Sci-Fi: Out There

Sci-Fi: Out There
This year's selection of sci-fi shorts is a bit of a mixed bag, with a preponderance of abstract surrealism and low-concept gimmickry detracting from a trio of clever, moving, gorgeously shot highlights.

First up is, Defoe, brandishing a none-too subtle Planet of the Apes hard-on. An astronaut crash-lands on a planet and is quickly revealed to be a chain-smoking simian. Mr. apestronaut undergoes some sort of psychedelic hallucinatory freak-out and ends up being pursued by blaster-packing locals with elongated heads. There's no dialogue, little closure and less sense to be made of this monkey's briefly amusing trip.

Schizofredric fares a bit better, following a super-slob science writer with about as much motivation as a lobotomized stoner. His girlfriend, fed up with a man who mops up milk with his housecoat and wrings it back into his cereal bowl, gives him notice to shape up or she'll ship out for good. Ordering an Ego Enlightenment program online is his ticket for a quick fix, but it backfires when he's locked out of his reality and forced to watch from above frame while a much better version of himself does everything Fredric's been neglecting. It's goofy, super-low-budget fun with a solid "stop pissing about and just do something" message.

Leave it to the French to up the conceptual ante. Fard is the first seriously impressive short of the bunch. This animated story of an Orwellian society where everyone looks roughly the same and performs their functions for society without complaint is given a shake up by the arrival of a mysterious package that contains a real flashlight, the beam of which revealling the reality under the animation of whatever it touches. It's a fascinating and well-executed concept that could be expanded to feature length.

Landing back in the abstract is Russian entry Vostok Station. A man with a head injury awakens in a mountainous, wintry landscape. He wanders past burning ships in a frozen ocean, thousands of bottles of frozen soda and finally, a fleet of floating, multi-coloured, tubular crystal shard-like things. Think the ending of 2001 without the context or a graphic update.

A stunning one-two punch finale to the program begins with ?E?ANX (The Cave), funded in part by the NFB and BC Native Arts Counsel. Director Helen Haig-Brown utilizes original audio of her great uncle's telling of the story in their native language of Tsilhqot'in as a springboard for this assured visual feast. The relatively simple narrative follows an indigenous bear hunter decked out in modern cowboy gear as he stumbles across a portal to the spirit world. Gorgeous cinematography captures the beautiful landscape and curious encounter with a realm living man is not prepared for, marking Haig-Brown a talent to look out for and the only filmmaker of the bunch obviously ready for major features.

Closing out the sci-fi shorts, the African made Pumzi easily contains the most thoughtful and engaging story. Thirty years after WWIII, water is so scarce that citizens must recycle their sweat and urine and turn the purified liquid over for public rationings. Each citizen is also required to generate kinetic energy on exercise equipment to power the sealed enclave they inhabit and ingest regular dream suppressant pills. The only plant life left is in a Digital Natural History museum, but one woman keeps dreaming of a lush, beautiful tree. A mysterious soil sample containing high water content and a tiny seed encourages her forbidden dreams. Unable to deny her visions, she takes to the dead outside world in search of life. Well constructed and emotionally moving, Pumzi is an effective closer and the second strong signal of a bold new perspective for the genre contained herein.