Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival
October 5th – 7th, 2012
SIFF Film Center / SIFF Cinema Uptown
Seattle, Washington USA
I have to give a shout-out to the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival, a dogged independent fest that always has a great line-up over a long weekend in October, and totally deserves a bigger audience.
Though I wanted to catch more films, I was only able to see the Sci-Fi Shorts and Horror Shorts screenings. The Animation Shorts, for instance, included Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day, which I was lucky enough to have already seen. His animation is always wonderful, but there is a new maturity to his films where they don’t just make you laugh, but they are profoundly moving. But even though I had to miss a lot of the fest this year, luckily I think I still got to see some of the gems.
The horror films always make me a little nervous. Though I do enjoy horror (zombies, psycho-thrillers, ghost stories, etc.) I’m always a little afraid there will be torture porn thrown in there (my tolerance for this unfortunately flourishing format is about zero). Among the standouts in the horror group were Leyenda (Legend), about a girl on a road trip with her parents. She is reading a horror-fairy tale about wolves, yes, taking off with a little girl’s parents. They stop at a rest stop at night, and there is an odd woman who asks for their help. To summarize, I actually started counting on my hand how many time the little girl pounded one character’s head onto the pavement making a squishy mess (after I started counting, I ended up with over 20 face-smashing poundings). Ew. Another film called Dorothy, had a demented little girl drinking blood from teacups and holding two party clowns hostage until they made her laugh. (The girl was annoying enough that I just sat there waiting for them to off her.) Blue Hole was a fun story about what not to do when you rent a cabin (i.e. read a book of spells). Plush was a crowd-pleaser about a woman’s plush teddy bear that gets, well, a little defensive of his owner when she brings home new boyfriends (this short won the audience award). Velvet Road was a very well-done Southern zombie story, but with a twist: it takes place in the racially charged 1950s. And Foxes had an intriguing start, though the film got stuck and we didn’t get to see the end. Wah!
The sci-fi shorts were a creative variety. I still don’t know if I loved Decapoda Shock, or if it made me just want to pull my hair out. This deadpan production has an astronaut get cut by a crabby beast on a far-away planet, so that when he returns to Earth, he kind of looks like a crustacean in a space suit. It turns out he is the fall guy for a sinister plot, so he seeks revenge. It is a combination of one part hilarity, and a whole lot of “What the hell?” Lost Memories is a beautiful and telling tale about technology and memories, that had impressively sleek production values. The charming Far is a fish (or alien) out of water story, where the strange visitor happens to be a pretty girl with really odd manners on a blind date. It was cute and funny, and had me a little teary at the surprisingly touching ending (aw!).
But my favorite of the bunch was HENRi. In a mere 20 minutes, Eli Sasich accomplished something that very few sci-fi movies have managed to do. It made me cry. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of HENRi. It is a slow and quiet film that takes place on a seemingly abandoned space ship. The film is created with miniatures and puppets, jarringly interspersed with actual humans (including Margot Kidder as an astronaut), that kind of threw off the scale for me. But that said, HENRi slowly warmed on me, with its tale of the conscience of a ship (whose crew has died) becoming self-aware. HENRi (the ship’s voice) builds a himself a robot to roam the ship, and to ponder his fate as the unmanned ship hurtles through space. But there is something human about the robot… Who is HENRi? He ponders a postcard from a tropical beach, then strikes a thinker pose… trying to remember, trying to remember, trying to remember. The ending of this film is lovely and tragically beautiful, and I found myself unabashedly crying through the closing credits. All I’ll say is that Keir Dullea is the other credited actor in the film, which should get any sci-fi fan excited about this sweet and moving gem.