Monthly Archives: March 2009

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. In posts of this category I’ll be reviewing films or filmmakers I feel fit into the Lo Fi Sci Fi movement.

For our second installment of Lo Fi Sci Fi, we’ll turn 180 degrees from the high production value of Neill Blomkamp’s shorts to a piece that is almost pure ideas, with fairly amateur execution (and was also the film that got me thinking about Lo Fi Sci Fi as a movement in the first place); Infest Wisely:

I first read about this project in a couple of posts on the blog of science fiction author Peter Watts.

The background here seems to be 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) 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:

“It was awesome,” Munroe enthused. “Jon made a fake ATM machine from scratch. Kirby shot a sex scene the rest of us were too nervous to. Craig crafted a bunch of amazing special effects. Chris staged a punk rock show. Rose got us a tiny city to rampage through. And Benny did some chase scene stunts with his crazy art-bikes.”

You can sense his enthusiasm, and when you watch the seven segments that comprise the film, you can see that the filmmakers were really creatively and intellectually engaged in the spirit of this project. They cobbled it together with materials ready to hand, and wrote it to their resources, which basically means it is a science fiction film about ideas primarily, and not about set piece effects sequences or dizzying action.

And great ideas it definitely has. What it’s missing is good, or often even just watchable, acting. It’s a shame really, as you will often have to look past some really atrocious performances to see the brilliance of some of the ideas at play. I hesitate to hold this against the project, as it was very, very low budget and was cast with enthusiastic amateurs. I still think it is worth your time to watch it. I just want to prepare you honestly for what is ahead, so you don’t throw in the towel before the end.

There are some great things in here. There is scary math, nanobot chewing gum, bicycle flash mobs with duct taped mouths, gene swiping assaults in public restrooms, alien art patrons and a floppy diskette that might just save humanity. It’s the stories of multiple protagonists woven together, and though at times it seems the plot threads are only vaguely related, have patience, it all weaves together in the end.

Some of the more poorly performed scenes seem to have been written on the verge of farce, which might have been a misstep as the actors they had are far more passable when just doing regular life – and sometimes the farcical elements come off a bit heavy handed. The anti-corporate stuff is pretty clumsily handled, though understandably so given the writer’s outspoken independence. The thing with the cats near the end was, I think, meant to be weird and disturbing, but comes off a little too flip and precious. I can’t go into that any deeper without giving away a big spoiler. I’ll just say that element could have been handled in a more unsettling manner, and would probably have been more effective. Instead, as the global hazard presented by the “infestation” of the title becomes truly dire, the film staggers a bit in tone between weird bio-thriller and 1970′s Disney live action children’s film, only with ugly political implications.

I guess even that sounds interesting.

It’s a hard film to critique – it is what it is, and it’s very much worth your time to view it. The entire film is available online here (including a very interesting to independent filmmakers commentary track), and you can buy a DVD of it here.

Also, and this is an important thing to look at, check out the excellence of their website. This is how you put your best face forward with independently produced work!

So, to sum up, a very low budget, very rich in ideas, problematic in execution but ultimately successful experiment in independent, smart, Twenty First century science fiction. It is often said of mainstream feature Science Fiction that the films lag ten or twenty years behind the literature. I think it’s actually worse, and the films are really mostly mired in tropes right out of the 1930s pulp era. Fun though that might be, it offers little challenge to the brain and offers no valid reflections on possible future paths from the present moment. Infest Wisely does not lag the literature by even a day, it’s right out there on the contemporary edge, looking clearly, and with deep skepticism, at some very troubling ways into tomorrow.

All that, and it’s free-as-in-beer. So go watch it, and tell me what you think!

This one looks really cool:

Developed by the Human Centered Robotics Group at Essex University, this is an automaton that falls in the category of devices that mimic observed behaviors in nature.

