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New Web Series Wonders, What’s In Store for America?

New Web Series Wonders, What's In Store for America?

“What will become of America in five, 25, or even 50 years from today?” That is the question the Independent Television Service (ITVS) posed to 11 accomplished filmmakers who were assigned the task of making a short film reflecting their own vision of a not-too-distant American future. The answers are presented on ITVS’s web venture, FUTURESTATES.

None too surprisingly, the futures presented by the filmmakers offer a grim portrait of what’s to come. Themes range from the disastrous effects of global warming to the impending collapse of our economy. The strongest of the entries broach high concepts and pare them down to a tangible plane, within the time constraints of a short film.

Director Tze Chun (“Children of Invention”) is the most successful at achieving this balance in his moving surrogate story, “Silver Sling.” Chun imagines a future where a surrogate can give birth to a child within three months via a shot in the arm. The catch? After giving three such births, the surrogate becomes sterile. The film follows a young Russian surrogate trying to make a living in New York as she struggles to decide whether to perform a third surrogate birth for financial gain, or remain fertile for her boyfriend. The script takes some interesting turns, and Chun, who wrings out strong performances from his fantastic cast, handles the sensationalist material with surprising restraint. The material is good enough to venture into feature territory, given the depth Chun brings to his vision.

Greg Pak tackles an even loftier concept in “Mister Green,” one that’s downright laughable on paper (the title isn’t simply a metaphor). But Pak makes it all plausible through character centric focus that works wonders for a story of such epic scale.

“PIA” from Columbia grad Tanuj Chopra, tells a similarly outlandish tale with an intimate bent. The gorgeously lit film is a tender love story at its core, with a nifty gender bending robot premise to boot. Think of it as “A.I.” if Haley Joel Osment’s robot were not a child, but rather a full grown adult.

A scene from Tanuj Chopra’s “PIA.” [Photo courtesy of ITVS]

The influence of Steven Spielberg’s futuristic riff on “Pinocchio” is even more evident in Ramin Bahrani’s moving fable “Plastic Bag,” which chronicles the journey of a grocery bag that longs to be human. The short is undoubtedly the highest profile film on the slate. Not only is Bahrani the director of the critically lauded “Goodbye Solo,” but “Plastic Bag” also served as the opening night film for the Venice Film Festival’s Corto Cortissimo series, and features narration by director Werner Herzog, with an original score by indie darlings Sigur Ross. Bahrani’s dark fairytale merits its pedigree. Through stunning tracking shots that culminate with the bag caught in the Pacific Ocean’s trash vortex (to which Herzog as the bag laments, “I wish you had created me so that I could die.”), Bahrani manages to imbue the bag with a definable personality while at the same time comment on the destruction we’re collectively wreaking on our planet.

In another strong entry, “Tia & Marco,” Annie J. Howell offers one of FUTURESTATE’s simplest narratives. The tale of a pregnant cop’s gradual understanding of a Mexican illegal immigrant’s plight is a familiar one, but Howell lends the film a thrilling pace in its final stretch that makes for the most viscerally entertaining scene in the entire series.

“Play,” from filmmaker David Kaplan (“Year of the Fish”) and game designer Eric Zimmerman, aims to thrill and provoke with varying degrees of success. That the film is impenetrable seems to be its underlying point. Exploring the dangerous future of interactive gaming, the film revels in a cyber reality universe akin to David Cronenberg’s underrated “eXistenZ.” What starts out as something resembling a brash Jonas Aukerland music video, “Play” periodically takes on entirely different filmmaking styles as the gamers connect to different realities. The effect makes for a surreal short that’s a visual and aural feast, albeit with little substance.

The lesser shorts tackle provocative subject matter for the most part, but fail to follow through with a compelling narrative. “Fallout” from writer/director Ben Rekhi features some fun visuals that recall “Sin City,” but the hackneyed script involving a love story at the end of the world sinks the film’s sole appeal. Amyn Kaderali’s “The Other Side” also suffers from a weak script that broaches the timely topic of race relations, only to unfortunately culminate in the sappiest ending of the series.

But, these two works are mere blips on an otherwise impressive lineup of films that are meant to engage and provoke discussion. The best of the shorts, though dire in what they depict, ultimately inspire a call to action to make our future a better place.

This Article is related to: Features



nice. I’ll try it. Thx for the info.


Here is a more nuanced take on PLAY:

“… [PLAY] presents a remarkably ambivalent vision of the future of gaming. Almost nothing in the film is clear, and it revels in this ambiguity to good effect. The viewer is left with space to play with the plot even after multiple viewings. I’ve seen it three times and still can’t figure out who the protagonist is, what the game being depicted is, or what kind of “real” world the film is set in. And all that, maybe, is the point.

… The patient in the psychiatrist’s office asks questions that apply as much to our current world as to the games she’s discussing, and can be seen as responding directly to Jesse Schell’s vision of the future. “Always some task to do. Never enough time,” she laments. “What do we do with all these points? What do we win?” This is the hell I think Jesse Schell described at DICE, a world lacking intrinsic motivation, all actions driven by the quest for meaningless points.

… Like all good science fiction, Play succeeds by creating a world that uses the exotic to illuminate unseen facets of the familiar. In some ways, we already live in the world of Play, and always have. There has never been a stout barrier between fantasy and reality. The words of the bards, the scenes in our imaginations, shape-shifting memories, and physical truths all commingle to make reality like painted dots in a pointillist landscape. How real was Holden Caulfield to me when I was 15? More real than most adults I met. How well have I known comic book heroes? Better than the average US Magazine reader knows Angelina Jolie, I’d wager. And how tangible are the processes of our federal government to most people? Those systems are known more by hearsay than by observation, and that hearsay can both give and take power away from those systems…

… In Play, we never see an objective reality, and perhaps there never was one. It’s like a postmodern ludic Rashomon where it’s not clear who’s a player and who’s an NPC, let alone what’s “really” happening. Maybe in the future, games will mingle with reality to such a degree that each of us may identify not so much as a distinct self who assumes a number of alternate identities for fun, but as a collection of identities digital and physical, collaborative and contradictory. Reality will pixilate, our vignetted responsibilities played out in a dizzying array of contexts. I find this possibility utterly horrifying and completely familiar….”

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