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Festivals Film Reviews One-Day Festivals

CinemARC at Glasgow Science Festival. The beautiful diversity of science

CinemARC has been one of the most challenging, confusing and fun screenings I’ve been to in a long while. Located right outside the Advanced Research Centre in Glasgow, otherwise known as the ARC, the event had to, very literally, fight the elements in order to take place.

Right before the screenings began, the ever-present Glaswegian drizzle picked up and turned into a downpour. Luckily, the organisers were on everything and started giving raincoats to all the spectators before we started soaking.

With no intention of stopping, the rain forced me to take cover after the first short film. The water blinding and the puddles that formed over my raincoat is almost incontrollable at this point. The good news is, the only short film that I missed due to the weather is available for free viewing online!

I will link the access to the works with free access so all of you can experience these creations safely and dry at home. Hope you will have as much fun as did watching them!

Now, as always, here are the reviews of the fantastic programme of CinemARC:

ROTOR

  • Year of production: 2021
  • Filmmaker: Ainara Elgoibar.

Synopsis

Several objects are recorded while the author explains the stories that are suggestive to her.

Still from ROTOR (Ainara Elgoibar, 2021).

Review

ROTOR is a tricky piece. While beautiful in form and content, the footage can get tiring and somewhat repetitive. The paused rhythm doesn’t help the spectator keep their attention on the stories being told, instead choosing to just watch the images alone and trying to figure out what each depicted object is for and how all the components work together.

Despite the difficulty it presents on its narrative, this can also be seen as a new opportunity, that of creating your own narratives with bits and bobs of what you read and see. It can be fascinating when looked upon from that perspective, as a chance for new meanings.

Still from ROTOR (Ainara Elgoibar, 2021).

All in all, while interesting and aesthetically pleasing, the narrative skills are lacking, especially when the work is presented outdoors, where the content needs to be very powerful to be shared without distractions.

Our Ark

Synopsis

A group of scientists is creating digital 3D copies of reality to preserve, in a way, the existence that the human race is destroying.

Still from Our Ark (Deniz Tortum and Kathryn Hamilton, 2021).

Review

Our Ark shares insight into a fascinating project, that of backing up reality, in particular, the beings and environments at risk of extinction. While guiding the audience through the origins and process of these projects, as well as a case studies and some of the results, the film also reflects on what reality means to people.

The last part of the piece is most compelling as the narrative takes a turn towards darkness, into a Matrix-like scenario. It is postulated that the virtual reality that is being created could be seen as a new beginning, as a comforting thought to fight the very real destruction of Earth. As if we were just destroying one reality, but another is being created and saved so everything is fine.

Still from Our Ark (Deniz Tortum and Kathryn Hamilton, 2021).

These points of view, in which our reality is just one of many, are, on one hand, dark and intriguing, which is why the whole saga of Matrix (1999-2021) explores a similar theme. However, on the other hand, it could be seen as cheap excuses. The most cynic part of the audience will understand that creating a virtual reality because one has given up on the real world is both beautiful, but very likely useless. After all, what good is it to put a plaster on a severed arm?

Ultimately, this short film is fantastic, for both its theme and the questions it raises.

Backflip

Synopsis

A programmer’s process of teaching an avatar to do a backflip.

Still from Backflip (Nikita Diakur, 2022).

Review

Backflip is a clear case of wanting to transmit a lot, but needing a very specific audience to understand. For people uncultured or disinterested in machine learning, this will be a very repetitive video with a very slow narration. Granted, the ridiculous postures and actions of the avatar during the process of learning can be hilarious, but enough to make the whole short engaging? Jury is still out on that one.

After reading the Diakur’s intentions, one can confirm that his message hasn’t quite translated as expected. While using machine learning to teach an avatar to do a backflip seems tedious and quite possibly requires a lot of self-determination, so does actually learning to do a backflip yourself. Using an avatar to do something that you are too scared to do hardly seems like a way to face your fears and aim for excellence in your goals.

Still from Backflip (Nikita Diakur, 2022).

The main flaw of the film is treating the learning of the avatar as if it was the learning of the person. The avatar is not the person, hence the user experience will not be the same. If you consider that an avatar doing a backflip is the same as yourself doing so, you can just do a backflip in a video game and save yourself three years of model training.

Is it really worth it to use three years of your life to teach an avatar to do a backflip when you could do it yourself if you train for that same amount of time? Ultimately, this seems like a gameplay about programming an avatar. Quirky, but with a very limited message.

Polar Bears of Perth

Synopsis

A journey through the different representations of polar bears throughout history and how these animals are a constant reminder of the ecological crisis.

Man Proposes God Disposes by Edwin Landseer. Wikimedia.
(Painting mentioned and shown in Polar Bears of Perth, 2024)

Review

Polar Bears of Perth is much like the documentaries you can find on nature channels: the research is extensive and pertinent; the content shows a beautiful balance of data, anecdotes and opinions; and the topic could not be more relevant. The narrative is captivating from minute one and the message is clear, concise and critical.

The reason why this piece is so hypnotising, other than the topic itself, is the editing. The construction of this mini-documentary is absolutely gorgeous. The overlapping of effects, images, sounds and words creates a wonderful experience that, although tragic in meaning, is really attractive in form.

The Bears’ Courtship by William Walls. Greenland, oil on canvas, c.1910, Perth Museum and Art Gallery. (Painting mentioned and shown in Polar Bears of Perth, 2024)

Polar Bears of Perth is a great example of how educational resources should look like. Important messages like the one shared through this documentary should be shared in this form, especially to the younger generations who, after all, need to know what is coming to them.

Visions of Paradise

  • Year of production: 2022
  • Filmmaker: Leonardo Pirondi.

Synopsis

Exploration of human imagination and virtual simulations in terms of creating environments.

Still from Visions of Paradise (Leonardo Pirondi, 2022).

Review

Visions of Paradise is a challenging view. The images are gorgeous and the premise seems interesting, but the delivery is so chaotic that one has to fight really hard to not get lost in it.

The short begins clearly enough, the Brazilians are looking for an island whose existence is unclear. Nevertheless, what began as a documentary about searching for an island that is said to be just imaginary, quickly turns into a trip full of renderings, satellites, a speech about AI, and a few images of nature.

Still from Visions of Paradise (Leonardo Pirondi, 2022).

It gets to a point where you no longer know what you are looking at, which images are real and which are digital. However, this chaos helps to communicate the feeling, on top of the notion, of fusion between reality and rendering, the world and the “New World” that the documentary refers to.

Zoopticon

  • Year of production: 2023
  • Filmmaker: Jon Frickey, Thies Mynther and Sandra Trostel.

Synopsis

A zoopticon is launched into space with a mission: to find life.

Still from Zoopticon (Jon Frickey, Thies Mynther and Sandra Trostel; 2023).

Review

Zoopticon is a trip, literally, but also figuratively and in the best way possible. It is colourful, fun, excentric and, like most happy-looking animations, warped and dark as hell.

This musical short film follows a funky zoopticon in its lonely journey through space. The story is told essentially through random musical numbers and the odd out-loud thinking, very harmless forms of communication and yet so revealing and exquisitely satirical.

Still from Zoopticon (Jon Frickey, Thies Mynther and Sandra Trostel; 2023).

Every new development is a twist that pulls you further into the story, and every laugh comes with a twinge of pain due to the very real nature of the jokes. Beginning to end, Zoopticon is a masterpiece of animation, both from the technical and the narrative standpoints. There is no dull moment and the ending is simply sublime, the perfect amount of hilarious darkness to go out with a bang.

Atomic Chicken

  • Year of production: 2023
  • Filmmaker: Thibault Ernemeux, Lucie Lyfoung, Solène Polet, Capucine Prat, Morgane Siriex and Anna Uglova.

Synopsis

A nuclear power plant causes some chicken of a nearby farm to mutate, with hilarious consequences.

Still from Atomic Chicken (Thibault Ermenaux, Lucie Lyfoung, Solène Polet,
Capucine Prat, Morgane Siriex, Anna Uglova; 2023).

Review

Atomic Chicken is the ultimate proof that you don’t need a lot of time to tell an amazing story. With a staggering abundance of imagination and a knack for animation, the world is yours!

This wild story proposes an impressive development in the evolution of chicken due to mutations cause by atomic energy. The cartoon-ish dynamics of the characters, along with the colourful and, let’s face it, pretty darn adorable characters, make this story fun and compelling for audiences of all ages.

It is hard to talk in depth about Atomic Chicken without giving anything away. Suffice to say that it is a great time and, if you ever have the chance to see it, please do, it is one of the best things you can do with five minutes of your life.

Still from Atomic Chicken (Thibault Ermenaux, Lucie Lyfoung, Solène Polet,
Capucine Prat, Morgane Siriex, Anna Uglova; 2023).

Advice to take from these short films:

  • You need to consider the audience to want to reach out to and the message you want to share, if you lose sight of this, the outcome of your work might not be as good as expected.
  • While virtual reality is getting better with every passing day, it is not reality. Yes, it raises very interesting questions, but no, it is not a substitute.
  • The human race needs to face their mistakes and fix them instead of inventing ludicrous theories about how all the bad we are doing is actually fine.
  • Time is not an inconvenience when your story is good and you know how to communicate it.
Postcard art design for the Glasgow Science Festival..

What’s your take? Have you watched any, or all, of these short films? Which one if your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, in my contact page or through my Instagram! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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