From the mission statement of the project that developed this fish (please excuse the poor English, I think it was written a native Chinese speaker):

In nature, fish has astonishing swimming ability after thousands years evolution. It is well known that the tuna swims with high speed and high efficiency, the pike accelerates in a flash and the eel could swim skilfully into a narrow hole. Such astonishing swimming ability inspires us to improve the performance of aquatic man-made robotic systems, namely Robotic Fish. Instead of the conventional rotary propeller used in ship or underwater vehicles, the undulation movement provides the main energy of a robotic fish. The observation on a real fish shows that this kind of propulsion is more noiseless, effective, and maneuverability than the propeller-based propulsion. The aim of our project is to design and build autonomous robotic fishes that are able to reactive to the environment and navigate toward the charging station. In other words, they should have the features such as fish-swimming behaviour, autonomously navigating ability, cartoon-like appearance that is not-existed in the real world.

It’s rather like the swimming snake from Japan that I wrote about earlier (unfortunately the youtube video for that one appears to have been taken down).

Where early ideas of mimicking animal locomotion to travel through foreign environments, for example the flapping wing designs of so many comical failures of early attempts at flight, often proved that simple imitation was the wrong starting point, once the full set of the physical principals underlying a form of motion are understood, often returning to mimicry results in some surprising new capabilities. We had to bludgeon our way through the air in fixed wing aircraft for a couple of decades before we were able to figure out how to make things like ornithopters a practical application.

The fact that one of the advantages to the undulant propulsion this robotic fish uses is its silence is not necessarily as ominous as it sounds. Of course one of the first things that comes to mind is its potential use as a guidance and propulsion system for underwater bombs. But there are many other reasons to be quiet under the sea. Using them as marine biology research tools, I imagine you’d be able to swim them right into the midst of other life without disturbing natural behavior, as a noisy propeller based submersible might do. Autonomously guided versions might be able to inspect undersea infrastructure around mining rigs or undersea cables, or even perform environmental cleanup tasks like oceanic Roombas.

The tradition of mimicking animal biology with automatons goes back at least as far as Vaucanson’s Duck in 1739. But where the purported mimicry in that device was digestion and in the end it turned out to be a not very elaborate hoax, there have been many profound advances in robotics since that have sprung from a close observation of evolved natural solutions to environmental challenges. Locomotion is only one of those. Simple self-awareness is another. Repairing injuries and self-replication is yet another.

I’m trying to come up with a system for classifying the various strategies of biological mimicry in evidence in contemporary robotics research. I’m sure someone smarter than me has done this already, but until I find theirs, I’ll keep working on mine.

On Sundays I’m going to start posting some thoughts of the value of lessons learned from within a religious tradition that persist even though I’ve long since stopped believing. I’ll keep them under the category heading “Amen, Atheist”.

Devilduck Library

I’m an atheist in the sense that I don’t think there is a god or any supernatural condition in any of the ways most people think of them, but I was raised Catholic and have lived my whole life around religion. I believed, when I was younger. I know what that is and even in the most shallow seeming fundamentalist there are layers that go beyond the cartoon, that express subtlety of perception and feeling. I still find a lot of wisdom in that experience. Nothing that survives in the psyche so long could be useless.

The piece of that past I keep coming back to these days is what I think of as the absolute key lesson of Jesus Christ, regardless of whether you think he was god, man or fiction. The radical thing about him, and the strength of his story, is his most basic instruction: Don’t be afraid.

Because basic rules of life should not be framed in the negative, maybe it’s better to say it this way:

Be fearless.

You know, every misjudgment, every blunder, every self-inflicted wound, every stain on our honor, every liberty betrayed has always been the direct result of fear. I might even put it as unchristian fear. The lesson that hasn’t been learned by people whose extravagant protestations of faith really suggest that they ought to know better is that, yes, they are coming for you, and yes, they mean to do you harm. There is nothing you can do to stop that. The way through that is to stand in the open, adhere to the truth, and be fearless. In the garden he didn’t leap behind Peter and scream “Swing for their ears!” He trusted the convictions around which he had built his life, and he encouraged the people who were within his influence to continue to live by them, despite the danger. He trusted those convictions were more valuable than was security.

If you don’t go in for the afterlife, that stand didn’t end so well for Jesus, but then it wasn’t about comfort or safety for him. On a one off basis it’s an admirable, if often doomed principle. But, (and I really think Jesus understood this) – boy does that strategy scale!

So, you know, I’m trying my best.

Be fearless.

