals for this film are really really good. It’s trippy and vibrant and shows you the inner workings of Anna’s mind while she is on Cosmic Candy. However, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. There’s this repeated paranoia element within the trippyness, which if you have taken drugs and had a bad trip you will probably recognise. There are multiple moments in the film where Anna is at the centre of a larger audience’s ridicule, i.e. pointing, laughing and so on, but it seems like it’s probably all in her mind. It’s definitely the stuff that nightmares are made of, and seems to stem from this thing of wanting to be accepted when in reality she is kind of a loner (though some of that may be of her own choosing).

I liked the inclusion of (I think???) Debussy’s music through these weird celestial keyboard sounds which perfectly matches the trippy vibe of the movie. I also enjoyed the mix of ethereal, theramin sounds, and then also the very quaint, fun pop and electro songs, like the one about french toast, or computer song with its lyrics “I program my feelings away”. Computer humour snarf! 🙂 I see what you did there!!!

I noticed what might be an Easter Egg but I wasn’t able to ask the Director this. There is one scene where Anna is at her home. This is after she starts to spiral. I noticed a spinning tractricoid toy, like the ones in the film Inception. In Inception, the device is used so that protagonists can determine whether they are in reality or if they are in a dream (within a dream within a dream). If the toy doesn’t fall like gravity dictates, they know they are in a dream state and indeed in Cosmic Candy, you don’t see it fall, so I felt like that was a device to illustrate the dreamlike state that Anna was in. Its inclusion whether intentional or not made me really second guess if any of it was real as the story progressed. Maybe Anna was in a dream the whole time? Maybe the girl wasn’t real? Maybe the girl… dun dun daaaa WAS HERSELF?!

The film cascades with the ending sequence where Persa is due to act in a school play. The play is about Manto Mavrogenous, who was a revolutionary Greek commander and a woman (yeehar!!) so there are definite Feminist messages in the film. For those who don’t know, Manto was part of a secret society called Filiki Eteria which was a movement attempting to overrun the Ottoman empire which massacred the Greeks. I was really psyched to see this featured in the movie for my own personal reasons. My dad is Black (half Trinidadian/half Chinese) but my mum is actually Greek. Her heritage is of the Pontic Greeks who emigrated from the mainland to a mountainous region to the North of what is now Turkey called Pontus. Over many centuries of the Ottoman rule, Greeks were forced to leave Pontus to neighbouring countries for safety and things came to a head in the first world war where Pontic Greeks were taken from Pontus and ritually massacred or forced to take part in something called a ‘Death March’, which is where you are made to walk to concentration camps and those who have died along the way are left. My own great grandmother and grandmother (and her siblings) were actually caught in the middle of this but managed to escape from what would have been certain death, apparently into a forest and from there into mainland Greece (and similarly my great grandfather and grandfather escaped eastward to Georgia). So the strength that they sing of about the fierceness of Greek women in this story is something that I feel very strongly in my own family history, and Anna definitely channels that strength for herself. Brava! Anyways, I digress.

So all in all, I really enjoyed this film. I wasn’t sure at first what made it sci fi but then any world which would legalise hallucinogenics must be an alternate reality (lol). It’s such a compelling story, with this underlying unease like something is very wrong and the visuals blew my MIND. Check it out!

You can watch Cosmic Candy here, but you will need to buy a film or festival pass.

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / /