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      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMar 24th 2009
     (5409.1)
    Lo Fi Sci Fi - a name derived from "Low Fidelity" and "Science Fiction", meant to convey the impression of filmed science fiction created by amateurs or on a very limited budget. I don't know who first coined the term, but I first encountered it in the ad campaign for the Toronto based independent film Infest Wisely, and thought it described a movement I've been seeing quite a bit of lately. Science Fiction as a literary genre has always been composed of enthusiastic amateurs writing primarily for themselves and each other as an audience. Science fiction cinema has always suffered in thematic substance as it has generally been made by commercial interested non-fans targeting a mass audience. In general this has meant employing a heavy coat of science fictional eye-candy to recycled western, war and horror movie plots. Actual thematic as opposed to visual science fiction in film has been rare, but the Lo Fi Sci Fi movement, now that the tools to make convincing amateur science fiction films are widely available, is starting to change all that.

    Over on my blog I'm doing a series of reviews of films and filmmakers who I think are working in this movement. I've got a decently long list of examples, some obscure and some more mainstream, that I'm looking forward to writing about. But I was wondering if anyone here knows of any films or filmmakers that sound to you like they are doing something like this. Even really obscure, no budget, youtube broadcasting auteurs. Maybe you yourself? Maybe your friends? Maybe some crazy low budget feature or short you saw at a film festival that nobody else you know has ever heard of?

    For example, the first things I wrote about were the short films of Neill Blomkamp:





    I think he qualifies, even though his stuff is fairly high budget, because his execution doesn't actually require that high of a budget, and it was clearly made out of an almost fannish sense of compulsion. I think all Lo Fi Sci Fi filmmakers can reasonably aspire to a similar production value, and should.

    Other examples of the movement I can think of off the top of my head:

    Infest Wisely
    Escape from City 17
    Horses on Mars

    Maybe even films like Primer or Pi would fit the definition.

    What do you think? What are some other examples? Any that you really like or stand out? Any examples from filmmakers outside the US?
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMar 24th 2009
     (5409.2)
    Holy shit! I've not really heard much about this, but it's pretty great! I'll be following your blog now, I think...

    These videos done for the Halo 3 release are about the closest thing I can think of honestly, but they look pretty hi-budget...

    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009
     (5409.3)
    Turns out Mr. Blomkamp directed the above video!

    Also, he's working on this, a feature version of the "Alive in Joberg" posted above. I can't wait to see this!
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      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009
     (5409.4)
    Yes, I'm really excited about that. Neill Blomkamp was slated to direct a live action Halo film, which is what those Real Life shorts were done as trial runs for, but that project seems to have gotten bogged down along the way. Frankly, I'm happier to see him diverted to doing a feature length version of Alive in Joburg, as it seems like a more original concept.
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      CommentAuthorAdmiral Neck
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009 edited
     (5409.5)
    I'd definitely include Primer under this designation. That film is nothing but as many ideas thrown at the audience as possible. We all know it's ideas that make the genre what it is, and you don't need to spend much to get those on film. Besides, as the Half-Life inspired vids that were recently posted on here gave shown, if you're lucky enough to have access to a copy of Maya then you can tweak whatever ideas you have with a little flash if you have to.

    Kosmopolit, you're describing a bolder version of The Twilight Zone / The Outer Limits. That show used to adapt sci film short stories on a low low budget. I've long dreamed of a show like that adapting British sci fi writer Ian Watson. He has some great stuff you could film on a tiny budget.

    ETA: How did my post come in above Kosmopolit's? I blame my iPhone.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009
     (5409.6)
    I've long thought the Sci-Fi channel should do lo-fi versions of classic sf stories rather than their shitty original movies. How big a budget would you need for "The Cold Equations" or "Repent Harlequin"?
    • CommentAuthorlead_pipe
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009
     (5409.7)
    @oddbill

    What makes the "Escape from Joburg" short so interesting to me (not seen it before today) is that there are very clear cultural winks that non-South Africans wouldn't get. The most glaring one (and I think the possible satire in the piece) is that the country was rocked in 2007 and 2008 by waves of xenophobic attacks on illegal immigrants ("aliens"). Over 100 people died and tens of thousands were displaced. The epicentre was Joburg (specifically the townships of Alexandra and Thembisa) but they quickly spread to a national scale.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the filmmakers staged *actual* interviews with township residents to ask their opinions on foreigners and then just edited their responses for the film. Other clear giveaways are the "aliens' " references to needing electricity and water (a clear appeal for basic municipal services that poor South Africans and immigrants alike are not getting) and the 'train-surfing' phenomenon (young and poor boys stand on top of municipal trains while they're moving as an adolescent bonding/rite of initiation thingie, and this appears periodically in the mainstream press, especially if some unfortunate person gets electrocuted).

