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:
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!