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Tribeca ’09 Interview: “Transcendent Man” Director/Producers Barry and Felicia Ptolemy

Tribeca '09 Interview: "Transcendent Man" Director/Producers Barry and Felicia Ptolemy

Editor’s Note: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

Transcendent Man
(World Documentary Feature Competition)
Director: Barry Ptolemy
Synopsis: Ray Kurzweil is one of the world’s foremost inventors. At age 15 he was designing programs that were adapted by IBM and soon after machines that allowed the blind to read. Today he is hailed by some as a modern-day Nostradamus and dismissed by others as a crackpot. The “futurist” and best-selling author is a leading theorist on the “technological singularity”—a time when humans and machines will fuse in the next phase of bio-technological evolution, creating superintelligent, godlike beings that could conceivably live forever. The kicker is, Kurzweil claims that this monumental change is destined to happen in just 30 years. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]

Please introduce yourself.

We’re Barry and Felicia Ptolemy, the producers of “Transcendent Man” along with our partners and Executive Producers Therapy Studios of Santa Monica and Executive Producers the Dowdle Brothers, who are Tribeca ’07 Alum.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

We both had different paths that led us to filmmaking, but there is one common film that we both cite as a formative experience that has shaped the kind of filmmakers we both strive to be: “Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Both in content and form, we agree this film is perfection.

What prompted the idea for your film?

Barry picked up Ray’s book “The Singularity is Near” in March of 2006. By the end of the first night of reading, after sharing the main ideas in Chapter 1 with me, we had already decided that a movie HAD TO be made about these ideas. Obviously, we wanted to be the ones to make it and over the next year, with hard work and ingenuity, all the stars aligned to provide both the funding and Ray Kurzweil himself.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.

I think the organizing principal we used was to find the story and then let all decisions stem from what the story would say.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

Trying to reduce over 200 hours of footage down to an hour and half was a daunting challenge. Also, making sure Ray’s very complex and profound ideas could be made accessible to anyone was very important. We knew early on we did not want to make a science documentary – we wanted to create an experience of ideas and possibilities and wrap it up in a cinematic package. It was very challenging, but we believe we were successful.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

On a creative level, success is offering your viewer a transcendent experience. Doesn’t matter if you are making docs, social commentary, romantic comedy, mystery, sci-fi, or family films taking your viewer on a journey that goes beyond the ordinary and connects them with something that is greater than can be put in to words – that is the success of an artist.

What are your future projects?

Looking forward to continuing to develop several feature films we have, as well as a few television projects we would love to bring to the small screen.

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