    I think the movie short is brilliant. An unsettling reminder for people like me, but I've always maintained that good sci-fi (like good art in general) tells us more about the human condition than about anything else.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009
     (5409.8)
    Apart from a couple of scenes, I think you could use this to do an adaptation of Starship Troopers that actually sticks to the book. Except for the very beginning, most of the sequences in the powered armor would be pretty easy to do, based on the things I've seen in these videos. Most of the rest of the book could take place in a couple of easy-to build sets (a training camp, crew quarters on a starship, etc.)
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      CommentAuthorDraug
    • CommentTimeMar 25th 2009
     (5409.9)
    If Primer and Pi would fit the definition then you could take a look at The Girl From Monday (2005, Hal Hartley) and The Man from Earth (2007, Richard Schenkman).
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      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
     (5409.10)
    @Draug - I haven't seen either That Girl From Monday or The Man from Earth, but they are now definitely on the viewing list. Just from reading the synopses on Amazon they both sound like they are solidly in the Lo Fi aesthetic.

    In a similar vein, has anyone seen The American Astronaut? That one seems to fit as well.

    A couple others I think will go on the list, but these I've actually seen:

    The Call of Cuthulhu - although more weird fiction than science fiction, I'm happy to stretch the definition for this one as this film is the essence of Lo Fi. Has anyone else seen it? It's a quite excellent adaptation of the Call of Cuthulhu as though it were made the year after the story was released, in the silent film era. It's a B&W silent, and though a little rough around the edges, quite fantastic!

    Robot Stories - Saw this at a film festival - didn't like it very much, but it is a worthwhile anthology of shorts around the theme of robots and how human beings reflect themselves in the things they make. Clever, uneven, ultra low budget movie.

    Any more you can think of?

    I posted a second installment of Lo Fi Sci Fi, this time about the very independent production of Infest Wisely:



    This one is worth spending some time with, if you are interested in the science fiction of ideas, or very low budget filmmaking, or ways to self motivate for projects, or independent publishing/producing... the history of this film hits a lot of Whitechapel buttons.

    Just briefly, the background here is that science fiction author Jim Monroe, after having a novel published by HarperCollins and being unhappy with the experience, walked away from his publisher and plunged into self publishing his work. He has quite a substantial body of work now.

    Among the things he made was Novel Amusements - an annual DVDzine (A compilation of short videos on CD-ROM and DVD-R - something very much like our Proprietor's notion of a multimedia ROTOR) anthologizing low budget, inventive films. In the course of this project he met six directors who he decided to collaborate with in the making of a very low budget science fiction feature. He wrote the whole film himself, but in seven segments, one targeted to each director's particular talents.

    There's a longer review of it on my site, which of course I'd be delighted if you read, but the short of it is, very interesting script, spotty to poor acting, super low budget, some great, weird ideas, a seven segment movie that is in the end very much worth your time. The whole film is free to view and download on the filmmaker's very well designed website.

    I'd love to hear what anyone thinks of it, if you get the chance to watch.
  1.  (5409.11)
    The Call of Cuthulhu - although more weird fiction than science fiction, I'm happy to stretch the definition for this one as this film is the essence of Lo Fi. Has anyone else seen it? It's a quite excellent adaptation of the Call of Cuthulhu as though it were made the year after the story was released, in the silent film era. It's a B&W silent, and though a little rough around the edges, quite fantastic!

    It's terrific stuff. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, who made it, also do radio plays, and are trying to get another movie made, this time The Whisperer In Darkness:

    Now with dialogue!

    They're funding it by selling props and such-like, including DVDs of the first film. It's worth getting to see how they put it all together, which is inspiring and a lot of fun.

    Thanks for the updates on these projects, Oddbill. It's a tonic for the creative soul to know that people are out there just getting on with it.
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      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
     (5409.12)
    Yeah, I've been lusting after their boxed set of the radio plays. I may give it to myself as a birthday present.

    My friends and I did a live performance of the radio play of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater adaptation of the War of the Worlds several years ago. It was staged as though we were in an old radio studio actually recording the show, with standing mikes, live commercial messages, a guy at a sound effects table, the whole thing. The audience sat on the oppositeside of the space in a mock-up of a 1930s living room, and dividing them from us was an old fashioned wooden radio cabinet. It was pretty cool.

    Those HP Lovecraft Radio Plays remnd me so much of that experience, only they are much better produced and more convincing than ours was.

