11 Minutes Ago

Hello everyone – Niall introduced me in his post below, but for anyone who doesn’t know me already, I’m Vector production editor and usually found in the Torque Control comments section, and now he’s given me the keys to the blog. You can expect more posts from me on media SF and other fannish topics, while I leave the serious book blogging to Niall. I’ll try not to lower the tone too much.

The seventh annual Sci Fi London film festival took place over the bank holiday weekend. As mentioned previously, it hosts the presentation of the Arthur C Clarke award as part of the opening night, but over the next five days they showed over twenty science fiction films. I think this was the fourth year I’ve attended the festival, and while the films are sometimes hit and miss as to quality, but for every Subject Two or Recon 2022 there’s a Primer to restore your faith in intelligent film-making.

11 Minutes Ago isn’t this year’s Primer, but it’s the obvious comparison to make to this ultra-low-budget time travel romance. Pack is our protagonist, a time-traveller from fifty years in the future, who can only travel back in time for eleven minutes before he has to return to the future. The film consists of eight of these eleven minute jumps, covering two hours of a wedding reception in our time, but two years of Pack’s life. The twist is that we’re following Pack’s visits chronologically for him, but they jump about in almost reverse order between 7 and 9pm on the day of the California Presidential Primary wedding reception.

If Pack can travel through time, why does he keep coming back to the same two hours? We see early on (for Pack and the viewers, that is, at the wedding it’s nearly 9pm) that the answer is Cynthia, a bridesmaid who seems to have fallen for Pack’s charms, and gives an enthusiastic yes to a question he hasn’t even asked yet.

The introduction to the film told us that it was shot in 24 hours. Even without knowing this, it’s clear that the film was made on a shoestring, which they try and turn into a virtue. The angle they take is that the time-travelling Pack is more interesting to the wedding videographers than the actual wedding, and we’re seeing their film, which not only gives Pack someone to explain everything to but means that any dodgy camerawork can be explained away as well. Setting it all during two hours in one location means only one set, but they shoot it well enough and from enough angles that it doesn’t get boring. What doesn’t fare so well is the sound – some lines are inaudible, and the music (which I suspect was being played in the background of the shoot) is overwhelming and almost continuous for the first half of the film.

What works really well are the interweaving plots of the people at the wedding reception, and the way they can set up mysteries for which the answers come from the beginning of the evening – explaining why the groom finishes the evening pissed as a newt when he starts off a tee-totaller, why the bride’s mother is continually making balloon animals, which of Nancy the bridesmaid’s many lovers bought her earrings. Only once do they take it too far, with a card trick from Pack which serves no purpose and feels like padding, even in an 84-minute film.

What doesn’t work as well is the actual science fiction. It seems that the time-travel is just an excuse to do an interesting and unconventional timeline, but while Memento managed to come up with a good rationale for this, 11 Minutes Ago has Pack coming back to our time to collect a sample of clean air so it can be replicated in the future and reverse the crippling lack of libido which is killing the birth rate, an idea which vies with the Doctor setting the poison gas on fire in this week’s Doctor Who for stupidest way to save the Earth.

Assuming you can get past this lack of science in your science fiction, there’s another problem, in that having set up the ending of Pack and Cynthia’s romance at the start of the film, they have to convince me that they would get so far in such a short space of time. Setting Cynthia up as extremely selective in her choice of boyfriends, and someone who is reticent to move too fast, makes their task even more difficult. Pack’s chat-up technique alternates between wannabe profound statements about the nature of time and the fleetingness of their moments together and cheesy lines about her beautiful eyes and soft skin, and if it were me I’d have run a mile after the first half-hour. Further complicating matters is that in a film filled with surprisingly fine actors, Christina Mauro can’t persuade me that Cynthia is a woman so instantly mesmerising that Pack will spend months and years of his life preparing for eleven minute visits to her when she seems like a fairly boring doormat,and that feeds back to make Pack even more of an obsessive stalker than he already is.

Even if the central romance falls short, there’s still enough interest in the supporting characters to make the film worth watching. You’ll need to pay attention, but if it’s not quite the mind-bending experience of Primer you will at least be able to follow it without resorting to diagrams, and the ending, while not unexpected, is neatly done. I don’t know if it has any chance of a release outside the festival circuit, but it’s worth catching if you get the chance.

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