I spent some time yesterday sitting at a sidewalk table in front of a coffee shop, browsing online with an xo, the first generation OLPC.

olpc

I picked this one up this past November during the annual Give One Get One program. I’ve always thought this thing looked neat. In reality, the physical machine is very cool, but the OS on it, a GUI called Sugar over a custom Linux distro, is just awful. Supposedly designed not so much as an OS, but as a learning facilitating platform, the academics behind that atrocity literally tossed everything the western world has learned about computer interface design over the last 30 years and made up a new, arbitrary and very, very awkward interface themselves. It is seriously terrible. I defy you, as a new user, to write a simple text document, save it, close it, then find it again. I dare you. I’ll check back in on your progress in a couple of hours.

So extremely disappointed, I put the poor little machine aside for a while, and have only recently started carrying it around again and testing it’s ability to connect to wifi spots around the city. As a simple web browsing netbook, it’s actually not that bad. The custom browser is very, very simplified, lacking many things that would make life easier, but it is functional and its simplicity has the unintended virtue of focusing your attention. No series of 5 tabs loading different things simultaneously to juggle. Its eBook mode, with the backlight of the screen turned off, so you are reading a surface like Amazon’s Kindle is easily the killer feature of this machine. I can’t exaggerate how pleasant it is to read things in this manner. It is very, very nice. With the backlight off, the battery life also significantly improves.

But, sitting out in front of the coffee shop yesterday, and unexpected but interesting feature of the xo came to light – something like 7 or 8 complete strangers passing by stopped to ask me what this little computer was, and where did I get it! Some of these strangers were quite attractive!

I’m beginning to think the real killer feature of this little, green, rabbit-eared adorable button of a computer is it’s ability to stand in for a puppy or a baby as an accessory to attract strangers of the opposite sex in public places.

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It was a beautiful, bleak, sort of empty book.

My overall impression is that it wasn’t about characters or plot so much, though both of those elements were there. Character moreso than plot, which was really deliberately thin. It was about a mood, and about the way words sound in your head.

I haven’t read any other of McCarthy’s books, so I don’t know to what extent this is true of his work in general, but The Road really was an extended sort of echoing of dying words in the reader’s mind. It sort of felt like a tunnel of consciousness, like the only way you have to perceive the world is through the noise a word makes inside your skull when you’ve read it, and after you’ve read it, as it decays quickly away like a spent atom, you are lonlier than before you knew there was such a noise.

I may suffer from a lack of empathy, but I didn’t feel sorrow for the collection of vagabonds and cannibals desultorily winding down their empty existences in these pages. I felt more of a sadness coming to realize that the only way we know the world is through stories we tell ourselves, the only way we understand it is through the stories other people tell us, but ultimately the stories go away and there’s not much for the mind outside of stories.

I wouldn’t say it was depressing. Starkly meditative, maybe. I wonder if the film adaptation will be so deliberative.

I’m in a sketch posting mood, and also a thinking about old, unfinished projects mood.

Back in 1999 through 2001 I had worked pretty hard on the conceptual phases of mounting a stage production of Shakespeare’s the Tempest. It’s an odd, thoughtful play in which very little actually happens, but there is great beauty in the spaces between sparse action. I did a close reading and fell in love with it’s heart full of forgiveness, disillusionment and surrender to the crushing wheel of time.

tempest

These sketches were a joy to make. I dug through two wonderful Renaissance woodcut and 18th Century illustration reproduction books, Vecellio’s and Lechevallier-Chevignard’s, imagining up the looks of all the characters and trying to make some detailed, evocative pencil sketches. There are several more of them than I am posting, I’ve done all but one or two individuals from the play. I keep expecting to do something with this work someday, but what, exactly, I haven’t been able to resolve.

miranda

In addition to all the design work I wrote a very large set of incredibly detailed notes about what I thought the history of these characters was, and what their lives became after the events of the play. I found connections in them to other classic literature. I tried in these exercises to stay as true to the characters as written as possible. Too often, I think, people will approach a play like this and bring too much of their own politics or convictions, and disrupt what is a carefully balanced mix of personalities with grafted polemic. Caliban, for example, is surely oppressed, but he is not a noble savage, though it is often tempting for a modern production to portray him so.

