Academy Award-nominated documentary director Sam Green (The Weather Underground) is coming to Winnipeg to show his nearly completed film, Utopia In Four Movements, as part of The Winnipeg Film Group’s Gimme Some Truth this week. The director will be presenting his film, piece by piece, while providing narration with live music performed by San Francisco musician Dave Cerf.
The film presents four topical vignettes, including segments on Esperanto (a universal language invented at the turn of the 19th century), an exiled American radical and the world’s largest shopping mall in China. Green, who has made films primarily about radicals of the ’60s, said, “in one way or another all of my work is about the tension between idealism, hope and human nature. I’m saddened that, now, on a societal level we have very little hope and imagination for the future. We used to think about robots who would work for us, space exploration and saving the world. The film is an experimental meditation on our not having utopian dreams anymore.”
Mike Maryniuk, a programmer for Gimme Some Truth thinks “it’s a privilege to see this work in progress. That never happens in this city. We’re always the last to see anything.” Oddly enough, the interactive form of the presentation has some local roots. Indeed, it was partially inspired by Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon The Brain, which was presented at select screenings with live narration, music and sound effects.
“Seeing Brand Upon The Brain was a sublime experience that was lovely and moving especially because of the live experience,” Green said. “Utopia is about being part of a community, like cinema should be.”
Utopia In Four Movements represent a unique film experience because it demolishes the clearly-defined process of “finishing” a film, and then “releasing” it.
“The kind of form it is taking is odd; it’s a live documentary, queuing images and short movies with a live laptop score. [It] started off as a way to show the movie to people, but now I love the form, especially from the point of view of an audience member. It’s the best way to learn what works with an audience,” said Green.
The director also said that this unique process enables changes to be made after every screening, based on audience reaction. In essence, it is an interactive editing process.
“If I see people shifting in their seats I know something’s not working,” Green said. “Cinema is at a crossroads right now, you either embrace people watching cinema on tiny devices or you can make it special.”
One segment of the film has already played numerous festivals — it is about the world’s largest mall, located in a modest Chinese city that sits almost completely unoccupied, but is not closed because the Chinese government can’t let such a gigantic endeavor fail. It was released as a stand alone short because, Green said, “it was timely as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the collapse of capitalism.”
Green is looking forward to attending Gimme Some Truth. “It seems like a great event. I love docs, lots of people turn off when they’re brought up, and I kind of can’t blame them. There are lots of bad ones, like the ones you see on the History Channel or PBS. But there are so many more things that can be done with the form with some creativity. There’s so much potential — it’s a powerful thing. Gimme Some Truth seems to be approaching documentary from a creative perspective, trying to open it up.”
Utopia in Four Movements plays on Oct. 24 at the Winnipeg Cinematheque. Gimme Some Truth runs from Oct. 22-25.