COVID-19 certainly disrupted film production in 2020, causing filmmakers to seek creative ways to continue production on their projects. One female-filmmaker duo who call themselves Take Two XX, composed of director Mathilde Suissa and DP Jennifer Liu, decided to shoot a short film fully remote. Their finished product is Depart, a science fiction film that takes place in the near future where conditions require sections of the population to be prepared to make evacuations at any time. The main character, Lauren (Lauren Sowa), has been called to evacuate, and we follow her as she rushes to pack and search for a family heirloom.
Despite the simplicity and everydayness of the images we see of the suitcase-packing process, the dystopian stress of the concept elevates the film to feel like a worthwhile watch, especially during precarious times. Even though more people in the U.S. are venturing outside to rejoin their social circles in their leisure time, COVID-19 has still left us feeling vulnerable to major safety upheavals. Although COVID-19 didn’t cause major needs for evacuations, Depart, perhaps because of Lauren’s isolation (and the isolation of the production process), feels timely for today’s audiences.
Depart does well in avoiding the urge to explain everything to its audience. Although feature-length films or television series in the dystopian/disaster genre have plenty of time to establish the details of the threat and why people might need to relocate, an 8 ½ minute short doesn’t have that room. Extensive world-building would clog up the runtime, leaving insufficient room for the human element. The filmmakers of Depart wisely prioritise the protagonist’s search for her one heirloom and the rising pressure as her departure time creeps toward her. The pacing of the film and Sowa’s emotional performance give us enough evidence to know that the conditions of this film’s world are serious and to miss a departure time is a dire occurrence.
Although the film doesn’t focus on its world, it does still raise questions about current evacuations, and perhaps even immigration and asylum issues. These conversations are especially urgent after the current crisis in Afghanistan. Lauren is a white woman in the U.S. who would seem at least middle-class due to the quality of her living space; in our society, she’s the kind of woman we would least associate with the need to quickly escape home. Depart, then, offers an image of what a middle-class U.S.-born white person would look like as a migrant, but does so without feeling too appropriative because of its futuristic setting. The film does leave one wondering what these departures would be like for more vulnerable folks, however—folks who don’t have proper clothes to pack or don’t have the means to hear the recorded summons that give Lauren directions on how to properly evacuate. The working class and particularly the houseless would struggle with this process, and although I’m not condemning the film for focusing on a middle-class woman, it is worth considering what might lie beyond Lauren’s own flight.
Overall, Depart is worth it’s runtime for COVID-era audiences. It takes a big concept and focuses on the smaller, intimate, and individual issues that the concept creates. Sowa’s performance helps us understand the Venn diagram circles of grief that come with evacuation, where the past loss of a family member can feel as devastating in the present as a current loss of home. Rather than being limited by COVID restrictions, the women behind Take Two XX use the creative limitations as springboards to make a focused, moving short with wider societal implications.
Depart has just played at Peekskill Film Festival and the Brooklyn SciFi Film Festival, and it will be featured at a women in film screening in New York at the end of October. You can stay up to date on the film’s festival run here @departfilm.
by Bishop V Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter