Pulse of the Twin Cities  1/10/2001

Heaven 17 strange and beautiful film

by David Anderson

"For the love of God will help me, I will not be confounded, I will hold my face like a flint, firm and unmoving, for I know I shall not be ashamed."
The re-assuring words quoted from the Old Testament , recited stoically over the frightened gaze of the main character, come near the end of Heaven 17, a strange and fascinating new film from director Jon Springer. Just when you thought that science fiction was as dead and lifeless as a robot, Springer's project, actually a short with a running time of only 15 minutes, has revived the genre with a weird, chilling tale both leeringly seductive and poetic in its simplicity.
Heaven 17 shows us a world in the not-so-distant future, a world with much that seems Oh so familiar to us all, yet also with little that puts us at ease. We see Regina Panek, a young woman who lives comfortably with her mother and father in their modular, post-modern home. Regina's parents are very hip and with it, as dad relaxes on the couch with a little high-tech stimulation, while mom struts her stuff around the house and gets buff in tight spandex. Their digs are equipped with all the latest hardware, including two-way T.V. and mobile commode units complete with futuristic reading materials.
Despite all the gadgets, all is not well in this humble abode. Regina, we find, is pregnant, and her medical tests have revealed something amiss. There is the difficult question of who has fathered the child, for Regina has always been a "good girl". Her results, nonetheless, show an "unacceptable type," and the fetus must, they are informed by a hooded, televised image, be aborted for the good of all concerned. There is a law, it seems, against such "un-authorized fertilizations," and such crimes are deemed a threat to the state.
"The provost will call on you by eight o'clock this evening as a reminder," an oily, manic technician has informed her earlier, when her transgression is first detected. "Everything will be fine," he tells her with mocking reassurance, " only I will need to see you again this evening." The social order shows little tolerance for unwed mothers, and this "sin" has left her subject to "mandatory civil enforcement."
Regina submits, despite a child conceived purely, "from Love," she has told her shocked parents, her eyes lifted toward heaven. With such disparate narrative elements, Heaven 17 has managed to re-form stale, formulaic variations of plot into an engrossing if unpleasant look into the future, one thankfully present only in the creative imagination of its creator, filmmaker Jon Springer, who wrote, produced and financed the short. Borrowing much from several classic science fiction novels as well as films, Springer acknowledges a debt to those who have influenced him the most for this project.
"I've been influenced since an early age by the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, Orwell and especially Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange, which is probably my favorite film of all time," he said when asked to explain his work's origins. "There’s something about that film, with the story by Burgess and the film styled by Stanley Kubrick, that I keep grabbing for from my sub-conscience."
Although the characters depicted live in a world of open, if fetishized, eroticism and the film hangs with a frank and breathy sexuality, the film conforms to an overall stereotyped assortment of stock characters and gender roles. For Springer, issues of power and gender are of less importance than the narrative itself. Instead, he suggests, what should be of more concern here is a clash between parent and child, or, as he sees it, authority and rebellion.
"It's a generational thing, and less about gender," he said, while describing an over-arching theme. " The young woman is pure. She's a romantic figure, and even speaks like someone from the 18th Century, which is another reason why her parents can't understand her and why she's seen as alien. There is a moral quality there that the older generation, through the guise of an immoral, corrupted society, has lost and now sees as something to be stamped out."
Springer is a filmmaker with over 12 years of experience directing and producing films in the Twin Cities area. His previous films include Nuada and Hymens Parable, a full length feature which was included in last year's Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival as a part of the Minnesota Filmmakers Showcase. Heaven 17 also offers a vehicle for the talents of several local performers, including Kristin Sales (What Women Want), Melody Ann Tucker (Drop Dead Gorgeous) and Camilla Little (Nuada), and its high production values despite a limited budget reveals Springer's considerable experience as the creator of, by his account, over 600 television commercials over the course of his career.
The film will headline the Independent Film Project's Cinema Lounge series in its regular venue at the Bryant Lake Bowl on West Lake Street for a one-night only, single screening this coming Saturday evening. Springer hopes to use this screening to introduce the film to local exhibitors, and he also looks forward to April for a likely run at this year's Film Festival.
He sums up his career succinctly. "I'm not very big in the film world, I suppose I could be bigger and better known. I'm not part of any film scene, just a family guy here in the cities making films," he said.
Part Brave New World, part Sleeper in its many evocations, Heaven 17 gives us a future as unsettlingly possible as it is distant. While the schlock violence and nudity may be too much for some timid viewers, neither are overwhelming. The excellent technical standards of this creative short are marred only by occasional sound imperfections, which will keep you on the edge of your seat in order to hear some of the dialogue. It all adds to the filmy, sensuous effect that feels for all the world something very like indulging in soft, overripe fruit.

City Pages  1/10/2001

Complete with frontal nudity, blood-spurting gore, and a pack of hammy actors, this locally produced 15-minute short feigns itself as pure sci-fi schlock. But indie filmmaker Jon Springer has actually utilized the cryptic tradition of fueling an absurd genre piece with a politically charged undercurrent--in this case, a Catholic anti-abortion spin. Heaven 17 introduces a brave new world where the government rigidly controls fertility rates, sometimes forcing women to abort their unborn by employing such user-friendly gadgets as the [Sanger]Sangra3000 Suction Device. Apparently, this policy really irks the Big Guy upstairs as he pulls out that ol' immaculate conception trick once again and impregnates a few virgins, including a fair neo-Mary named Regina Panek (Kristin Sales). After Regina tests positive for auto-conception, she must submit to the will of a vampiric abortion doctor. The subsequent finale and overall twisted tone of the film will definitely redden a few faces whether due to pent-up outrage or amusement. Regardless of your politics, however, Springer (who made the equally unapologetic The Hymens Parable) deserves his due for showing no fear in handling "untouchable" religious and political topics with the eccentric flare of a true iconoclast.  - Jeremy Swanson