sophfifest.com on the best of sci-fi-london.com’s film festival shorts for 2022
I’ve been on a little sophfifest.com hiatus so I’m doing a little catch up now. You might notice quite a few blogs released today. Enjoy!! Life took over but now I’m back! Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me and have been reading and subscribing to these blogs. This is really just a hobby for me so I appreciate your support!
So, SciFiLondon came back with a vengeance this year, returning to their normal summer-ish schedule. I didn’t see as many films as I would have liked to have seen this year so I was really grateful that they put their shorts programme online so I could watch everything at least from that programme. I also managed to watch ‘The Innocents’ which I will do a separate post for. Excellent film. Deffo recommend you check it out if you haven’t. I was really stoked to see it is already streaming, so go find it.
This year’s programme was separated into themed groups. In the past I’ve written a brief synopsis and feels post for each film but I decided this year that I would just make special mention to those shorts hich I particularly enjoyed.
So, the first film that I really enjoyed was called Signal Dark. It was directed by Alex Murray and released in 2022. It’s based around a character called Lucas Anderson, whose life has turned upside down when he stumbles across a mysterious email and its reality bending contents. Lucas seems to work as an IT guy in a server room and he opens an email, sees a mysterious transmission which he plays and in almost Alice in Wonderland proportions, he ends up discovering that this weird sound transports him to another time in the future. He obviously gets very spooked by that and tries to not play it again but it seems that he gets transported regardless and finds himself on a beach, confronted by a tentacled monster (which is where the film ends).
I thought overall the visuals for the film were really spectacular. I enjoy shorts that transcend or don’t use any language, so any person from any country can participate. I think that’s what makes this film so accessible. A couple things did bother me about the film though. I think anyone who works in IT would know that you don’t open random email attachments especially when working with servers. That struck me as not being totally realistic lol. I also think more could have been left unsaid in terms of the final monster. I think part of what is so scary in film sometimes is what ISN’T shown to the viewer. In this case, the end monster comes out of the mist and it reveals its face and that was reductive for me. I kinda wish just the tentacles as I think that was spooky enough. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this short.
This film was directed by Max Pearce and debuted this year, 2022. So the premise is that Selene dreams of working on the first space colony. However, she is a ‘naturally’ born human living in a world that favours the genetically engineered. This obviously means she is not super privileged; she lives in a very small apartment with her engineer mother who works in what sounds like a warehouse and has a bionic arm she made herself. On the offset, we learn that her mother has lost her job at the plant and Selene promises to pull them out of the funk they are in by making it to this space colony, which appears to be an impossibility as a ‘natural’ human. The impression given is that the genetically engineered have a significant leg up in life and it is unlikely Selene will be able to compete. There’s also early reference to a friendship Selene has with a rich guy, GM human called Fabrizio. You know the type… Rich guy, rich daddy. Selene and Fabrizio both take the theory test to work on the colony. She performs pretty well and is telling Fabrizio she did the test in 20 or so minutes and is proud of herself, and he smugly tells her he performed it in less time which I thought was really rude and is a precursor to how he will behave later on. That he can’t be happy for his friend tells you everything you need to know about the guy. In the physical element of the test, participants are required to swim a number of lengths within a certain amount of time (I think it’s like five minutes) and he finishes well before because of his modification and she ends up falling short by maybe 1 second. Everyone tells her she should be proud of the results but of course she just narrowly lost out on her dream and a lot was at stake so she can’t really be happy in that moment. She and Fabrizio hang out at his rich person house and she is obviously still upset, but then the his father Rusk comes to talk to them and tell her how impressed he is with her, offering to pull some strings at the space colony to allow her a second chance (turns out he is the magnate who owns it, so you best believe he has the power to make this call). This does not go down well with Fabrizio who completely flips out and he says he doesn’t think she should get the opportunity. Regardless, she ends up being successful in the physical, and both of them are required to do one final test (sorta like a virtual reality zero gravity test where they spin them a number of times and get them to do space scenarios). To help her out, her mother engineers a modification which attaches to Selene’s spine. In the programme, Fabrizio ends up fainting and despite a malfunctioning modification which makes it hard for Selene to move, Selene ends up saving him and the test, and you can see this leaves her feeling sort of vindicated because despite not being modified, she was the one who had to help HIM. The end scene is of Selene and her mother at the colony.
