J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ISFF ’09: Shorts

Whether plumbing the inner workings of the mind or unlocking the secrets of the genetic code, scientists are constantly studying how human beings work in hopes of improving humanity’s quality of life. It one of the noble pursuits of science celebrated at the Second Annual Imagine Science Film Festival, which officially opened last night at the Tribeca Cinemas. ISFF programs a wide variety of science documentaries and hard science fiction, as well as softer narrative films about scientists or science related issues. For instance, issues of aging and memory emerged as unifying themes during last night’s slate of short films.

A darkly unsettling tale that steadily builds to its final revelation, the viewing experience of Emma Sullivan’s After Tomorrow would be ruined by explaining just how it fits into the program. A man would like to leave the country house he is staying in, but a mysterious old woman keeps him locked inside. Making matters worse, he feels a pressing need to apologize to his wife, whom his captor seems to be in contact with. As the audience can clearly tell from the disconcerting atmosphere Sullivan effectively creates, all is not what it seems.

Having witnessed the ravages of senility and infirmity on his father, genetic researcher Philip Zephyr is horrified by the aging process in Jonathan Sanden’s Extropy. Driven to save himself and his family from the indignities of age, Zephyr has developed a course of gene therapy targeting telomeres, the DNA segments thought to control the aging process. Of course, Father Time will not wait for him to complete batch after batch of cautious studies, tempting the researcher to use himself as a guinea pig.

The science of Extropy might be speculative, but it is based on actual fact, integrated into the film with great clarity, but not at the expense of the narrative drive. Sanden’s short is an intriguing twist on the cautionary tale of science’s godlike ambitions, but his protagonist is far from a Dr. Frankenstein. Indeed, Zephyr’s field of research is evidently very real and quite promising.

Cinematographer Chris Lytwyn’s slick, glossy lensing nicely suits the austerity of Extropy’s ultramodern laboratory settings. Sanden briskly covers quite a bit of scientific and sociological speculation in a mere sixteen minutes, while lead actor Gregory Waller keeps the audience grounded in the film’s human element.

The highlights of ISFF’s kickoff program of shorts, certainly including After Tomorrow and Extropy, effectively connect issues of science with individual human drama. It is an ambitious guiding aesthetic for a film festival. ISFF continues through Friday (10/23) with an intriguing lineup of shorts and features at the Tribeca Cinemas and other venues through the City.

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