NFF REVIEW: ‘Sci-Fi and Fantasy Collection’ Strand

The Norwich Film Festival Sci-Fi and Fantasy Collection showcases short films that explore otherworldly concepts to tell human stories: from an elderly man tending to his wife suffering from Dementia in a post-apocalyptic world to an android servant embroiled in their owner’s increasingly desperate situation. The following is a review round up of the eight short films featured in this particular programming strand.

A man pushes a wheelbarrow, with what seems to be a mermaid sitting inside it, up a grass path towards a lighthouse in the distance. From 'Bathtub by the Sea'
Still from Bathtub by the Sea

Bathtub by the SeaDir. Ole-Andre Ronneberg

This Norwegian tale is a slow and calm film. A lighthouse keeper, fixated with his daily and weekly routines, has his world turned upside down when a mermaid arrives on the shore. The film takes its time introducing the protagonist and his mundane routine of running the lighthouse, eating, sleeping, and bathing in the bathtub sat outside his house. Mostly told through action, with only a couple lines of dialogue, the performances are fine, but the direction and editing doesn’t really let us in on the character’s thoughts and feelings apart from obvious surface-level observations. In the end, Bathtub by the Sea feels as cold as the salty sea water.

An elderly man- wearing a formal, floral shirt and a tweed jacket- smiles to someone off screen at a candlelit dinner. From 'Brothers Again'
Still from Brothers Again

Brothers AgainDir. Vanja Victor Kabir Tognola

An elderly man living in peace is interrupted by the surprise arrival of his brother, who he has held a grudge against for years. This film is wholly reliant on the writing and performances to deliver the story, and while the performances are great, the writing will be hit or miss for audiences. A huge twist is revealed in a massive exposition dump towards the end that makes sense for the characters to do so but with better writing, I’m sure it could have been told in a more graceful and effective way.

An elderly man wearing a famers jacket and flatcap, peers over a pair of binoculars- standing in a vast green valley. From 'Ghillie'
Still from Ghillie

GhillieDir. Mike Marriage

At first glance, it’s just a story of an elderly man living with his wife who is suffering with Dementia, but we find out that this film takes place during a zombie apocalypse. The barren but gorgeous landscape of the Scottish Highlands is fitting for the isolation the protagonist feels as he goes about his daily duties of clearing the area of infected monstrosities. Ghillie is well-performed and produced, but it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers had a meaningful story or message to say other than how brutal life can be when you lose your loved ones.

A bearded man stares into space with a daunted look, with a glaring white background behind him. From 'Instant Doctor'
Still from Instant Doctor

Instant DoctorDir. Bernardo Romero

A Black Mirror-esque story on how advanced technology might not become all its cracked up to be. This cautionary tale set in the near future sees a middle-aged man suffering from an illness but finds an Instant Doctor: think a photo booth in a public venue which can diagnose and heal you. It is immediately apparent that hard work has gone into the visuals as the production design and visual effects are top notch. When the protagonist is healed and asks for a second diagnosis scan, he gets more than he bargained for with some shocking news. On screen text reveals the message for the film, but I wish the filmmakers explored the theme within the story itself and extended the already short runtime.

A female android, with a glowing symbol to the right of her right eye, glances at something off screen in a poorly lit room. From 'Muse'
Still from Muse

MuseDir. Azhur Saleem

Muse is a well-paced thriller following a struggling artist in an increasingly dour situation, all seen through the eyes of his android servant. The production design and effects are great, but it is the sound design that stands out: hearing the gears whirring inside the android and hearing modulated human voices from their perspective. The story unfolds in an inventive play on the unreliable narrator and keeps the tension rising. Although this is another sci-fi film about an android mistreated by humans, it is a well-produced and highly entertaining flick.

In the dark depths of the sea, in front of a wreckage, a deep-sea diver in a 20th century diving suit holds up a vinyl player. From 'The Coral Guardian'.
Still from The Coral Guardian

The Coral GuardianDir. David Dincer

With an arresting visual style, The Coral Guardian delights with its style but falters when it comes to substance. A deep-sea diver who drowns in a coral reef is given a second life thanks to the mysterious forces of nature. The film is an allegory for the relationship between man and nature but also acts as a story about finding purpose when given a second chance. The underwater photography is gorgeous but some absurd tonal shifts halfway through takes away the magic and mysticism of the story being told.

A old military veteran in his uniform tentatively walks towards something amidst white smoke and snow. From 'Thousand Yesterdays'
Still from Thousand Yesterdays

Thousand YesterdaysDir. Robbie Bryant

A bittersweet film about making the most of life, presented as a time-travel war film. A veteran is visited by his younger self fighting in the trenches of World War 1 and gives him some lessons in life- and directions on how to survive the war. Bolstered by great writing and a strong lead performance, it is a lean, well-paced short that uses the concept to explore the complexities of regrets and how the journey is just as important as the destination.

A woman in a green top concentrates on something off screen, standing in the open below grey clouds. From 'Gimcrack'
Still from Gimcrack

GimcrackDir. Rona Bradley

This post-apocalyptic short follows a nomad surviving a desolate landscape who crosses paths with a mother and daughter. This project clearly had a sizeable budget: complete with some heavy visual effects, expansive sets and detailed production design. The production design in particular is used to great effect, helping with the world-building and getting across the importance of nature on a ruined Earth. Even with good visual storytelling lurking in the background, the jarring editing and scene transitions shows that in the end, Gimcrack is essentially just plot and little story.

Norwich Film Festival runs throughout November. This year, the festival has moved online to continue to celebrate independent film and support filmmaking. To find out more and view over 150 shorts, head to Norwich Film Festival’s website.

All images courtesy of Norwich Film Festival 2020