So, there’s obviously a big influence on this film by the film Gattaca, which if you haven’t seen you should watch. I liked how real the film felt in terms of the tech. Obviously it wasn’t a very high budget film but I thought that made it charming. I felt like I did want to get behind Selene and her challenges, which I think is a testament to the great writing of this story. I had a couple issues. Firstly I was really curious to know what happened to Fabrizio, did he make it through. I guess it’s one of those things where it doesn’t really matter if that loop is closed or not at the end, and it’s just as good to imagine what became of him but I was still curious. I was also wondering why there weren’t more people shown competing for a position at the end phase. I thought perhaps that spoke to just how challenging it is to get there but it turns out that the film was shot during the pandemic and restrictions made for siginificant challenges in filming! I think all in all this lended itself to the idea that the programme was extremely challenging so it probably worked out in the director’s favour! I wondered what would have happened if Selene hadn’t been given a pass to try again with the physical. If she hadn’t, Fabrizio would have flaked and she wouldn’t have been there to help him, which I guess would have meant NO ONE would have gotten to the colony!
I did question the credibility of their being friends. In an elitist dystopia like this, I wonder if two people from such different backgrounds COULD be close friends, like they appeared to be. Wouldn’t the disparities get in the way of their friendship? Or maybe I’m judging him too harshly, because Selene’s character resonates more with myself and I couldn’t see myself being friends with someone as privileged. Hmm. Anyways, as you know I like when films give me a lot to reflect on, and I liked that this film made me question my own position in society and what I would do. Overall, really enjoyed this short!
This animated film was directed by Lukas von Berg, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Norman’s wife is laying in hospital dying and in these final moments, he calls for guidance but it’s not exactly what he hoped for. It is suggested that Norman call for religious assistance as she will likely die momentarily. Norman accepts this and is met with a high tech android who speaks very quickly and tells him that he can recite scripture from any religion. The whole process is obviously very exasperating for Norman who tells the android he is Catholic, and in the ensuing chaos, neither of them end up noticing Norman’s wife reach out to him for support and then shortly thereafter, die.
It’s not a super complicated premise but it is incredibly well done. The animation itself is stellar. There’s something so timeless about the style of animation that the creators of this short went for. It looks very hand drawn, which I think lends to that. I think contrary to what you would imagine, a lot of modern animation ends up looking very dated. I think that the more love you put into animation, the more time that is spent meticulously drawing and inking and painting, the more timeless it is… but I am a staunch Miyazaki fan so I guess I would say that. Anyays, there’s something so humorous and tragic about this storyline… that in messing around with technology, we lose out on the human, living experience. I think this message was subtle enough that it didn’t come off as preachy (fnar fnar, religion joke) whereas other stories that focus on this subject matter sometimes do go a little far.. The problem is we have to work with what we have, with means co-existing with technology. Not shunning it.. All in all, a perfect little short.
This film was directed by Soren Bendt, released in 2022. The premise is that a man is on a mission with some comrades but the ship they are in unfortunately crashes and he has to make his way through a mine field. Little is known about the protagonist.. I don’t even remember if he had a name, but he ends up being the sole survivor of the crash. His suit is fast falling apart and he ends up having to steal certain elements for his suit from others who are dead or dying, which is sort of a moral conundrum. He ends up having to fight with his suit to gain control of it, as it comes perilously close to destroying him. Somehow he ends up fooling the suit – whose primary function is to protect him – into defaulting to its secondary objective, i.e. to dismantle these mines. The way that he does so is by basically destroying himself. He steps intentionally onto a mine. And with that, the suit goes off across the land, dismantling the mines.
The contrast between the very beginning of the short where the men are all joyously singing, and then the chaos and aftermath of the crash where you see men strewn this way and that, dead or dying is pretty stark. It’s hard to know in what capacity they are there. Were they prisoners? Were they soldiers? Volunteers? I guess it doesn’t super matter. They are there working for the government in some sort of capacity, but you don’t really know much about them besides their sense of duty. But I really wanted to know where these people were from, what were the mines keeping out, or keeping in? I believe that they were meant to be dismantling mine, which makes me wonder… if the suits were perfectly capable of dismantling the mines by themselves, why did the humans need to be there in the first place? Why bring human beings into a dangerous task that a roboto could do perfectly well? It was also interesting seeing the shift in the man when he realises that there’s no way that he is going to have a happy ending, even after all the struggle to survive, and how he sacrifices himself. Anyways, lots to think about with this one. Beautifully filmed wide, landscape shots. Nice idea. Enjoyed this a lot.
