When fan films attack: From amateur to auteur with the amazing ‘Anachronism’

The term “fan film” has a dirrrty pejorative feel to it, doesn’t it? Summons up images of amateurish acting, cheap props and manic dream fulfillment in which someone’s favorite fictional characters have the ultimate fight/coupling/poetry slam denied the audience by the source material. It’s a sea of lightsaber duels and sword battles re-imagined with replica arms and Ren-Fair clothes.

Most of these make me cringe, despite some impressive budgets and actual film school training being brought to bear. A lot of fuss was made in 2003 about the short film “Batman: Dead End,” which was the first really slick fan film I ever saw. It had a budget, it had someone knowledgeable behind the camera, and it had access to some pretty spiffy costumes.

It left me colder than Dr. Freeze’s jock strap. Because no matter how nice the budget, at the end of the credits, it’s still amateur hour. Oh, and because Batman ends up in some kind of “Aliens vs. Predators” showdown in a Gotham alley. Seriously.

Over at TheForce.net, things start to look up a little. George Lucas apparently takes a very friendly attitude toward not just parodies of his fan-favorite films, but also of serious stories set in the Star War universe. Again, most of these give me the willies. I am partial, though to the ones that go for broke in the parody department. The best of these is “Death Star Repairmen,” the story of what really happened the day Luke turned off his guidance system and Used the Force.

Oooh, and also don’t miss Ryan vs. Dorkman, a meta-contextual showdown of two digital artists whose real-life Internet sparring led to one of the best fan-made sword duels ever. (And yeah, the list of Best Fan-Made Sword Duels is incredibly short, but this stands taller than those other ones stacked on top of each other.)

Really, check that link out. The last minute is not just inventive fight choreography but clever and intriguing uses of the Force that I wish I had seen in actual Lucas films.

OK, but the reason I’m posting this now is because I’ve had my jaw dropped today by a little tiny indie film: “Anachronism.”  It’s hard to call it a fan film, since none of the characters are based on famous licenses. But it has its heart in super-fandom by being a sci-fi tale with a steampunk heart courtesy of Jules Verne; the only thing missing for maximum geekdom is someone in a cape and cowl.

It’s the story of two curious children exploring the seaside and discovering, as one often does on holiday, a metallic squid. From the opening scenes of quiet character details to the haunting and apt final image, it’s a 15-minute wonder that held me rapt, not least because amateur films just shouldn’t be this good. If you can handle a dash of science fiction with your Victorian character drama, please give this 15-minute short a whirl.

“Anachronism” comes from a Vancouver studio and probably had some funding from some Canadian arts board or two, judging from the end credits. Details are fuzzy about the maker, Anachronism Pictures, but whoever these guys are, they’ve elevated the bar for makers of amateur films.

As Remy the rat said in “Ratatouille,” when told that anyone can cook: “Yeah. Anyone can, that doesn’t mean that anyone should.” We’ve known for a long time that content creation in the modern age is open to anyone, and yep, YouTube proves that even though everybody is doing it, not all content is created equal. Here’s hoping that efforts like “Anachronism” push other fan-filmistes to pick up their game.

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