Analysis Saturday Matinees Preview

Saturday Matinees Preview: The Sprayer (2022)

Director: Farnoosh Abedi

Writer: Farnoosh Abedi

Running time: 7mins

As many film festivals depend on submission fees to sustain their operations, granting fee waivers can be difficult. But that also means that already marginalised voices can struggle to be heard, at the events independent filmmakers depend on for a platform.

Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees series has returned for a second season, to give artists from low-income backgrounds, opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations hit by international sanctions a platform.

The latest six-part series of Saturday Matinees has already shown work from South Africa, India and Nepal. This week, our free-to-view short comes from Farnoosh Abedi, a filmmaker based in Tehran. His breath-taking animation The Sprayer takes place in a fascistic dystopia, in which armed troops storm through civilian buildings, carrying out orders to destroy any plants they encounter.

A hybrid of hand-crafted stop-motion and digital imagery, The Sprayer brings to mind the stunning works of US animation studio Laika – and that is probably the highest praise you can bestow on an independent animation. In particular, however, Mohsen Abdolali should be praised for their work modelling and painting the characters. With the entire film taking place in silence, the shapes and looks of the character make up half of what we know about them, alongside their movements – and at no point are we in any doubt what is going on, or who we should be rooting for.

Our nameless lead begins the film as a faceless cog, helping a tyrannical regime stamp out any remaining greenery on a barren planet. He is a little too short and dumpy to make for a particularly effective fascist, though, and this means he spends more time observing and thinking about what is going on than the other grunts carrying out the carnage around him. In the end, he can no longer reconcile his experiences with the ideology he is required to swallow to do his job – and an arc of rebellion and redemption commences.

Some of this might seem a little heavy-handed. In particular, the faceless soldier’s picking up and reading a copy of Farenheit 451 probably is a bit too blatant a way of foregrounding his transition – I also suspect copies of Ray Bradbury’s novel might be quite hard to come by in a fascist dystopia, for obvious reasons – while the final chapter of his arc is a little rushed in its delivery. But a production that looks this good was probably burning through what little money there was, and necessitated a truncated seven-minute run-time.

Getting something short, sweet and minorly flawed out as a means to attracting investors for a bigger story, with a well-executed proof-of-concept, is a valid reason to put out a movie like this. As far as I can see, that’s exactly what the creators of The Sprayer deserve. There is so much more room to explore this narrative, and the desolate world it takes place in – while it has so much to say about the world as it is now, too.

The core conflict at the heart of the film is particularly interesting. The powerbase of The Sprayer’s political elite apparently depends upon the destruction of the natural world – something which is conversely making it impossible for life (including the elite) to continue on Earth. Paradoxically, however, their ideology has so naturalised their belief in their own supremacy, that any attempt of those they govern to improve things is seen as a greater threat to ‘the world’ than a literal apocalypse. Looking at the way that real economic, political and social elites around the world are attempting to control the climate agenda, it is not difficult to see something of our world’s situation in this fiction. Even as thousands of the world’s wealthiest people gather in Davos or COP27 via private jets, to pontificate on “stopping global warming”, they are involved in brutally silencing any activism actually looking to push for action from below. Ceding any ground to grassroots pressure is perceived as a greater ‘threat’ to the people running the show than the end of the world.

The Sprayer might not be a literal depiction of our world as it is, then. But it is a fabulously animated piece of food-for-thought, worth seeing to think about how the dominant forces of our society and economy, as it is, might have a powerbase that similarly hinges on suffocating the very basis for life on Earth.

The film will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 4th of March, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page. As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE2324 to access the film.

Stay tuned for another film next week!

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