Alonso

I made a physical map of the island in the play and did several illustrations of scene-scapes. I didn’t think they would be built for stage exactly as drawn, but thought the work of drawing them would invite surprises in my thinking about how to arrange the sets.

rivenpine

As the geography started coming together, the whole story started coming together, and some real momentum was building.

secretplace

Like splitting the logs in a seemingly endless woodpile, all these small acts of thought and drawing were reducing a mountain of chaos into a stack of ordered and useful ideas.

Woodpile

Unfortunately, in the end the steam ran out and I never got a solid thing completed. But this body of effort remains in sketchbooks and notes, and I come back and raid it occasionally for ideas in other projects. The final project for a CGI class. The subject for a sculpture.

Adrian

Now, as I’m looking at what to do here in the coming year, I’m thinking there is still some life in here, and may be expanding on this work. What’s in it? A book maybe. A gallery show. It could go in several directions.

Ferdinand

Easily the most frustrating thing about having a restless imagination is not being able to settle on any one project to see through to the end. I’ve found I work best under the management of someone else, or as one member of a collaborative group. Without the fact of a project outside of my full control I am mostly unable to do the mental triage necessary to keep work focused on serving the project in a timely manner. All my self motivated endeavors stretch out endlessly and get big and unmanageable.

But I’m also generally unable to find collaborators I can work with. Either their ideas don’t inspire me or I don’t respect the quality of their work. I’m sure my ego is obstructing my growth as an artist here, but it’s a fact I need to learn to deal with. There are only two people I’ve been able to repeatedly collaborate with.

One is a friend I used to do comedy with, we’ve made short films, live performances and multi-media things together and they’ve always been decent. With him it works, only when it revolves around comedy, because I find him incredibly funny, and so can almost always turn my work to serving his vision. I trust he’ll have better instincts than me in that way.

The other is someone I produced a play with once, and later have done artwork under the direction of. She is a graphic designer with a really acute eye, and though I generally wouldn’t go myself in the directions she generally goes, or maybe because of that, I also trust her judgment in following artwork down the paths she wants to take it.

I guess I do my best work partially blind, under the guidance of someone I trust can see the road. If you leave me to try the roads myself, I’ll go part way up and down all the ones that look interesting to me, but I’ll never decide which to follow all the way.

That flaw is what I need to work on this year.

We haven’t had a drawing post in a while. Here is some recent sketch work.

I’ve been working with ink, watercolors and gouache lately, after having done mostly ink work in a class I took last year:

watercolor

James Jean’s sketchbooks are full of these great layered drawings, faces on top of faces and everything just obsessively drawn right on top of other drawings, sometimes several layers deep. I’ve been looking at those a lot lately, and wanted to try something like that. This one isn’t finished, but it’s coming along:

layered

This is just an ink/watercolor sketch that came together nicely:

recline

And finally, I went to a fashion show last weekend and, though I took a few pictures:

fashion-models

Most of the time there I tried just sketching on one small page in a moleskine notebook, just people in the club, objects, architecture, impressions of motion, anything that caught my eye while I sat there. I ended up with this:

life

I’ll try posting at least one drawing update a week. I’ve been doing quite a lot of this recently, but haven’t been scanning or photographing it enough.

Some thoughts around a theme.

I read somewhere once, and it strikes me as very true but seldom recognized, is that publishing on the web isn’t really “publishing”, it’s “broadcasting”, and different expectations determine it’s success.

In a series of brief ruminative posts, comics writer, novelist, blogger, and general internet scourge Warren Ellis has been toying with concepts around an idea called the papernet. This is something like a notion to lay out versions of web content so it can be printed as something like a onesheet or tabloid, and distributed by enthusiasts in the physical world on paper, like the broadsheets of the enlightenment era.

He also has been anticipating 2009 as the Year of Print On Demand (POD). Two fantastic emanations from his sporadic mental exercise:

  1. A message board thread full of detailed and useful recountings of various peoples experiences with POD press production.
  2. A concept he has give the place holder name of ROTOR, which is sort of a set of rules to structure a group blog which will update frequently enough with enough content to keep a significant audience, and which is arranged so as to allow longform work to accrue in daily bursts until complete, at which time it would be printed POD under a group branded imprint and sold as a physical object.