Oh man this film lol. So this was directed by Xiaoli Liu and released 2021. The premise is that three astronauts are stranded in a spaceship with an alien corpse and have to find a way to survive while they wait to get rescued. It’s quite a simple concept. They end up being stranded for quite a long time and they have this conundrem… to eat or not to eat. They’ve been told they have to bring back the corpse for monitoring so the majority of the film is them bickering and it’s really funny/ridiculous. At one point, one of them suggest that they shoot each other to take the temptation off the table and so they don’t ruin the mission, but of course they cannot. They end up agreeing to eat this alien – to their disgust – and all that’s left is a bit of bone that they give to the astronaut when he saves them. They then discover that the alien is essentially a plant. Rejoice!
I don’t have anything really to say about this other than it was very entertaining to watch. Much of the programme was very serious so it was just fun to have a goofy reprise.
This film was directed by Joseph Brett, released in 2021. The premise is that a brother and sister have a reunion picnic at a stone circle in the English countryside. He’s returned from abroad after a failed relationship, and the sister comforts him as they drink and eat. Some time later, the sister has fallen asleep and the brother is looking at the interesting patterns on the stones. It’s sort of like it has mildew or moss in yellows and greens all over it. Soon the pattern appear to move and the brother is entranced by them. The next thing you know, the sister wakes up to find her brother gone. She tries to get everything together to go, probably assuming that he’s left her, and then when she goes to pull the picnic blanket away, the stone is sitting on the blanket and it tears. She looks at it aghast and then looks up and slowly realises what happened. That’s when the film ends.
Omg so spooky. I have chills thinking about that ending. I like that it leaves it open at the end. You don’t know if she ends up being turned to stone too, though it implies she’s about to be turned into stone as well. It doesn’t explain what the stones are, where they came from, if the brother is still alive in there or if he is killed in the process. And it’s all done in this sort of mix of animation and puppetry. I loved that the characters, whilst being British were also Asian ethnicity and you could see little references to both those senses of identity. The little bao buns, the stacked lunchbox. The hot tea in the flask. It’s really unusual to see Asian characters in anything, particularly depicted in this format and it is just really really well done. Also that idea of the stones being the spooky feature is unusual as well. I tried to think of films or TV where I have seen that happen and Medusa came to mind but that was a human/snake turning others into stone. And I thought of Doctor Who with the angels who follow and destroy you… but they were stone angels who devoured others. So, I couldn’t really think of something as unique as this. And lastly I wondered if the brother and sister end up turning others to stone? SPOOKEH!!! I really enjoyed the concept, visuals were amazing. So well done.
This film was directed by Christian Nicolson, released in 2022. The premise is that the main character Stonus finds himself smack in the middle of a group of people embarking on an epic battle when he only came for a free breakfast. The cast is quite sizable for a short film, which is pretty unusual. It’s set in the future, but has a real corny 70s-idea-of-space vibe, like Terry Gilliam meets Star Wars meets New Zealand. Anyways, Stonus realises that the gathering has been called forward to battle, and it is clear that this is a battle they cannot win. There’s a funny moment where this fancy schmancy Spaceman (above picture, right) is talking on his communication device, and tells someone he doesn’t think he’s going to take part on this because it’s not going to end well. Stonus tries to sneak off but then he’s caught and brought back. He offers to blow the battle horn, thinking this will keep him out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, as the action with Stonus is unfolding, a one-eyed ogre is trying to entice a lady ogre. I can’t even describe how ridiculous this side story is and how it looks, but he tries everything to get her attention. In the process, a rock is thrown which lands on Stonus. You’d think that he would be dead but he is actually fine in the end.. and that is genuinely how it is. Oh and the ogre lady ends up getting to ogre man in the end. She clumps him on the head and drags him away lolllll. So weird..
So yeah… goofy as fuck, lighthearted film. It’s definitely got a Monty Python vibe to it and everything looks like it’s been made with paper mache which I enjoy. If I can’t see the vaccum cleaner parts, I don’t wanna know. It was a great contrast to the other shorts in the festival, which as I mentioned before were on the darker or more serious side. This was pure comedy.
