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Monday, 1 July 2013

Iris (2012)

Director: Justin S Lee
Stars: Claudia Graf and Carl Ingemarsson
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This is the sort of story that I expect to be made a lot over the next few years. Like Restitution, its story is set within those points where people and tech meet, but it doesn't have the philosophical depth of that film. Instead it becomes a cautionary tale, albeit a very timely one in these modern times when social media is king. Read any tech site on a regular basis and you'll see the cycles of discussion, where proponents of a particular solution vie against its opponents again and again as each incremental change is released. One of those discussions has to do with trust: how to define something so that it can be absolutely trusted and, once there, how it can be hacked. What comes out of those discussions is that there are very few absolutes, which is what this short film outlines. It tells a similar story to the Israeli film, Sight, which screened at Jerome this year, but rather than encompassing an entire experience it's more focused onto one particular app.

This app aims to confirm an identity. Touch someone's ring and it'll provide you with certain data that you care about. Now, that doesn't sound particularly sexy, but technological solutions can be applied in different ways, which can be. While this could easily be used to provide authentication, from accessing your work office to accessing your bank account, here it's used for dating and the opening scene, accompanied by the elegant accompaniment of strings, could easily be used as a commercial. A lady and gentlemen meet in a bar, share a mutual physical attraction and so touch rings to ensure that they're not picking up someone, you know, unsuitable. Yes, it's inappropriate to reduce someone to a few key data, but isn't that's what people do in bars when searching for a one night stand anyway? Is there any difference between instantly defining someone by the size of their breasts and doing it by their education history or current employment?
This opening scene introduces Iris Johnson, with degrees from both Harvard and Stanford and who serves as an executive director at Goldman Sachs, to William Preston, whose degrees were earned at Princeton and Yale and who is a managing partner at his family's law group. Satisfied with their good fortune in finding each other, they walk out hand in hand. And without either of them saying a single word. Such is the magic of technology! What could possibly go wrong? Well, three weeks later when the sound kicks in for us and reality kicks in for the characters, we discover that in no uncertain fashion. None of this is particularly surprising, but it's handled well and it combines the latest in technological wizardry with the oldest payment method in the book. It's not a long short, running only six minutes, with the first couple taken up by that silent commercial meeting, but it covers exactly what it needs to cover and leaves us with a neat little twist to keep us thinking.

Justin S Lee, who wrote and directed, is a student at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, at which this was a student project. To aid the learning experience, the task at hand wasn't to make your own film, but to rotate through three different projects with a different role in each. I like that concept, because it provides the perspective not only of different aspects of the filmmaking process but by ensuring that you work on other people's pictures just as they work on yours. As with any student, the real test is when you take all this to the next level, after graduation. It looks like Lee is starting to do that, having interned on Atlas Shrugged: Part I, but I hope he continues to make shorts outside of that career path. I'd have to go with Sight over this one, because it covers more ground and explores more depth, but this is strong on its own merits and it held its own against tough competition at The International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival.

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