• Română
  • English
March 14th–20th, 2016 / Cinema Muzeul Țăranului, Cinema Elvire Popesco, Universitatea Națională de Muzică / the 6th edition

Digital Dystopias

    You are here

    • You are here:
    • Home > Festival > Archive > Home > Films > International Competition > Digital Dystopias

International Competition - Digital Dystopias

 
Curatorial presentation by Andrei Tănăsescu
We live in a time where, now, (more?) than ever, the future and all its socio-economic, political and cultural affectations bear a heavy burden on our lives. It used to be that we could sit back and comfortably envision a future through the prism of modernity’s promising outlook. Yet while we were sleeping, 'the slow cancellation of the future' was happening before our eyes. Our Ludovico wide-eyed evolutionary optimism has freeze-framed as the future of the past was crumbling in a fascinating uncertainty. In our present future, change is immediate, technology advances at exponential rates and global systems of economy and power are riven with instability.

And so, equipped with an unprecedented awareness afforded by our digital age, the following films look at the frailty of our human existence and its inevitably dystopic trajectory. Significantly, in this wide cinematographic pallette each film brings out distinctive hues of digital filmmaking (from simple compositing to creating full-scale virtual worlds), blurring the line between reality and fiction.
 
The dystopic film par-excellence, Edouard Salier’s Habana serves as landing point for experiencing first-hand a world in ruins. Documentary footage offers a cursory investigation of a Cuba under siege, where technologically-superior (in)human forces have imposed martial law over its capital’s inhabitants. More so than its faithfulness to genre storytelling (the inevitable rise of the oppressed), HABANA stands out through its sleek chiaroscuro cinematography that seamlessly (and, digitally) envisions a present infiltrated by an imagined future. This realism is weighed even heavier by the plausibility of the film’s David and Goliath narrative.
 
An uproarious but tender example of ‘digital-organic’ cinema, Ulu Braun’s Architektura re-organizes the structural blueprints of human civilization’s urbanization, envisioning a world where concrete meets both the organic and the abstract. Mutating (in the slightest) the DNA strand of architecture, Braun creates a literal, post-apocalyptic, post-capitalist digital dystopia where soap-bubble buildings stand alongside ruined churches turned car dealerships. A parable for our future generations, it questions whether architecture’s alchemical wonder of urbanization - and its aesthetic, environmental effects - is an inheritance worth endowing.

The (seemingly) evolutionary acceleration of our time narrows to the essential in Thibault Le Texier’s pleasantly foreboding The Invention of the Desert. The landscape has shifted completely to the digital, where virtual demo videos of (home, office, recreational) real-estate are stand-ins for our disappeared world. These idealized utopias of urban habitats summarily become ‘user-friendly concentration camps’ in the narrative spoken by an unseen female robotic voice. It seems humanity’s complacency in allowing technology to optimize its existence became the catalyst in the eventual arrival of technological singularity. The inevitability of Artificial Intelligence surpassing mankind leaves us to ponder ultimate dystopian fear: our existence no longer computes.
 
The capacity of parody to subvert takes on literal form in Freedom & Independence, as Bjørn Melhus embodies the titular concepts in order to deconstruct the dystopic potentiality of our current neoliberalist political and economic climate. A high-art vaudevillian one-man show, Bjørn Melhus’ work caricaturizes Capitalism’s notorious Ayn Rand as the mother-superior to Mr. Freedom and Ms. Independence, who are sent off into the first-developing-world. Parroting rational and theological platitudes, the two protagonists unwittingly single out the indoctrinating egomania of Capitalism, at the same time foreshadowing its inescapable futility. Their reductive call-and-response rhetoric is juxtaposed against the song-and-dance of life’s most reliable Truth and constant: death. If 'hell is other people' Freedom & Independence points out that Capitalism’s ruinous ideology is the clothing that wraps up the dystopian despotic emperor.

How can one imagine the future in an insular, totalitarian country such as North Korea, where the past attests to a present where (r)evolution and progress are suppressed? For renowned Romanian artist Mihai Grecu, the answer is from within, as his The Reflection of Power holds a reflective mirror to the absolute and megalomaniac power of the state. All alone and empty of human presence, the dictatorial monuments exude an unshakeable folie-de-grandeur that starts to be slowly swallowed up by an incoming Biblical flood. Poetic and striking in its realism, The Reflection of Power subverts the utopian dimension of landscape art. Sealed-off from the outside world, the resilience of totalitarianism becomes an Achilles heel, as it symbolically swallows itself, remaining but a faded glory.

