Nothing beats film for a way to escape the real world, and what better way to dodge the family Christmas dramas than the world of fantasy (with a dash of sci/fi)? From a time long ago, to the near future, to a time beyond the stars, these three stunning shorts are full of bigger ideas – and better special effects – than the current crop of blockbusters. And they all show that with little resources filmmakers from New Zealand to Japan to Poland can achieve fantastic things.
Dubbed a dark The Princess Bride by writer / director Dean Hewison (How to Meet Girls from a Distance), this swords and sorcery short immediately sets an ominous tone from the opening scene and doesn’t let up. In a great example of less is more, the concise script keeps you hooked and you could easily watch a feature-length film on this courageous young girl (Dean’s own daughter Nova) and the mysterious Judge (John Bach). It’s ambitious stuff with slick FX work that has a definite whiff of The Lord of the Rings, probably thanks to it’s partly Weta Workshop crew. One of the last shorts to get the NZ Film Commission’s Premiere Short Film Fund, Judgement Tavern premiered at the 2016 Sydney International Film Festival.
Another short that’s rich in world building is the insanely detailed anime and horror inspired Dust. Funded by Kickstarter, the Japan-set Dust looks fantastic thanks to some blockbuster-level FX and highly detailed sets, costumes and creatures. But it’s also got an engrossing story that’s made all the more refreshing with it’s Japanese locations and traditions. Lead Masashi Odate (The Last Samurai, Letters from Iwo Jima) is impressive too, helping carry this 25-minute short. American director Michael Grier started his career in Tokyo as a digital artist and came back to shoot this sci-fi/fantasy flick, filming guerrilla-style in remote heritage sites in southern Japan. Grier is looking to develop Dust into a feature film or television series. Dust has gathered a slew of awards including Filmquest’s Best of the Fest.
Aidan Gillen’s Irish brogue makes anything worth watching, and he’s in fine form in this short dedicated to the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe. Oscar-nominated Polish director Tomek Baginski figured rightly that the mission to unlock the mysteries of a passing comet was the base of a great sci-fi fantasy short. Another short with mind-blowing visual effects, what makes this one shoot for the moon is the performances – Game of Thrones’ Gillen is captivating as the master and is aided well by Lyanna Stark herself Aisling Franciosi (The Fall) as his apprentice. With a stunning location in Iceland, crisp audio design and sweeping cinematography it’s a short that definitely doesn’t lack ambition.