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(The Mill Valley Film Festival celebrated it’s 40th year on October 5-15. HtN has forthcoming reviews from this always excellent fest so stay tuned…)

The short film platform presents an interesting obstacle for a filmmaker: tell a satisfying story in less than an hour. A hundred and one questions sift through the artist’s mind. Should I structure the story in three acts and risk leaving no room for plot details and character development to grow? Or should the film contain only one act and allow certain story beats to go unexplained? Sadly, there isn’t a scientific approach to telling the completely satisfying story. Director Cameo Wood has envisioned a slick and beautifully efficient future of the film industry in her 2017 short film Real Artists. However, it’s frustrating to see these ideas of a future where art is crafted without the artist develop only skin deep.

Tiffany Hines (Bones) plays young animator Sophia Baker who is given the great opportunity to interview for a position at the world leading Semaphore Animation Studios. Sophia’s dreams of working for the best animation company in the world turn into concerns when its mysterious executive officer Anne Palladon played by Tamlyn Tomita (Teen Wolf) reveals the company’s true plans for the future of the film industry.

Director Cameo Wood understands the limit she has set for herself with the short film format and wastes no time to set up the building blocks of a future not too far from the present day. Semaphore Animation feels like the sleek offspring of Google and Apple. It celebrates the technological achievements it has reached and persuades its followers to imagine the future as a Semaphore future. Wood effortlessly incorporates fast-paced graphics of the company’s master plan with the overly familiar Orwellian dystopia that Semaphore and the real-life companies it emulates have clearly transformed into. The reason the Semaphore future feels so real is that it’s a future too close for comfort. Today it’s impossible to scoff at this artificial intelligence lead future and call it nothing more than a fanciful illusion.

The film’s thought-provoking nature stems from the grounded performances of Hines and Tomita. Without these two ladies at the helm, the story’s science-fiction would appear hallow and outlandish. Hines’ Sophia exudes the same honest passion and desire to prove her skills seen in today’s millennial filmmakers who are busting their butts to make names for themselves in the industry. As Sophie spends more time with Ms. Palladon, she is unsure as to whether joining the Semaphore team will give her the life she’s always wanted. As anybody in the movie business will tell you, “it’s all about who you know.”

The character of Anne Palladon is a common archetype seen in science-fiction films set in a sleek and seemingly perfect utopia. She is the representation of what happens when technology and commerce are combined and remove all sense of human empathy. If represented without that empathy, this character slowly disappears into the background of a polished future. In the final minutes of the film, Tamlyn Tomita adds frightening legitimacy to the business strategy of Semaphore Animation. You find yourself in Sophia’s shoes as she finds the achievements of Palladon and Semaphore something to fear than admire.

Real Artists is a solid twelve-minute pitch for the feature-length film that could be the perfect reflection of the current state of the film industry. Cameo Wood and her strong leads have unlocked something truly important to define this current generation of rising filmmakers. The film has made its case and interests have been peaked. Now is time for Wood to take the next step and push Real Artists into the realm where it has enough time make the bold statement it so desperately wants to make.

Patrick Howard

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