WFF Woodstock in the City Series Presents
June 30, 2010
By Brian Geldin
A co-production of the Independent Television Service (ITVS), FutureStates is a compilation of science fiction short films by acclaimed filmmakers that poses the theoretical question: What could possibly happen in America within the near future that might reshape humanity, the environment, the economy and other pressing issues? Five of the films in the series screened last Wednesday at the 92Y Tribeca during a presentation by the Woodstock Film Festival’s Woodstock in the City Series. WFF Co-Founder & Director Meira Blaustein made a few opening remarks and handed over the mic to Woodstock in the City Series programmer Sabine Hoffman, who introduced the films for the evening.
Five of the films in the FutureStates series were presented:
- Mister Green – A parable about change. Directed by Greg Pak (Robot Stories) [present].
- The Rise – A story in the not-so-distant future about a generation letting go of the American Dream and a new generation adapting to life on the edge. Directed by Garret Williams [not present].
- Silver Sling – In the polarized economy of the near future, corporations offer financial incentives to their high-ranking female employees to pay for chemically accelerated surrogate births. Directed by Tze Chun (WFF alum – Children of Invention) [present].
- Tent City – Unemployment is in the double digits, and block after block of businesses and homes have been foreclosed and abandoned. Only the powerful few live in homes, while the rest must survive in the tent cities cropping up everywhere. Directed by Aldo Velasco [not present]
- Tia And Marco – In the year 2025, all U.S. citizens in good health are now required to serve one year in a government job, placed by lottery in to schools, soup kitchens, highways and borders. Directed by Annie J. Howell [present].
Hoffman began the discussion by asking Pak, Chun, and Howell what inspired them, how they were able to choose their stories for FutureStates, and what insights they gained in the process.
Howell, who grew up in Arizona (where Tia and Marco takes place), said she knew she had to apply to FutureStates with an idea. She wanted to go to Arizona, where immigration is an issue that has engaged her growing up there. It was interesting for her to be on set with this particular issue, as there were a variety of opinions amongst cast and crew, nothing radical, but conversations were had.
Besides being motivated by ITVS giving him $10,000 to make his film, Silver Sling, Chun said he was a big fan of science fiction and wrote his thesis on filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, whose films were about the present. Chun came up with a couple of ideas, but liked the one for Silver Sling best about immigrants, who are the life support system for the city.
Pak said he began outlining the story for Mister Green in 2008 during the election. With talk of “change in the air,” he found himself thinking how hard change really is, and that nobody wants to really change on a personal level or in any way at all. To him, the idea of fundamental change is something we’re inevitably going to have to face within the next generation, and science fiction is a safe place to try out different ideas about what real change might entail. This was a chance for him to take this notion to the biggest extreme he could build around the topic of climate change and global warming. People have given him different reactions on his film. One friend told him that he found it to be really optimistic, while someone else said it was a horrifying vision of the future.
Blaustein asked the filmmakers if ITVS gave them a specific subject to develop. Pak answered that they had been told use science fiction to look at the near future in a serious way. Chun added that they told them to imagine what America would look like five to 20 years from now, and they could do whatever story they wanted to. Hugo Perez, another FutureStates filmmaker (whose film Seed was not a part of the program that night) who was in the audience, said part of the initial inspiration was that the main programmer of ITVS was fascinated with the idea of Mayan calendar and the year 2012, and he also watched a lot of Twilight Zone at the same time.
An audience member asked the filmmakers about the process of working with ITVS. Howell said ITVS was very involved, and because it was the inaugural year of the series, they meticulously developed a feedback mechanism that was helpful. Chun said they were very involved with the development through editing processes. Pak said that it was always good to have feedback, and nice to have institutional support that requires it. The notes they were giving came from a real storyteller’s perspective.
Another audience member said that she imagines that these films might be of interest to audiences who are already predisposed to these types of independent films. What efforts are these filmmakers making to make people aware of these films and issues who might not already be predisposed, she asked? Howell said the films give audiences enough to think and talk about, and an opportunity exists to engage a larger audience. Pak said because these are all science fiction films, they all have the genre audience as well. These films were all made in order to be distributed by ITVS online, which is a big part on how they’re getting out.
Blaustein asked the filmmakers to comment on the notion of near-future science fiction. Pak said given the small budgets of their films, doing something 100 years in the future would have been harder to do. The mandate was to imagine America in the near future. What attracted Chun was that he could make something that was five years in the future.
A final question by someone in the audience was directed to Howell and Susan Kelechi Watson, the actress who played Tia about the importance of race in the film. Howell said it was very important and made it more complicated that a person of color was dealing with another person of color. It would have made the story entirely different if it were otherwise. Watson said she hadn’t really thought about race so much, but rather what it would be like playing this women who was pregnant and dealing with this kid (an “illegal” who breaks into her house). She said she’s glad she didn’t think about it, but that’s there, because it’s great as an artist that there are these layers that one doesn’t think about. Howell added that some people focus on Tia’s race, and others don’t at all, it depends on the audience. Pak said that all of the films in the series have very diverse casting, which he said makes sense if you look into the future and look at the demographics of the country.