Fissure (2009)

2009 was a very good year for Science Fiction.

After a long drought in the theaters following the release of The Lord of the Rings, when the big studios instead turned their energies to making epic fantasies, SF finally found its way back.  While it started with a slow trickle, thanks largely to the efforts of Independent filmmakers, 2009 saw an epic number of both Indie and Mainstream SF films, from Avatar, District 9 and the Star Trek reboot to Pandorum, Gamer, Surrogates and Moon to Hunter Prey, Redline, Stingray Sam, and, of course, Fissure.

Fissure was one of those truly independent productions created on a shoestring budget by Dallas based director Russ Pond

Working from a complex script by Nicholas Turner, Fissure tells the story of a troubled police officer, Sergeant Paul Grunning (James MacDonald) who finds that the routine disturbance the Chief has asked him to investigate is far from routine. He finds the body of a famous physicist, Roger Ulster, in the kitchen, but soon Grunning finds himself far more concerned with the bizarre things happening all around him. Something is very wrong in the Ulster home and Paul must discover not merely the identity of the murderer, but the deadly truth about Roger Ulster’s secret project.

While mainstream films involving time travel have generally remained relatively simple in concept and structure, independent filmmakers have used their freedom to create far more challenging works (of which Primer is the best known). Here, the house itself becomes a maze of paradoxes, in one of the cleverest conceptual twists to the basic time travel film I’ve seen in a long time.

Fissure is very much a product of the digital age. Its handful of well-executed effects are the most visible digital elements, but Pond also changed the look of the film inside the Ulster house, toning down the colors to give those sequences a subtle feeling of wrongness. While the members of the Ulster household remain somewhat undeveloped, the film gives us a deeply sympathetic understanding of the demons haunting Grunning.

But Fissure also tried to find a new road for independent film to follow.  Rather than the usual, drawn-out festival process so many others have followed (which forces filmmakers to enter their work in festival after festival in the hope that they might attract a distributor, an often expensive process) Pond gave a few free showings in Texas, then launched a website that offered a nine-week series of podcasts (covering the film’s first thirty-six minutes), behind the scenes facts and videos, and a contest. This lead to the release of the entire film as an on-demand DVD.

While no one else seems to have followed his strategy, we have seen more filmmakers posting online content to promote their films – and it is notable that VOD plays a far more important part in the marketing of independent film that ever before (although it hasn’t supplanted the festival circuit yet).

It just seems a shame that such a beautifully made time paradox film isn’t better known – and that Russ Pond hasn’t followed it up yet with another film.

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