Short film “The Shipment” is an absolute labor of love. [Tribeca Film Festival]

The fact that this film was created is a notable achievement in itself. Director Bobby Bala made remarkable sacrifices of time, energy, and financial stability to even make the science fiction short, The Shipment, a reality. Fittingly, the story itself is one of sacrifice as well, following Kaiden Katar (Aleks Paunovic), a single father drifting through the cosmos with his daughter, Zohra Katar (Ishana Bala). After the death of his wife sometime earlier, Kaiden has been raising his daughter all on his ow, in the harsh environment of outer space. Faced with ever-dwindling resources and mechanical malfunctions on their space ship, Kaiden is forced into making a decision that will challenge the love of his daughter and his own core moral values.

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L-R: Aleks Paunovic as Kaiden Katar and Ishana Bala as Zohra Katar from short film THE SHIPMENT. Production still from Naim Sutherland.

When examining the success of this film, it is incredibly important to note the production budget of $1 million and the obstacles that Bobby Bala had to overcome in order to even have this film see the light of day. After four years of tireless work coordinating all of the moving parts that go into making a film and even selling his own house for financial support of the project, Bala finally developed his true vision for the enterprise.

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L-R: Ishana Bala as Zohra Katar and director Bobby Bala from short film THE SHIPMENT. Photo from Nadim Hejeili.

Technically, the film is absolutely brilliant considering the limited resources with which the filmmakers had to work. Filmed almost entirely using a green screen, the breathtaking nature of the final frontier is on full display. From the dazzling stars and celestial bodies, to the magnificent detail on the starships that would not feel out of place in Star Wars or Star Trek, the VFX crew (supervised by Nicholas Land-Ulrich), production design team (headed by Tane Stange), and art directors (led by Rob Warren) put forth a stellar effort. This is coupled with the gorgeous, wide-ranging cinematography from DP Naim Sutherland, which establishes the grand, vast nature of the environment. The intergalactic alien species are brought to life with a combination of impressive practical makeup effects (supervised by Sarah Elizabeth) blended with even more CGI. The splendid musical score from composer Crispin Hands forms the backbone and foundation of this space odyssey, developing a tone of wonder, amazement, and spectacle. This is complemented by the compelling sound design created by Miguel Araujo, thrusting the viewer into the story’s setting, from the mechanical creaks of flying shuttles to the strong thunderstorms on planetary surfaces. From the opening shot of the film to the final scene, the music and sound design are by far the most consistently successful technical aspects of the film.

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A scene from short film THE SHIPMENT. Production still from Naim Sutherland.

Other parts of the narrative had a more grounded tone, both in a literal and figurative sense, taking place in decrepit space ports and run-down maintenance stations, showing that “scum and villainy” are truly universal terms. It is here where the story question arises for the main protagonist, Kaiden Katar. He must decide whether or not to take on an illegal slave-trafficking operation that would provide more stability to him and his daughter, but at the expense of other beings’ livelihoods. The themes of family, love, and sacrifice can be found at the root of thousands of stories, but it is the delivery of each narrative that separates it from others. With that being said, this particular story does indeed provide a unique spin on these ideas. How far is one willing to go to protect their family? In this case, the intergalactic slave trade is the answer to this question, which is certainly a different direction from other similar stories.

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A scene from short film THE SHIPMENT. Production still from Naim Sutherland.

Unfortunately, despite its spectacular technical design and intriguing story, this film has its fair share of weaknesses that are impossible to overlook. The acting is about as scripted, robotic, and inauthentic as is conceivable. It is hard to watch in certain instances. Of course, the actors are not assisted by the very poorly-written, cheesy, and predictable dialogue. While this does go with the territory in certain independent films, there is still a standard that must be met. Many audience members will find the acting and dialogue to fall short of that benchmark. These poor qualities of the film do not completely negate the impact of the positive elements of the film’s production, but there is certainly a negative impact made.

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Aleks Paunovic as Kaiden Katar in short film THE SHIPMENT. Production still from Naim Sutherland.

Everything was available for The Shipment to be a memorable sci-fi short with fantastic VFX, cinematography, and music, but the distracting nature of the insufficiently-handled acting and dialogue are undeniable. Still, director Bobby Bala should be applauded for this gutsy endeavor, which was essentially a passion project for him. He devoted four years of his life to this venture, and he should be proud of his accomplishments, all factors considered. What may be forgettable to most film fans and critics will surely stay with Bala for the rest of his life.

The Shipment is screening during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. For information on tickets, head here.

Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.

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