Sometimes I try to help new or independent filmmakers reach a wider audience. I do this of my own choosing and without receiving or expecting any payments or favors in return. I do not do this for everyone, but feel free to ask!
Recently my good friend Achariya put me in touch with filmmaker Cameo Wood about reviewing the sci-fi short Real Artists. I’ll be honest, a science fiction short starring a black woman and an Asian woman, written and directed by a woman, based upon a Ken Liu short story, about a filmmaker who gets her dream job? Take me there!
With that mix of components, it would have been easy for me to just rubber-stamp the movie as ‘Great! This checks all my boxes and you should give the filmmakers money!’ and move on – but I wanted to be sure I gave it a proper, objective look.
Real Artists opens with a commercial for fictional animation studio Semaphore Animation, evoking Pixar both in the ultramodern design of the building and the highly analogous film posters on the walls. Sophia (“wisdom” in Greek, and played by Tiffany Hines) is filling out a Non-Disclosure Agreement just before her job interview. Most interestingly, she is introduced hair-first. The camera pans down over her kinky twist ‘do with its blue patches, a bold and intelligent narrative choice given how politicized African American hair is. Immediately next, a Semaphore employee fits her with an electronic bracelet just as her interviewer, Anne Palladon (Tamlyn Tomita) greets her.
Like all movie interviews for a dream job, something is amiss. The set up is a familiar one, but kept from edging into cliche by the freshness of the actresses’ performances, the stunning visuals, and the slow build of tension. At only 12 minutes there’s no room for padding, and the pace is brisk but elegant, like Palladon herself. Real Artists also functions as a brilliant think-piece on the role in AI and audience-generated feedback in filmmaking.
The scene above comes from just before Sophia begins to perceive the cracks in the facade. This scene evokes the moment every filmmaker or creative person strives to reach: the reconciliation of the love they feel for a medium with the knowledge that they will be part of that creation in the future. In that moment, the artist goes from passive to active (although most artists are already laboring for years on their works). That look is every hour Sophia spent as a child loving movies and games, working on them in classes and at night after work, and realizing she now gets to step through that door and create worlds for others. The scene functions as the emotional center of the film, framing the rest of it, and it pays off perfectly.
Sophisticated viewers will recognize all the foreboding beats, although as I mentioned, nothing feels cliche, and the setup is mostly a framing device for a discussion about the real meaning of art and humanity’s reaction to it. Even though I was expecting something due to the John Henry statue (setting up the man vs. machine conflict) I was still surprised and delighted by the ending, which I won’t detail for discovery’s sake.
Currently Real Artists is making the rounds at film festivals, although you can view the trailer on the site. Even if you aren’t interested in science fiction, I highly encourage you to check it out, as it easily bridges the genre film/mainstream film divide!
Some background from the Real Artists website: Cameo Wood won filmmaking awards for Dukha in Summer, a documentary about the reindeer-riding people of Mongolia, which sounds fascinating. I expect this short to garner she and everyone involved some well-deserved attention and buzz, as well as plenty more opportunities in the future!