Last updated July 5, 2017 at 2:41 pm
Have you got your SCINEMA tickets yet? Please do . . . do it for science, do it for the art of filmmaking, heck, do it for me! Give meaning to hours, and hours, and hours of my life. Because I watched at least part of every film that qualified for SCINEMA, and I watched at least part of hundreds that didn’t. That might sound fun – and it can be! – but as anyone in the Australia’s Science Channel offices will attest, watching that much SCINEMA will fry your brain a little.
So to give you a little peak at the nuts and bolts of SCINEMA, here are the trends I noticed in the thousands of entries. These trends aren’t necessarily good or bad, they’re not in any particular order, and I don’t know what they mean exactly. But they were common enough for me to notice, and I’m pretty fascinated by them as a look at the state of science fiction, science storytelling, and filmmaking.
When we watch SCINEMA entries, one of the first things we do is identify whether the film includes science themes and therefore qualifies for the festival. So sometimes I find myself saying (to myself) ‘One of these characters better turn out to be a robot’. Lo and behold, this year that kept happening! This trend might more accurately be called Android Partner, because artificially intelligent girlfriends did pop up, and both genders were always humanoid. But Robot Boyfriend has a much better ring to it.
Wake Up, Sheeple!
You might not be too surprised that conspiracy theory films don’t tend to make it into the ranks of SCINEMA. But boy, are there a lot of them that try. Whether it’s medicine, aliens, big foot, religion, food safety, or good old fashioned chemtrails, there’s a conspiracy theory out there for just about everything.
There was a trend this year to submit short pieces that are basically just visuals set to music. How scientific they are is generally in the eye of the beholder, but some of them are pretty cool.
Usually with water wars, sometimes with zombies. Often with children. I can see why people make these – your sets can look like crap, you don’t actually need to show the apocalyptic event, and you only need a small cast. You know, because humanity is mostly dead (which is slightly alive). And when they’re done well, I happen to love this genre. But just because your film is set in the future doesn’t necessarily make it science-y, so they don’t always make it through.
Filmmakers who can’t White Balance give me the blues
There’s nothing inherently wrong with low production values. Everyone has to get their start somewhere, and I’m certainly of the opinion that strong storytelling outweighs a backyard budget. But there are some incredibly basic things, like making sure the camera is recording the right colours, which filmmakers are skipping. I’m not telling anyone to use a certain level of gear, but I am saying use your tools to the best of your ability and get the basics (which are free!) right.
Title Card Exposition
Look, I get it, world-building is hard. Especially when you’re working with futurism and science fiction. But writing out all of your background and context and enough plot to get the film started on screen is pretty lazy. This technique has merit when it’s used correctly (perhaps a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) but it can become a crutch way too easily.
And finally: This is Some Black Mirror Shit
Science fiction obviously existed before Black Mirror took on the genre, but the show has become synonymous with a particular sort of twisted storytelling. Themes surrounding extreme consequences of modern technology can feel more real than ever – so much so that This is Some Black Mirror Shit has become short-hand reaction to alarming current events. I’m not sure whether Black Mirror has just cornered the market on bleak sci-fi, or whether filmmakers are (purposefully or not) copying the style, but it’s certainly a popular one.
I’ll be curious to see whether these trends stay in fashion, or if next year’s crop of entries shows us a whole new spin. But for now, there are plenty of great SCINEMA films to enjoy!