Boston Underground Film Festival Sci-Fi Shorts
Sci-fi is a wonderful genre in that it captures multiple genres and puts it all under one hi-tech, steampunk roof. Sci-fi stories are some of the more provocative stories that ask us deep questions about ourselves.
There were four wonderful sci-fi shorts played for the Boston Underground Film Festival. They ask us what it means to be human, how do we relate to each other, and, more broadly, what is our meaning?
Director: Emily Limyun Dean
Now you have a heart like me, you can be human!
The film begins with a little girl reading a story about a princess fighting a sea monster to her android caretaker. The story shifts to a grizzled man awakened by a scientist who requests a transport. The scientist reveals one of the Andromeda androids is emitting extraordinary amounts of empathy. The transport driver scoffs at the idea that androids can be human. What plays out next is a stunning revelation of where we might derive our humanity. This was a beautiful film in every way from the eye-pleasing shots to the swelling orchestral soundtrack, but the story asks so many questions about what makes us human. Is it the relationships? Observing the beauty of the ocean as it cascades upon the rocks? Our ability to forgive? As any good story involving an android does, this film presents those questions up front while also presenting some intriguing undertones.
Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow
Director: Fadi Baki
I get a phone call from the presidential palace, saying Manivelle is now speaking Arabic. Honestly, though, I don’t know if that was my doing or the coffee’s.
Years ago, French President Charles de Gaulle made a surprise trip to Lebanon and presented the people there a gift: A robot man called Manivelle. During an intense political exchange, Manivelle is almost destroyed when coffee is spilled in his system, but a man named Vartan came to repair him. The relationship between machine and mechanic continued all the way through the ’60s and ’70s. As Manivelle would go dance at the latest club or star in the latest film, Vartan was there to help him make sure he heard the sound of applause he so craved. However, just as an action film starring Manivelle and Vartan was set to premiere, the Lebanese Civil War breaks out. Years later, a documentary crew digs into this story and what soiled the relationship between man and machine.
This film runs about 30 minutes and hits you with all cylinders. It’s got the heart, it’s got the humor, it’s got drama, and it holds you until the very end. It’s incredible the way the filmmakers used an albeit educational look at the past turmoil in Lebanon as a backdrop for a heart-breaking story about a tumultuous relationship.
Rust In Peace
Director: Will Welles
Hello? Hello? Connecting. Connecting. No response…Why am I not home?
A rusty robot wakes up in a junkyard far away from home. It makes a long journey through the wilderness and finds his creator, Devin. Devin does not appear to be very pleased to see the robot X-On, but cautiously humors the robot’s conversations and jokes. Does Devin decide to keep the robot around, in spite of working on a newer, leaner model in his shed?
This was an entertaining film that struck me on different levels. On one hand, it made me think of how I tend to be a pack rat and find it hard to separate from old items that have sentimental value. What if the junk I throw away made its way back to me? Could I junk it again? Additionally (and I feel this was more the point of the film), how do we deal with an old ex that comes calling back? It was an intriguing look at the difference between holding on and letting go.
Director: Wil Magness
Reality is a trickster. Blue is only blue when all agree that it is blue. It is the nature of sentience to question.
A young boy is the only survivor left on Earth. Before his father dies, he instructs the family robot Machine to keep the boy James safe. We watch as Machine instructs James using a quasi-biblical text called The Manual. James grows up to become an adult and starts to question everything. He attempts suicide to see if he will be reborn. He tries to exhume the bodies of his dead parents to see if it’s all a lie. All the while, Machine is over his shoulder, instructing him to stay true to The Manual and doubt his own experiences. Will James make it through his crisis of faith?
This short film almost demands multiple re-watches. It is packed with philosophical questions about where do we come from and where are we going. James’s doubt of his purpose is all-too-relatable. The surprise ending completely threw me, and I would love to go back, again and again, knowing what I know now about reality. Plus, Machines insistence on telling James his horoscope reminded me of Andy from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.