Friday, November 6, 2009

Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival, Diary #2

The official opening night of the Fantastic Planet film festival on October 30, hosted the world premiere of the Aussie sci-fi dystopia Eraser Children (Nathan Christoffel, 2009). I arrived at Dendy Newtown about half an hour earlier and got a chance to see the pre-screening activities, such as actor Jonathan Welsby interviewing the cast and the crew in his stockings and make up with a gun shaped microphone – possibly for a DVD featurette. The walls were decorated with Misner Corporation posters, and there were promotional badges sitting on one of the tables for us to pick. Around 7 pm, Dean Bertram (PhD) ordered us to go to the theatre in his dystopian policeman attire, shouting “Hail Misner!

Eraser Children is set in a future where a corporation called Misner rules the world. Misner Corporation erases people’s memories to turn them into more effective workers. There is a long list of violations that govern the society, including dreaming and having original thoughts. There are people who refuse to live in these conditions, called the resistance and they live underground as social outcasts. The protagonist, Finnegan Wright (Fionn Quinlan) is a low rank worker in the Misner Corporation who proofreads the violations written by Maximum Blizzard (Jonathan Welsby). One day he is kidnapped by Alfred Fleemort (Shane Nagle) who is part of the resistance movement and who tries to help him regain his memories persuade Wright to kill Misner.

The film, presenting a dystopic future, has obvious references to the masterpieces of the genre such as 1984 and Brazil. During the Q & A, director Christoffel pointed out Brazil as their main influence. So, in terms of the message, it is hard to say Eraser Children is saying anything that hasn’t been said before – a totalitarian regime ruled by a corporation, headed by a man who can associated with Hitler (“Hail Misner”), however, it has a compelling plot, and also details – both visual and narrative – that makes it worthwhile to watch – such as the intercutting advertisements, which give the audience a feel of what it would be like living in Misner’s world. Also, the use of super 8 cameras in dream sequences have led to some visually stunning scenes – and the cinematographer Adrian Kristoffersen deserve some praise for his work not only in those sequences but throughout the entire film.

One of the gems of the Fantastic Planet, for me, was the UK production Strigoi (Faye Jackson, 2008), which was set in Romania and introduced to many of us the title monster that we haven’t come across before. A strigoi is a vampire-like creature in Romanian folklore. They can be either dead people returning from the grave (strigoi morti) or born that way (strigoi vii). In Strigoi, A young man called Vlad, who has been living in Italy, goes back to his village in Romania to find out about a conspiracy of land ownership that involves everyone including the priest, the villagers, the mayor, the rich landowners and the police. There has been some suspicious deaths, and some of the deceased insist on rising from their graves at night to haunt the villagers, suck their blood and, err… eat all the food in their fridges. Young Vlad is resolved to solve the mysteries and fight the undead.

You might think, “just the thing we need, another bloody vampire movie, as if we don’t have enough of those already” but Strigoi brings a refreshing light to this tired old genre. It has a feeling of authenticity to it, being set in Romania and using folk myths specific to that geography. It also has that rare quality of being able to carry a humorous tone all throughout and at the same time being creepy as hell. Imagine one of your deceased neighbours coming to your house at night when you’re alone, and eat all the food in the fridge in grotesque manner and imagine yourself trying to cook more food, because you know when there’s no more food left, she will come and suck your blood! It is kind of funny in a bone chilling way. In that sense Strigoi reminds me of one of my favourite films of all times, Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, Michele Soavi, 1994) and I think anyone who likes that film will like this one too.

Macabresque Diary of Fantastic Planet will continue with reviews of sci-fi shorts and Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf!

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