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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

indie SF movies

“Science fiction” and “indie” don’t go together in the minds of many moviegoers … or in the minds of many filmmakers, either. Which is probably why there’s a relative dearth of non-Hollywood-produced SF films. When “sci-fi” means “big-budget,” as it usually does, that eliminates the small filmmaker from the equation. But that doesn’t have to be the case, as the British SF film Sunshine, opening in the U.S. on Friday, July 20, demonstrates. Though it has a comparatively large budget — rumored to be around $50 million, which would put it on the low end of the range for studio films — it’s all about the indie-SF ethos: character over plot and with an emphasis on true science-fictional speculation. This ain’t no movie about blowin’ up aliens with laser guns: it’s about thinking on how humans may be affected when we go out into space for the long haul.

If that’s your cup of sci-fi tea, then check out these few indie SF flicks for more smart exploration of rediscovering what it means to be human in a strange new world:
Code 46 (2004): Another British flick, from one of my favorite filmmakers, Michael Winterbottom, this near-future drama wonders how our romantic and sexual relationships will be impacted by widespread genetic engineering. [my full review]

Until the End of the World (1991): When I first saw this European production, from German director Wim Wenders, back in 1991, I called it the first film of the 21st century, and it’s still ahead of its time. It posits a new kind of human: transnational and introspective, for whom “who we are” is more related to how well we know ourselves and how well we communicate with people like around the globe.

The Final Cut (2004): A joint Canadian/German production from Jordanian-born filmmaker Omar Naim, this quiet, powerful movie explores how history on the whoel and memory on an individual level change when memories can be edited and altered. If we are the sum of our experiences, what happens when we’re not stuck with those experiences?

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990): How much of who we are is tied up in our freedom, our self-determination? In a dystopian near future in which religious fundamentalists control all aspects of American society, one woman forced into a slavery of breeding struggles to regain her humanity.

The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey (1988): Perhaps the most imaginative time travel movie ever made, in which a band of peasants escaping the Black Death in 14th-century England journey to modern-day New Zealand. Seeing our world today through the eyes of those who don’t understand what they’re seeing is a startling experience.

Finally, it’s not a movie, and it’s not even available on DVD in the United States, but if you have the technological wherewithal to watch non-Region 1 DVDs, don’t miss the short-lived BBC series Star Cops. Only nine episodes of this near-future crime drama set in high orbit and on the Moon were ever produced — they aired in the summer of 1987 in Britain, and later on PBS here in the States — but every one is a wonder. It’s easy to believe that this is exactly what the first law-enforcement agency in space will be like.

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