Miguel Almendarez wrote, directed, edited, and produced Refuge. The short film clocks in at 29 minutes and 40 seconds and is set in the future, during the height of the new Aztec Empire on Mars. The “illustrated epic poem” is not shot in a traditional manner, as there are no actors, sets, props, or anything of the like. Instead, the filmmaker created a slew of images and set his A.I.-generated narration over top.
Due to the deliberate presentation style, a traditional narrative does not exist. But there are two characters in which the events that follow thread through. In the sprawling cityscape, a man and a woman are in love. However, their romance is in danger, as outside forces, such as government oppression, wealth disparity, and a few old gods still revered from ancient times, threaten to keep them apart.
“…their romance is in danger…”
That is a very boilerplate summation of the story. Refuge covers a lot of ground and remains engaging throughout. The sheer scope of Almendarez’s creation is to be commended, as should the way he wraps it all up. The final two or so minutes are quite the coda; without spoiling anything, that’s all that will be said there.
Unfortunately, the voice-over is the weak link here. Due to being computerized, there’s not much inflection, creating a monotone delivery. The words spoken are intriguing, but to emphasize the intensity of what’s happening, the emotions need to be heard in the delivery. But on the exact opposite end of things are the images. The pictures that bring to life this world are beautiful. Almendarez puts in a ton of detail, with some looking very realistic.
Refuge is an interesting experiment in what artificial intelligence can do for independent filmmaking. The images create a believable world while the story’s originality is impressive. Now, if only more emotional resonance could be added to the voice-over narration.
"…an interesting experiment in what artificial intelligence can do for independent filmmaking."