This film was directed by Joanny Causse, released in 2021. The premise is that a woman called Leah works for an AI companionship organisation, fielding customer service calls. She appears to have developed feelings for a particular caller and inserts herself manually into what is normally an automative call which uses a complicated system to determine the best path of conversation. She does so without the consent of the caller. She thinks she is hitting it off with the caller but before long he interupts the conversation to ask for client services, and she is forced to switch gears to accept the call, with him not knowing that both are the same person. He tells her he thinks the AI is different and she would never say the things that she has been saying and wants it switched back, that her laugh is annoying and basically is incredibly insulting about Leah. Leah has to just accept it because, you know, she probably shouldn’t have inserted herself into it anyway.
The technology/sci-fi elements of this film are kind of irrelevant because it’s really all about the human connection, which I really enjoyed. She’s absolutely mortified by the caller’s feelings about her, and it feels so uncomfortable to watch, because there are real people behind this tech, and I guess sometimes we forget that. That awkwardness is all too relatable.
This film was directed by Edward J Douglas, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Jody wants a healthy destraction from a bad breakup with a real toxic douche. She signs up for a 10K training course, led by AI. The film doesn’t really explain how the tech is done but the assumption is she has an implant or a contact lens with the tech in it, implied with comparative shots. I like that this isn’t outright explained but shown; because it’s unnecessary to the plot to know how. I assumed it was an implant because Jody doesn’t seem to be able to just take the tech off, and there are points in this short where you think she should or that she might want to.. Anyways, so the AI trainer is a sort of hologram and is very attractive and fit. He motivates her and most of the scenes show him training with her over an unknown passage of time. Before long, it appears she has become unhealthily obsessed with this. At first it’s a fun distraction where she celebrates herself and feels really good about herself, but she then signs up for the next big challenge (a marathon) and she ends up running every day, watching what she is eating, cutting out communication with friends and work. There’s something so insiduous about the way the AI gradually changes as the story progresses; it reads like he is an abusive domestic partner. And of course, she’s the only person who can see him so it’s not like she can get help. Even when people reach out to her, the AI shuts them out and inevitably she chooses to isolate herself. There are points when she wants to give up and she’s like, no, I’ve had enough, I want to stop and he intentionally changes the scenery and intimidates her into thinking she is somewhere she is not, or about to be harmed. The thing is you see this behaviour from the AI when she is tired early on in the film and he makes it seem like zombies are chasing her… and at the time you think ho ho ho that’s funny, and Jody laughs about it, but the way that behaviour escalates is so spooky. She ends up refusing to continue and he stops physically being there in her line of sight. She tries to compete in a marathon without his help, thinking maybe she can do it of her own volition (all the while she can hear him sort of taunting her in her head). She ends up making it to the end. The last scene is where the AI is encouraging her to sign up for an ironman comp, and you never see what she decides to do.
Really liked the concept. It’s a nice spin on this theme of tech sort of taking over our lives, and I like how it starts really innocuous and becomes much more spooky as the story progresses. I kind of assumed that she does end up going to the next stage because by that point she is so addicted to the pain she is in. Very uncomfortable to watch in the best possible way.
This film was directed by Rupert Ratcliffe, released in 2021. The premise is that a man is very lonely. He obviously works for a big organisation and is very well paid. He has been restricted from seeing his child from a previous relationship, and it is apparently the child’s birthday. You can sense the desparation in this man. He vocalises how unfair it is that his ex is preventing him from seeing his child, and is upset that her new partner has a better relationship with the kid than he has. So throughout this film, you see him kind of beating himself up about this. He asks his AI to call this woman mimicing him, because he wants to talk to his child and numerous attempts to contact the ex have been ignored. The AI says it’s against policy but that it might be possible if he upgrades. The man agrees, but decides instead that he cannot take it anymore and decides to hang himself. In the process of doing that, he hears the AI call his ex and she apologises for mistreating him and promises that he can have a relationship with his child. The film ends with the man dead.