    That whole HP Lovecraft Historical Society is a Lo Fi powerhouse. I'm sort of in awe at what they've managed to accomplish. They're here in LA and I have a mildly fannish hope of meeting them some day.

    @lead_pipe - I meant to reply before, but I forgot - thanks so much for the insight into the politics being riffed on in Alive in Joburg. I always thought most of those person on the street interviews sounded to genuine to have been performed, but I couldn't think what real world situation they could be talking about. The subtle complexities of news from other places tends to get steamrolled by the time it's reported in the US - so South Africa becomes "fall of aparthied", "truth and reconciliation" country, and we don't get much more detail.

    I'd love to see a lot more non-American/British sci fi, if for nothing more than the insight into others to be gained by seeing what parts of their presents they are interested in setting off against weirdness or the future to make a point or figure out something meaningful.
    • CommentAuthorlead_pipe
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
     (5409.13)
    @oddbill

    Thanks for the kind words. If'n you do want day-to-day info on us, I would recommend
    www.mg.co.za (best investigative journalism, your eyes may glaze over with the 'politics as usual' stories, editorially has a lefty slant)
    www.businessday.co.za (great op-ed work, good business stories, editorially has a righty slant, although many op-eds are more lefty).

    I do like stories about us, and I love sci-fi. I'll scout around and see if there's anything I can add to the thread - seem to recall that there was a locally produced sci-fi series set in Cape Town, but I don't have a TV and it did look like crap at the time. Also, may be too high-budget to qualify for this thread.
  2.  (5409.14)
    @lead_pipe, are you thinking of Charlie Jade?
    • CommentAuthorlead_pipe
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
     (5409.15)
    @Admiral Neck, yup, that's the one. It does sound a lot better on Wiki than the TV ads suggested. Still seems to be some kind of glorified knock-off of, I dunno, Stargate or some other show with parallel universes. Even Quantum Leap.

    Nah, the Canadians can keep this show (along with Celine and Alannis).

    I really need to buy a TV soon, if only for Cartoon Network and the sports channels.
    • CommentAuthorhelloMuller
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009 edited
     (5409.16)
    The Blomkamp stuff is amazing, even if it is a few years old it still stands up.

    You might like this: "Metalosis Maligna", movie made by Floris Kaayk.

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      CommentAuthorDraug
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
     (5409.17)
    These might also be of interest
    Long:
    Possible Worlds (2000)
    Youth Without Youth (2007) Yes I know it is Francis Ford Coppola so the budget is probably not that small but it got the right feel to it.
    Avalon (2001) Yes I know it is Mamoru Oshii so the budget is probably not that small but it got the right feel to it.
    Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

    Short:
    La Jetée (1962)
    The Silent City (2006)
    Tyger (2006)
    They're Made Out of Meat (2005)
    Terminus (2007)
    Rare Exports Inc. (2003)
    Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions (2005)
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      CommentAuthorAdmiral Neck
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009 edited
     (5409.18)
    Fantastic stuff, helloMuller. Before it goes all Chris Cunningham at the end (a compliment, by the way), it reminded me of Cronenberg's Stereo and Crimes of the Future, both brilliant examples of Lo Fi Sci Fi.

    @Oddbill, your War of the Worlds performance sounds great. Do you plan to do anything like that again?
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      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
     (5409.19)
    @helloMuller - holy shit! that was astonishing! That bit where the doctor goes "we want to test the function of the afflicted body parts - can you make a steady tone with your voice?" and the patient does what he does... my skin just about crawled right up off my back! That is easily the creepiest thing I've seen so far this year! Brilliant. I'm absolutely digging deeper for more info on the filmmaker of that one! Thanks!

    @Draug - of the long ones you've mentioned, I've only seen Oshi's Avalon, but I'll certainly watch the others too. Those are all a bit full budgeted for the Lo Fi label, but I think you are right that they peopably share in the spirit. What's between lo and hi fi? Mid Fi? Mi Fi? - I'm going to watch my way through all your shorts later tonight. (please god nobody take that last sentence out of context.)

    @Admiral Neck - Cronenberg! I forgot! Several of his films I think come in under the wire. I haven't seen the two you mentioned, but I will. This thread is loaded with interesting viewing!

    RE: The War of the Worlds thing, it was years ago, and I really have no plans, but that is an interesting idea I hadn't considered. Hmmm...
  3.  (5409.20)
    @oddbill, I thoroughly recommend the Cronenberg films. They're far out there, riding simply on bizarre ideas. It's been years since I saw them, but they left an indelible impression.

    Ain't It Cool News reviewer Quint has seen footage from Blomkamp's District 9, and has a lot to say here. Might be considered spoilery. He's very very enthusiastic about it.