Looking at this ROTOR post in the context of his recent run of papernet tagged thoughts, I’m thinking the kernel here is trying to work out how a POD model could be dovetailed with serial online publication to produce a new publishing model outside of the withering traditional one. The proposed structure seems to be reaching for something like what fiction anthologies or fiction magazines once were, a churning, lively forum to get shorter works by many authors in front of readers and nurture careers. The difference is that the authors themselves become responsible for the mechanics of publication, for enforcing their own deadlines and professional discipline. I’m thinking the concept serves authors best when seen in that light, as a machine made of rules designed to grow disciplined professional writers. Your chances of success within it increase the more frequently you write, the more preparation you’ve done and the more of your piece you have in the can before publication begins.

And, since nobody has figured out a way to make good money off of stuff like this online alone, the POD goal at the end adds a potential revenue stream as a carrot.

All of this can be seen as an instance of a larger movement, of which other obsessions of mine, such as Make and Craft magazines, Instructables, Etsy, the resurgence of a craftsman’s ethic with a 21st Century flavor. It’s another outgrowth of empowering amateurs.

It’s the new old way of making culture.

Neal Stephenson said in an interview last year:

“Hey kids, don’t listen to your friends who try to tell you that it’s all about bits and bytes. Information technology will only get you so far. Making things in the physical world is where it’s at.”

All of this has led me to a rough concept that, at the moment, I’m calling Printcasting. At a first pass, printcasting is:

  • Simultaneous multiple format serialization
  • Blog style daily posting
  • Audio podcast reading of daily posting
  • Cumulative audio podcast of whole work to date, updated daily
  • A weekly one-sheet printable zine compiling that week’s updates
  • Final Project ebook for sale
  • Final Project complete audiobook – probably free
  • Final Project Print On Demand physical book

Jared Axelrod, who did something like this under the title 365 Tomorrows, upon reading Warren Ellis’ ROTOR thoughts posted this advice:

First off, we’d finish all the content before we started. This is the major problem we ran into our first year, and why so many similar projects crash and burn… And we’ll pre-load those suckers, so the site updates itself. Because when the site starts up, we don’t want to focus on it.

Instead, we want to focus on the 5 POD books we’ll be making with this content. Contacting illustrators, adding extra material, designing a visual look for all 5 books. Make them real works of art in their own right. In other words, make them worth buying. That’s not going to be difficult, but it is going to take time, so we might as well start on that as soon as possible. Plus, we’ll also be busy creating content for the next year. So, you know, the more the site can do without us watching it, the better.

This seems like solid advice, so I’m adopting it as a printcasting ethic. Don’t start printcasting until you have the full piece written/produced. Load it all and let it automatically update itself reliably and regularly. Spend the rest of your time while it is printcasting sorting your final, physical, purchasable products into the best objects they can be.

So what am I reaching for in jumbling all these references together in a post? Not sure. I don’t want to lose track of these trains of thought, and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing here online and here in the world. It’s something about writing and something about drawing and something about small scale broadcasting and maybe there is something in all this for me.

If that turns out to be true, whatever form it takes, it’ll show up here.

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. In posts of this category I’ll be reviewing films or filmmakers I feel fit into the Lo Fi Sci Fi movement.

The first Neill Blomkamp short I encountered was Tetra Vaal:

Structured like an industrial advertisement, using a hand held, verite camera style, with what sounds like improvised, completely authentic narration and carefully integrated, subtle and beautiful effects, this short is utterly convincing. In about a minute and forty seconds, it’s more satisfying science fiction than most full features I’ve seen. In it’s short running time it manages to pack in a realistic feeling high concept – a robot police officer, but not a Peter Weller style robocop, rather an ambulatory, semi autonomous gun platform for use in locales that are hostile to police presence. The fact that it seems not designed to mitigate the hostility, but rather, unconcerned with hostility and only designed to decrease the physical hazard to police themselves, regardless of what I can’t help but see as implied increased hazard to the policed, manages also to include a humanistic and political theme, and to raise questions left artfully unanswered. I’ve watched this short repeatedly. It’s perfect.

