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Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sol (2013)

Director: Mark Falls
Stars: K J Saifullah and Rahmell Peebles
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.
I've been reviewing a lot of 48 hour films lately but they're home grown ones, shot here in Arizona for the IFP Phoenix Beat the Clock challenge. This one, which opened the Sci-Fi Shorts B set at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, comes from a little further afield, made by Superlux for the Atlanta 48 Hour Film Project in 2012, for which it won K J Saifullah the Best Actor award. He's a young boy whom we meet enthusiastically reciting statistics about baseball player Jackie Lewis to his father. Dad's clearly proud: 'You're perfect,' he tells him, but he carries sadness in his voice as well as pride. To discover why in the eight minute running time, we're gradually given not only their personal back stories but the end of the world to boot. This is a refreshing post-apocalyptic story, because you won't be able to find a single zombie, mad scientist or political message anywhere. What we get is realistic and believable, all filtered through a very personal little story.

That story was conjured up by Tom Rittenhouse, who turned it into a script in collaboration with the film's director, Mark Falls. Neither one of them appears to have much experience, if their scant IMDb credits are anything to go by, and they certainly didn't have much time to work on it. Until a 48 hour film has a script, everything else is on hold and if it's left that way for long, the time limit is going to kick your ass. Yet this is an accomplished script, one that builds cleverly and carefully all the way to the admirable grand irony that ends the picture. Reflecting back on the short after it's done, it feels unrushed and confident that it has the space to tell its story, even though it resorts to voicemail and flashback to make that happen. Perhaps Saifullah's cheerful smile sets us in the right mood to watch the apocalypse unfold and his father's carefully PG choice of words keeps us there. Rahmell Peebles certainly has the sort of voice and demeanour that we instinctively trust, so it's an easy ride.

If the script is accomplished, I'd need another word to describe the acting. Saifullah is a joy to watch and even more a joy to hear. Peebles matches him well, utterly attentive throughout. The third great performance is by Alanna Bryant, who plays the boy's mother. We don't meet her at all, but we hear her voice bubble at us over the phone and it's as nuanced as those of the rest of her screen family. I see that none of them have many credits either, Saifullah surprisingly having the most. I'd have been impressed if this was a regular short film that its creators took their time to produce, but for all three of them to be this note perfect in a 48 hour piece, which was shot in a day before hitting post, I'm far beyond impressed. I enjoyed Sol when I first saw it, but it's such a smooth ride that it takes a couple more times through to really appreciate how pristine it really is. Being surrounded by the best sci-fi shorts this festival has seen in years surely didn't help, but it was a great way to begin a set.

Sol can be watched for free on Vimeo.

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