Oh man this film is so tragic and really traumatizing because you see him reacting as he realises he has made a terrible mistake that he cannot undo. It made me wonder, hy was it the AI was able to talk his ex into reconciling in this way, where the real human had failed? It seemed like it was well within his power to turn his relationship with his ex around, if he had only held on for a little bit longer. Heartbreaking film. The tech seems secondary to the main focus of the film which is the theme of isolation and mental health but I guess this is a common theme with tech. Over-reliance of tech instead of real human connection is so isolating, and I guess this is the particular outcome of this difficult situation.
This film was directed by Rebekah Fortune, released in 2021. The premise is that a young couple with Down’s syndrome want to adopt an AI baby and are denied one (by a very surprising character/actress… the great Amanda Abbington.. I actually did a squee when I saw her). Presumably the couple have been unable to carry their own birth child or it is common for people in this dystopian future to be unable to carry. Abbington’s character tells them they are not the right calibre of person to look after such a baby because of their disability. Honestly it’s pretty upsetting to hear her turn them down in this prejudicial way, and I fully believed her to be a dick in this role. A rogue android, dressed as a sort of matron, ends up helping them get an AI baby and the end scenes are of the couple running away, pursured by Abbington’s drones.
There’s a lot of questions I had about about why this particular android turned on the overlord. Like was there something wrong with its circuitry? Or does it have the autonomy to choose? On the outside it seemed very animatronic and thoughtless. There wasn’t much to the film, but the idea of being denied something that is a human right because of something out of the couple’s control, something which has no bearing on their abilities to parent, was jarring. I imagine it speaks to a lot of people with disabilities in a very real and present-day sort of way. I’d really like to see more of this particular film because it was so short and want to know they escaped.
This film was directed by Susumu Kimura, released in 2021. The premise of the film is that Chase is an artist and she takes a job to design a poster for an ad campaign which turns out to be total propaganda… Chase is a single parent with two children trying to make ends meet. In the first scene, you see her making lunch for her children and putting two slices of bread and the tiniest squares of cheese in the middle to spread out what seems to be incredibly limited resources. So obviously they are very poor. At first it seems like the norm in this world as everything is dusty and lots of people are without, but then when you see the more affluent classes, you see that is not the case… The world she lives in relies on this software which says your age and status in the world. Everywhere she goes, you can see posters for something called The Mountain. It’s painted in a fantastical way like a mecca for old people and characters in the film talk about their perspective of the place, that it must be like some sort of fun party. In one scene, Chase is on a bus, and it is stopped by police who check everyone’s wrist IDs and end up hauling an older man off, presumably to take him to The Mountain. He protests, saying he had wanted to go to the river. It’s not really clear what these things mean at this point, but obviously there’s something weird going on. Chase has a close relationship with the people in her community, and you can see she has empathy for her older neighbours, who offer to help her. Anyways, so she shows the execs she is freelancing for this poster art she has made for them which is of an older person on the back of someone else with wording on it like devotion or dedication (I can’t remember, but that sentiment). At first they are mocking of it, but then Chase explains the story behind it, that when her grandmother was old, she was carried to The Mountain so her family would not starve and that this sacrifice was a measure of devotion to one’s society. The executives thought that was amusing and she is paid for the work. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that this actually happened, and it shows the true nature of The Mountain. That in this dystopia, older generations are ritualistically sacrificed so that there are more resources to go round for the rest of the population. You never get to see the gruesome end of these older peeps (like in the film Midsommar) but the premises they are taken to near The Mountain are ominous-looking enough that I was certain that it was much like a concentration camp. The end scene is of Chase taking her elderly neighbour to the supposed safety of The River to escape, and Chase’s defiant face as you hear the authorities approaching.
This was one of my top faves from the festival. It’s really well shot and I think this could (and should) be turned into a full feature film. I really think that it has good bones and I want to know more! Like does Chase take on the government? Who is behind this? Why did they take this path in the first place? Does her neighbour survive? What actually happens to people who get taken to The Mountain? The ominous peak of the mountain, the way that it looms in the shots is so spooky, and the film- as do I – yells: Please, please give me more. Excellent film.
- Excellent monologue in ‘The last mechanic’ – not one of my faves but really well acted.
- Bunker: The last fleet – Probably the only film in the festival which featured indigenous peoples. Entertaining. Mad max vibes but better. Super badass characters.
As ever, thanks Sci-Fi-London.com to bringing so many entertaining and thought-provoking films to my life <3 For more stuffs from SciFiLondon, click here for their website.