So, who is Neill Blomkamp? Wikipedia lists him as a South African born, Vancouver, BC-based director of short films and advertisements. IMDB lists several projects he’s involved in.

One of them was at one point a film version of the Halo video game. It looks like that has gone by the wayside, but when it was first announced he was interviewed by Ain’t it Cool and he had this to say about his motivations for making his short films:

I have to be doing something creative all the time, I like just rolling up my sleeves and just making stuff, for the sake of learning, or experimenting, or messing around, shorts can be better than pretty much anything for that. Commercials I was beginning to find uncreative because your end goal is to sell a product, and music videos are really great, but you can’t really have dialogue, so I just defaulted to making my own pieces on the side of doing commercials, and ironically they seem better known then all the commercials, except that one for Adidas which was basically a short.

Which Adidas commercial? This one:

This spot, Yellow, shows a clear influence from cyborg themed anime, especially the classic Ghost in the Shell, which itself was also one of the influences the Wachowski brothers riffed on in the Matrix films. Unlike the Wachowski’s, Blomkamp in this short demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the philosophical substance that underlies that anime subgenre. The Matrix movies play off visuals from the same source, but never seem to comprehend the existential questions that animate those visuals. Blomkamp in Yellow employs both the questions and some of the key visuals with deft economy, and manages to communicate more substance in 4 minutes than the Wachowskis did in over 4 hours.

Two other tools in evidence here that you can see in all of Blomkamp’s shorts:

  1. Naturalistic, extemporaneous sounding narration and dialog that just really pushes the reality of patently fantastic visuals. It’s the way he records human voices and works them into his pieces, more than the visuals, that makes them feel like documentaries, and gives you the sense of watching actual events unfold. Yellow is probably the most structurally dramatic of all of the one’s I’m reviewing here, the one that is most formulaic, but it’s the narration that saves it from cliche.
  2. Skilled use of functional workplace locations and real environments, with telling close ups. There is a shot on what appears to be a meat processing floor where a man cuts a chicken leg off with a knife. It’s quick and serves both the establish a reality grounded setting and point up increasing danger as police are closing in on the Yellow android. It also suggests a grim outlook on the place of flesh in a world where thinking machines are possible. It’s an expertly placed, multivalent visual, and the employment of such visuals is one of Blomkamp’s primary strengths.

To my mind, his definitive piece is the alien refugee/apartheid documentary Alive in Joburg:

This is just beautiful on so many levels. At 6.5 minutes it’s the longest of these shorts, but absolutely every second is packed with layered significance. It really feels like a full story. Every new fact you learn about the situation comes by watching consequences and actions in media res.

Also on full display here is the effectiveness of his choice to make the setting for his science fiction something other than the traditional western world. Much like the written work of Ian McDonald, Blomkamp uses the people and culture of South Africa here to discover new thematic territory in the old story of flying saucers over our cities. His saucers aren’t conquerors, they are desperate refugees. The cities they’ve parked over aren’t in a world power capable of expelling them by force. So everyone now has to deal with a very awkward situation, how to divide resources and maintain social stability among a genuinely volatile mix of need and custom. Africans, Afrikaans and Aliens; how do these three groups reconcile competing imperatives. It’s really quite a stroke of genius, throwing the familiar struggle over equality and power between the African and Dutch descended populations of South Africa into new, uncomfortable shapes. This twist alone makes the film deserve an even fuller treatment.

We are in luck, as it appears that is what it is going to get; IMDB shows an August 14th, 2009 projected release date for District 9. Here is some kid on youtube doing a pretty thorough walkthrough off all the viral advertising that has been accumulating around District 9, which is an expanded version of Alive in Joburg:

Neill Blomkamp in this short and commercial work has already produced a substantial body of quality filmed science fiction, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can achieve at a full feature length runtime.

I include him in the category of Lo Fi Sci Fi despite his comparatively large budgets and professional connections because his primary output up until now has been experimental shorts released primarily online and making excellent use of techniques available to even very low budget filmmakers. Quality on this order is well within reach of amateurs, and we now also have Neill showing us how to do it. May many follow in his footsteps!