Christopher J. Garcia is a writer, historian, fanzine editor (editor of The Drink Tank and co-editor (with James Bacon) of Journey Planet), and filmmaker from Santa Clara, California. He’s lost 16 Hugos in three categories, but managed to win Best Fanzine in 2011. He’s a Curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. He is also working on a fannish documentary series called 5 Cons.

Shifted Realties – The Story of a Shorts Film Program

by Christopher J. Garcia

For the last 13 years, I’ve been a part of the Cinequest Film Festival‘s Shorts Programming team. Every year, usually starting in June, I’ll watch hundreds of shorts from around the world. Yeah, it’s a lot of viewing, but the films are all 40 minutes or less. In the old days, when we still got our submissions on VHS, nearly half of the films we got had some terrible problem….they looked like hell or the sound popped and creaked. They were entirely amateur, and looked it. As time went by, and DVD replaced VHS, we found our selves getting films that were technically more sound in general. Where once we could instantly discount half the films, now we had more to consider. The explosion in inexpensive digital cameras of quality helped even those with little knowledge make films that looked great. It also meant that we could focus more on story and less on technical issues. Once on-line submissions replaced DVDs, we found something incredible – genre films, and more specifically science fiction films.

We’ve seen three things in recent years. The first being zombie films. These ride the line between horror and science fiction, and there was an explosion of ‘em between 2009 and 2012. You’re still seeing ‘em today, but the numbers have slowed.

What replaced zombies? Time-travel.

And while I was viewing this year, I found so many time-travel films that I thought, for the first time ever, Cinequest had enough fantastic science fiction films to put together an entire program!

So, I put together Shorts Program 5 – Shifted Realities.

The first film I programmed I had seen before I started seriously viewing for the 2014 festival. It was a part of the 2013 Nashville 48 Hour Film Project. It was called Sorry About Tomorrow by Motke Dapp. You can read my review of it here. It’s a wonderful, and richly layered, short time-travel film that I’ve probably watched 40 times and am still finding new bits and pieces that only make me love it more. It really helped me solidify my decision to put together this program and I’m certain it will find an appreciative audience. And it’s less than ten minutes.

After that, I was watching films late one night during a bout of serious insomnia, and came across a fascinating short called Biographer. It’s a Russian film about an agency that goes back in time to change people’s outcomes. It’s a strange film, and at 30 minutes, the longest film in the program, but it’s fascinating and uses every second wisely to establish mood and tone. The acting is superb, as is the direction by Viktor Gorbachev.

Immediately after finding Biographer, I watched Over the Moon, a short from New Zealand that showed who NASA’s astronauts found when they made it to the moon. It was filled with Retro-Sci-Fi frolic and at only five minutes was an easy choice. Shorts have to fight for their inclusion by making the most of every frame, and Over the Moon made it work so incredibly well.

After that, I was finding at least one film each week that would fit in brilliantly with this program. There was the wonderful film Shift, from Australia, which is a high-tech science fiction heist film, which one of my co-viewers loved as much as I did. Often, you see a film you love and you wonder if others will love it as much as you do, and the confirmation really helped me find my resolve. Next, there was the brilliant Australian Zombie film Cargo and that was followed by an excellent narrative-less short called Box which displayed the incredible capabilities of a film technician. After having long-listed A Conversation About Cheating With My Time-Travleing Future Self (which I reviewed here) for last year’s fest, but having to cut it in the last minutes, I resolved that this year we would feature this excellent short.

And yeah, we’ve even got comedy represented. The film #twitterkills was originally on my list, but we moved it to another program of comedies, but we held on to A Stitch in Time (for 9.99), a time-travel comedy that combines SF, workplace romance, and just plain awesomeness. It’s also the World Premiere, which I didn’t know. A lot of tests fight over World Premieres, though my approach has always been that all that matters is how good a film is and not bragging rights… though it’s nice to get ‘em once in a while!

The only fantasy film that we programmed was I’m 23 and There’s a Fucking Monster Under My Bed. Great title, hilarious film! It tells a fun story about a guy fighting a monster with the help of a beautiful blonde he picks up at a bar, and all that in something like 5 minutes! Wonderful film.

The last film I programmed was Goedel Incomplete. I didn’t even get a chance to see it until the last day of selection, and I instantly decided that I needed to see it programmed! It’s a time-travel love story, featuring the 20th century’s greatest thinker, Kurt Goedel, and Serita, a lovely CERN scientist who has difficulties connecting with people in her own time. Serita’s played by the incredible Elizabeth Debicki. She was terrific in The Great Gatsby, and here she’s an absolute shining star. This was exactly the film I needed to round out a program of science fiction marvels.

Almost none of these films are on-line, so the only way to see them is to go to a theatre and watch ‘em, and they’re all in one place, at the Shorts Program 5 – Shifted Realities event in San Jose on March 5th, 13th, and 15 at the Camera 12 theatre. I’ll be there!

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