Last night, the staff of Next American City joined ITVS and more than 100 guests at the Jellyfish Gallery in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood to co-host a screening of two new short films and listen to a salon panel discussion. The two films screened, Tent City and Silver Sling, were part of the upcoming short film series “Futurestates: Imagining a New Brave New World.” The series consists of 11 mini-features (each about 15 minutes in length) created by both established independent filmmakers and emerging talents. The short films present a collection of visions about what life in America will be like in the decades and centuries to come. ITVS, the Independent Television Service, funds, presents and promotes award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television and cable, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM on PBS. The series, premiering in March, is a transmedia experiment that will be available exclusively online, with interactive features that invite viewers to contribute their own visions of the future.
The first film, Tze Chun‘s Silver Sling, envisions a polarized economy of the near future, in which companies offer subsidies to their high-ranking female employees to pay for surrogate pregnancies and chemically accelerated births. At the film’s center is a struggling career surrogate, who must decide whether or not to carry the child of two potential clients, thus giving up her last chance to have a child of her own.
The second film, Aldo Velasco‘s Tent City, envisions a world in which housing is granted only to the powerful few — leaving the evicted to live in desolate tent cities. A father who makes his living evicting the powerless must choose between his responsibilities as a provider for his family and his moral principles.
Both films were rather pessimistic and dystopian — which provided plenty of fodder for the panelists, Karim Ahmad, the Futurestates Series Manager for ITVS; Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist credited with first using the term “virtual reality”; Diana Lind, Editor and Publisher of Next American City; Tanu Sankalia, Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture at the University of San Francisco; and Piero Scaruffi, a cognitive scientist, software architect and cultural historian. Together, the group discussed the importance of fear, something “justified in our time,” since it can lead to a call to action among citizens who want to avoid the dark futures portrayed in the films. From there, the conversation turned to other themes of the two films, including the individual versus the corporation and the displacement of urban populations, and the group went on to discuss such diverse topics as the future of media, the fragmentation of audiences and the risks and benefits of urban planning.