Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Etheria Film Festival 2013: shorts & Best Friends Forever

I suspect much of what I've got to say about the Etheria Film Festival itself will be a repeat of what I said last year, when they had their first Saturday at the Somerville Theatre courtesy of All Things Horror: That it's a cool event that I hope to see succeed, both because I like science fiction in all its forms and because I'd like there to be more forms.

There can seem to be a weird paradox motivating Etheria, its sister festival Viscera, and the like: That they're important and necessary both to get women a chance to make their marks in a male-dominated field and to create works that are specifically female-oriented. I honestly can't imagine what it must be like to be a woman who loves science fiction, horror, action, superheroes, and the like, and also wants to contribute. They get enough static from certain quarters for loving the underpinnings, and so much of actual product out there is still close enough to the pulp and exploitation ancestry of the genres that one can feel the need to parse what one likes, and the science fiction fanbase can be weirdly conservative. Still, folks persevere.

The festival seemed a bit smaller this year, but that might just be a function of there being no guests this time around. There were apparently a few technical difficulties with the short documentary that started the event ("Beast Wishes: The Fantastic World of Bob & Kathy Burns") that led to it being moved to the micro-theater and starting late, so I wound up plowing through a bit more of my book than I expected before the shorts started. This year, it was just one block rather than the separate sci-fi and fantasy blocks of last year in order to make room for a feature (Best Friends Forever). I like that as a choice; there seemed like much less filling-out and, besides, three hours can be a lot of shorts.

At any rate, not a bad afternoon/evening's worth of sci-fi and fantasy for $15. As is usual with niche festivals like this, I hope that eventually it's more about wanting to see a different perspective than needing to break out to be visible.

Etheria 2013 Short Film Competition

Seen 5 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Etheria Film Festival, digital)

"Warnings from the Bathtub" - Who is going to take Karen Black's place now that she's gone? The world needs an actor with a recognizable name who just keeps working, no matter how small or strange the project is. Granted, she's not the star of this short; she plays a hallucination of the main character's dead mother talking to her from the bathtub where said mother committed suicide. But, honestly, that's not the weirdest thing about Elizabeth Appel's short, in which Deborah Pink plays a woman who has, apparently, given up on men for furniture. It's a weird premise that plays out just as strangely as one might expect, but Pink rolls with it all the way up to the expected "twist" ending.

"The End of the Night" - This one's a nicely-assembled medieval fantasy by French-Canadian Emilie Rosas, and is okay as such things go. It's admittedly not my thing, all grim enmity and characters who are less individual personalities than people who fill Positions With Capital Letters. For me, it was though to work out what makes this particular millieu and group of characters interesting, but that's personal taste and par for the course.

"The Culling" - This one's a futuristic dystopia from Australia, where Kerinne Jenkins posits a teenage boy apprenticed to his doctor father who balks at the titular part of their job. It, too, occasionally feels like a sketch that could use a little filling out, but the story works and the cast is able, and there's a neat but understated bit of suspense at the end.

"Butterflies" - This animated entry is also from Australia, with Isabel Peppard presenting a homeless street artist who is sucked into a soul-killing greeting card factory. It can be a little tough to get past the look of the film - nothing in it is conventionally pretty - but it does a fine job of illustrating the grotesqueness of both the artist's youth and the factory, as well as how that impacts her work. The story's simple, but well-told.

"The Rift" - Maybe the best of the shorts, this one tells the story of a wife and mother who is understandably obsessing over a phenomenon where people vanish into a mysterious light after her daughter and later husband are taken. Belinda McCulloch does a fairly impressive job of establishing her premise without much in the way of exposition or more detail than is necessary, with Samantha Faircloth fairly good in the lead role. It's an easily-relatable allegory for survivors' guilt, but the fantastical elements intrigue enough for the audience to want to see more.

"Render" - A cute enough short by Canadian Surita Parmar. It's got a somewhat amusing idea - self-aware clip-art people in an architectural rendering notice that their arbitrary world doesn't quite add up - but doesn't have more than one or two jokes to squeeze out of it. At least those couple of jokes are kind of amusing.

"The Storymaker" - Funny thing; I remember this being one of the more visually striking entries in the package, but a few days later, pretty much nothing specific from it lingers in my mind. It was another one about an artist being consumed by the corporation, but beyond that... An example, I guess, of how imagery sticks better when hung on a solid framework, and maybe that storytellers telling stories about the obstacles they face getting stories told might want to ease back on the navel-gazing a bit.

"Monster" - Is it just me, or is this short about an apparently post-apocalyptic tribe sarificing a girl to a creature who is Not What They Think the closest thing Jodelle Ferland has ever done to playing a regular, well-adjusted kid/teen? Sure, it's a dark, gloomy world that director Deborah Burns insets her into, but she's downright cheerful! It's a fairly entertaining little movie for that, with the expected double-twist so that nobody gets disappointed.

Best Friends Forever

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Etheria Film Festival, digital)

Brea Grant has thus far had the sort of career that leads to a movie like Best Friends Forever - after a few instances of being the pretty good thing in disappointing productions and not having it lead to bigger and better things, it only makes sense to take matters into one's own hands and make a star vehicle rather than wait for one to come along. To a certain extent, Grant and co-star/co-writer Vera Miao have made another flawed picture, but being at the center rather than in supporting roles allows them to boost it a bit higher than they usually can.

The movie starts off with Los Angeles roommates Harriet (Grant) and Reba (Miao) throwing a party to celebrate Harriet getting into grad school to study library sciences in Austin. Goodbyes will be delayed a bit as Reba accompanies Harriet on a road trip to Texas, but it turns out to be a weird one, as the road seems strangely abandoned, they get carjacked by a trio of hipsters, and there just may be something to the apocalyptic rantings on the radio.

Both Grant and Miao have had writing credits before this (Grant in comics, Miao on a short film), but they are actors first, and they write like it. It's not hard to believe that there are complete, well-thought-out backstories for both characters that they can draw on as actors. And while there are moments when they appear to be hitting specific things fairly hard, the general feeling is of two people whose contrasting personalities complement each other very well. Grant's given herself a character that could fail to ring true because of how deliberately off-kilter she's meant to be, but she's able to rein the tics and selective self-awareness in to the point where Harriet is both deadpan funny and kind of sweet. Miao, meanwhile, is able to play Reba as much more relaxed and natural, although she plays well off Grant and proves capable of carrying both funny and tragic scenes as needed.

Full review at EFC.

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