An aging and seemingly limited household robot attempts to communicate with the family dog.

It seems that having robotic household companions is an inevitable thought when we ponder about the future. Of course this generates some science fiction and filmmaker interest, and we’ve seen our fair share of shorts with robots finding their self awareness, but Zari is quite unique in its own particular way.

In late 2011, I had to travel home to Florida because my dog was dying. As I sat there, he on my lap, his life slipping away, unable to speak to one another, there was a silent connection I couldn’t shake. Something that transcended communication, something that brought us to the same level of being. This was also around the time when Apple’s SIRI had just been introduced and I wondered if one day, when artificial intelligence advances to become part of our household, alongside our pets, what will our relationship to it be like? Will household robots have an inner world of their own? And if they do, will we be able to notice?

if I just show you this like it is, without manipulating you into liking it, can we care?

Filmmaking can be a bizarre thing sometimes. As a viewer we always have certain expectations of how things should happen, and more often than not if the structure is not respected we get the feeling that something is broken, and the flow just doesn’t seem right. But Courtney plays dearly with our expectations, while she doesn’t really break the conventional filmmaking rules – she seems to have written rules of her own for Zari – and they work marvelously.

This was the first film I made outside a school program, which often restricts you with certain rules and regulations. I wanted to make a film that didn’t adhere to all the ‘proper’ ways you should make a short film and just let it be what it needed to be, even if that meant a slower, quieter film. Many notes would have probably been to add score or to have the robots do things that make us care about it. But I think I just really wanted to ask, if I just show you this like it is, without manipulating you into liking it, can we care?

As a science fiction film, Zari captivates us where we would least except it, but many technical aspects of the film were quite unique on their own – including the type of camera and film used.

This film was shot completely on 2-perf 35mm. I was a camera loader at the time and production kept telling me to waste any short ends below 150ft. Well, if you shoot 2-perf, that 150ft roll becomes 300ft and I knew I could squeeze 2 or 3 takes onto that. So instead of throwing the film out, I kept it and shot the entire film on short ends. We used an old camera called the Panavision G-2, what JAWS was shot on, and old Baltar lenses to give us that nostalgic, old feel I was going after. Moreover, the robot was completely built and practical with a remote operate controlling it from behind the camera. The cards were stacked against us in many ways with a dog, robot, an old camera, and film, but I am really happy with the final product.

Certainly ‘Zari’ doesn’t have the type of action or futuristic appeal that Science Fiction films have made us a custom to, but that’s the beauty of the film, showing us the mundane and probably most realistic version of the near future. Forget about soundtracks and cute human-like action and just let it be what it needed to be.