Last weekend, FUTURESTATES had its theatrical world premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW). These narrative mini-features explore many of today’s complex social issues by imagining how they play out in the world of tomorrow. Find out what happened at the screening from Aldo Velasco, filmmaker of the FUTURESTATES episode Tent City.
When I learned that my film Tent City would be screening at SXSW as part of the FUTURESTATES presentation, I was editing a feature film in production in a jungle in India, near the Bhutanese border. I wanted to go to Austin but wasn’t sure if it was worth it; I’d have to leave production a week early, then travel for three and a half days around the globe to make it in time. It was a crapshoot, because festival screenings are often a bit of a letdown. You arrive full of high hopes, but audiences rarely provide the kind of rapturous response that every filmmaker craves.
But I had to see Tent City in front of an audience. This might be my only chance, because the FUTURESTATES shorts were created for Internet broadcast. Would my film’s complex story-within-a-story structure play in front of a crowd? One thing was for sure: I myself would not be able to enjoy my own screening. I’d be too nervous and too hypersensitive to the audience’s mood to relax. But on Sunday, March 14, I was very pleasantly surprised. My film –– in fact all the films –– looked gorgeous splayed onto that stadium-sized screen at the Austin Convention Center. My previous digital shorts had looked a bit fuzzy when blown up to the silver screen. But Tent City, which was shot on the RED camera by the very talented Mathew Rudenberg, looked breathtaking –– at least to me! A large portion of my film is composed of black and white stills, used to relay a futuristic science-fiction story in the manner of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. With their inky blacks and icy whites, these stark still images surpassed all my expectations for the force of their narrative power. Watch the FUTURESTATES series trailer:
The objective of the series is to reimagine the problems of today in a slightly futuristic setting. Greg Pak’s Mister Green envisions a future in which bio-terrorists might be the best thing for mankind. Tze Chun’s film Silver Sling is about a world in which surrogate mothers can perform accelerated pregnancies for paying customers –– at tremendous personal cost. And Tent City follows the current housing crisis to its logical conclusion and projects a future in which almost all families have lost their homes and must live in improvised tent cities. If there were any doubts about the audience’s interest in the films, the question and answer session swept them away. People seemed fascinated not only with the films and their themes but how the entire series was created.
Somebody asked about the dystopian quality of the films, how all of them projected a bleak future. This took me by surprise; I don’t feel I have a particularly pessimistic worldview. My response to the question was that by necessity any film about the future had to be dystopian, at least to a small degree. Narrative structure demanded it; otherwise there would be no tension in the story. And I realize now that for the most part the FUTURESTATES films are optimistic about humankind’s ability to stay humane even under adverse conditions. Later that night PBS and ITVS threw a raucous party on the set of Austin City Limits that took all of us by surprise for its bacchanalian ferocity. Who knew that public television folks could be such relentless hedonists?
-Aldo Velasco Filmmaker of Tent City on FUTURESTATES
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