Oftentimes, greener pastures veil arid realities, diverting awareness and placating concern. In The Park (Casablanca’s Arab League Park), Randa Maroufi sweeps us past its green idyll and lets us loose ‘on the wrong side of its fence’. Instead of touristic leisure, our floating POV captures derelict carousels among wild vegetation and rubbish-strewn walking paths. This is the stomping ground of Morocco's urban youth, heard through fractured voice-overs as they perform in front of digital cameras for the approval of social media. Materializing this presence-as-posture through still-lifes of bodies in mid-action, The Park offers a (privileged) virtual flânerie in a space where youthful abandon and societal fears converge. (Andrei Tănăsescu, BIEFF)
Directed by: 
THIBAULT LE TEXIER
The Invention of the Desert is, on the surface, an essay abstract for the study of singularity theory; at its core, however, lies a prophetic dictum, vocalized by a digital entity hailing from a future where mankind has disappeared. Fly-bys of architectural videos populated by digital simulacra of ourselves are appropriated as the narrator describes a world - not far from ours - where human civilization grew over-reliant on technology. Gradually, our virtual presence in the videos disappears, as we learn of Artificial Intelligence surpassing the human species. Frighteningly passive in its apocalyptic conclusion, The Invention of the Desert functions as a powerful alarm call, resonating within the droning pulsations of the synthesized soundtrack well after its credits abruptly cut off its lifeline. (Andrei Tănăsescu, BIEFF)
Directed by: 
BJØRN MELHUS
Part performance, part political critique, part genre film, yet 100% entertaining, Bjørn Melhus’ Freedom & Independence is a wonderfully witty and thought-provoking allegory of neoliberalism’s ideological folly. Guided by the voiceover proselytism of Ayn Rand, Freedom and Independence take on physical shape as they are sent to view the urban development of the future. Split between reality’s rational thought (Rand’s Objectivism) and theological faith (Hollywood melodrama), the titular protagonists reach an identity crisis. Although reigned back in by their ‘mother superior,’ their quest towards neoliberalism’s exigent individual empowerment ends with a song-and-dance of life’s most reliable Truth and constant: death. Wry, witty and wonderfully jubilant, Bjørn Melhus’ straight-faced film is a one-man show of cerebral activism. (Andrei Tănăsescu, BIEFF)
Directed by: 
EDOUARD SALIER
Digital artist and manipulator Edouard Salier delivers an award-winning vision of a near-future, dystopian Cuba, where its titular capital is occupied by a foreign force. Through the lens of a documentary crew guided by local slum-youth Lazaro, we’re immersed in a city under lockdown, a derelict ruin dwarfed by towering new structures and an oppressive force that controls the city. Gritty and harrowing, Salier’s cinema-verité footage reveals the city’s seedy pleasures and paralyzing pains with poetic visuals of unflinching realism. Through seamless digital effects  and unforgettable vistas, Habana goes beyond its narrative’s shock-and-awe conventions, emerging victoriously as a portrait of urban decay and humanity under siege. (Andrei Tanasescu, BIEFF)
Directed by: 
ULU BRAUN
Rather than reinventing the wheel, BIEFF-favourite Ulu Braun re-envisions the structural potentiality of the brick, in this revisionist fable of mankind’s urbanization of our planet. Employing playful and visually dense digital collages (recalling his 2013 BIEFF short Forst), Braun’s associative tableaux collate an ‘alternate’ vision of our world, where nature invades the urban (and vice-versa). We’re transported by a comforting narrator through post-apocalyptic, post-capitalist habitats, where the material co-exists with the metaphysical, the literal alongside the figurative (soap-bubble buildings stand alongside ruined churches turned car dealerships). Architektura echoes our civilization’s childlike ingenuity in creation and destruction, as we question the inheritance we pass on to our future generations. (Andrei Tănăsescu, BIEFF)
Directed by: 
RANDA MAROUFI
Oftentimes, greener pastures veil arid realities, diverting awareness and placating concern. In the case of Casablanca’s Arab League Park, Randa Maroufi sweeps us past its green idyll and lets us loose ‘on the wrong side of its fence’. Instead of touristic leisure, our floating POV captures derelict carousels among wild vegetation and rubbish-strewn walking paths. This is the stomping ground of Morocco's urban youth, heard through fractured voice-overs as they perform in front of digital cameras for the approval of social media. Materializing this presence-as-posture through still-lifes of bodies in mid-action, The Park offers a (privileged) virtual flânerie in a space where youthful abandon and societal fears converge. (Andrei Tănăsescu, BIEFF)
Directed by: 
MIHAI GRECU
Romanian artist Mihai Grecu takes us deep into the heart of North Korea’s reclusive capital Pyonyang, as grandiose ceremonies are underway. Nestled indoors, its citizens remain unshaken in their celebration while an impending catastrophe takes over the city. As the camera slowly glides across the city’s urban landscape, the repressive state’s megalomanic monuments are quickly being swallowed up by a Biblical flood. Poetic and striking in its realism, The Reflection of Power subverts the utopic dimension of landscape art. Sealed-off from the outside world, the resilience of totalitarianism becomes an Achille’s heel, as it symbolically swallows itself, remaining but a faded glory. (Andrei Tanasescu, BIEFF)