Above: Still from All the Time in the World, directed by Gavin Fox and Jason Fox
Part social commentary, part daydream, science fiction has always been a compelling genre. Rather than predicting the future, science fiction works reflect their time’s hopes and fears. This year marked the 10th Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival (SFFSFF), an annual event presented by the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Over the years, the festival has brought together several short films in the science fiction and fantasy genres, representing both international and local work. Some of the films featured at the festival have gone on to international film festivals and garnered multiple awards.
Often devoted to exploring a single concept or idea, short films rely on visual cues and well-crafted dialogue to create a world in which the audience can immerse themselves. The limited scope of a short film makes it a medium that lends itself particularly well to science fiction. Technology has reduced production costs, and more recent offerings rival feature-length films in quality. In addition, the popularity of crowdfunding and social media have connected directors more directly with their audience, allowing otherwise-obscure projects to come to life.
This year’s SFFSFF event, held February 6 – 8 at the Cinerama, featured new and expanded programming, including a live score to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, a midnight screening of horror-oriented shorts and a 10-year retrospective. The retrospective, SFFSFF Encore, highlighted some of the most notable films screened over the last 10 years of the festival.
They’re Made Out of Meat
Based off a short story by Terry Bisson, the main challenge in this film was translating something written purely as dialogue onto a screen. It takes our fascination with discovering other sentient life in the universe and turns it on its head: what happens if they discover us first? Although the entirety of the film is shot in a diner, clever writing and shots leave viewers to fill in the blanks on their own.
13 Ways to Die at Home
At under three minutes, this is a film better watched than described. Computer generated images are superimposed over instructional video footage, creating a surreal juxtaposition of past and present.
Time travel was a motif frequently revisited among the films shown during the retrospective, and each of them with its own take. In Hirsute, a scientist meets a future version of himself that has traveled back in time to meet him — and he realizes that he doesn’t like his future self very much. The film’s bright, clean aesthetic is a subtle contrast to how it addresses deeper themes such as self-acceptance and how our experiences and failures shape our identities.
This short film takes the concept of “corporate downsizing” to an entirely new level. The narrator’s dry wit and the slick animation keep this film lively, despite being set in the recognizably bland interior of an office building. Despite the humorous treatment of the subject, it speaks quite directly to fears about job security and what makes a human life valuable in an increasingly corporate world.
All the Time in the World
A man in a room with a broken video player serves as the premise for this time-travel film from the U.K. Clever scripting and filming choices effectively convey humor and the passage of time, and how far you can travel without ever leaving the room.
An astronaut stranded on the surface of a distant planet and contaminated by an alien substance is a familiar sci-fi trope, but Decapoda Shock takes that concept and runs with it. An astronaut finds his body half-transformed into a giant lobster and must deal with the consequences when he returns to Earth. What ensues is a series of increasingly absurd circumstances, tying in various film clichés to create a celebration of the absurd.
If you could go back and change something that didn’t go the way you planned it, would you? That basic question serves as the underpinning for Time Freak, a time-travel film that focuses on what it might look like if we were allowed to obsessively redo every mistake we’ve ever made.
Star Wars, Tron, Star Trek — these are franchises that have shaped science fiction for generations and inspired a feverishly devoted following. The Kirkie is a love letter to science fiction and how it sparks our imaginations and makes us fall in love with galaxies that never existed. It also pokes gentle fun at how fantasy rarely aligns with reality, and why one should be careful not to confuse the two.
The last of the SFFSFF retrospective films to address time travel has a simple enough concept: A college student invents time travel, only for his professor to steal credit for his work. What ensues is an escalating prank war where time travel is used as a means to escalate a rivalry between two brilliant minds, and what can happen when such a powerful technology is used for something so petty.
With a pixelated style that evokes the retro aesthetic of 8-bit video games, RPG OKC is a playful sendup of a pairing as unlikely as its protagonists: Role-playing games and online dating. Relying on text-only dialogue and limited graphics, the film borrows heavily from video game and fantasy tropes while musing on how technology both helps and hinders the ability to reach out— and allows love to blossom in the most unexpected places. Aren’t we all just looking to make a connection?