A man receives a message from his future self in “Triumph of Time.”
A man receives a message from his future self in “Triumph of Time.”

‘Underdog’ Israeli filmmaker brings sci-fi short to S.F. Comic Con

The filmmaking community in Israel is small, and it’s not easy to make a film without government support, says filmmaker Ortal Sasson. But dogged perseverance and a unique vision have, after a long struggle, proved enough for Sasson to see his esoteric, time-bending short film to fruition — and bring it all the way to San Francisco Comic Con, which opens Sept. 1 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Sasson, 39, went to film school in Jerusalem and works as a projectionist at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. His passion for the obscure is on display when he talks about his workplace.

“For cinema-lovers, it’s so important. It’s the only place in Israel that still projects 16-millimeter film,” he says. “They archive and screen every single Israeli film that is made.”

Sasson’s contribution to that national oeuvre is “Triumph of Time,” a trippy five-minute sci-fi short that he produced and co-wrote.

“Triumph” presents a unique take on the time machine: In this case, it’s a messaging app that allows users to receive messages from the future. A financial analyst receives a message from his future self that contains some investment tips, but when he focuses on the wrong details in the message, his personal and family life begin to unravel.

Ortal Sasson
Ortal Sasson

“I didn’t want to deal with a time machine. It’s a paradox. I wanted something personal, just having small messages from the future,” Sasson says of the idea behind his film. “It’s just something a person can use simply, without ‘Back to the Future’ or anything like that.”

It is a chaotic, claustrophobic film that recalls elements of the low-budget 2004 sci-fi classic “Primer.”

There are special effects, mostly large holographic displays that app users interact with. For a movie made on a budget of 25,000 shekels (about $7,000), the special effects are so good that “Triumph of Time” is one of four films showing at S.F. Comic Con nominated for the event’s “Best VFX” award.

“Triumph” will screen Sept. 1 during a one-hour block of foreign shorts.

Even producing a short on a shoestring budget is a minor coup in Israeli film. “You cannot make a film without the support of the [government] film fund. You would have to be very rich,” Sasson says.

He and his filmmaking partner, Ori Hadad, had been trying to get their feature-length script for “Triumph of Time” made for years. “We were sending them scripts and getting rejected and rejected again and again,” he says. “The Israeli Film Fund does not find us worthy of development.”

Finally, they decided to make a short version with their own money as a proof of concept. Though Israeli film festivals continued to reject the film — “because people didn’t understand it,” Sasson says — “Triumph of Time” started getting into international festivals. It has appeared in the Philip K. Dick sci-fi festival in New York City, the Los Angeles CineFest — and even the famed Cannes film festival.

It has since become a regular on the comic con circuit, showing in recent months at Indiana Comic Con and Tampa Bay Comic Con. And now “Triumph of Time” is set to come to San Francisco.

The success has emboldened Sasson and partner Hadad.

“Ori works at a falafel [shop] in Israel. You see how underdog we are? But we can say to ourselves now, ‘I’m a sci-fi author,’ ” Sasson says. “Ori is still working in falafel, but we have plans.”

At S.F. Comic Con, Sasson will also be part of a panel called “Futurology,” in which sci-fi authors will talk about predictions for a realistic future somewhere between the romanticized utopias and dystopias prevalent in science fiction.

S.F. Comic Con, Sept. 1-3 at Moscone Center, 747 Howard St., S.F. “Triumph of Time” screens between 2 and 3 p.m. Sept. 1; Futurology panel from 1-2 p.m. Sept. 1. $30 Friday only or $80 three-day admission. sanfrancomiccon.com

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is interim associate editor of J. He previously served as assistant editor and digital editor, and is a member of the board of the American Jewish Press Association. He can be reached at [email protected].