If there is one thing human beings have mastered, it’s thinking about the future. Theologians, affianced lovers, political theorists, social revolutionaries, TV franchise creators, actuaries and bankers all have that fundamental activity in common. Whether we are entertaining sweeping changes on a global scale, or merely wondering about our own prospects for retirement, we cannot help but beam mental images onto the blank screen of what’s to come. The specific content of these visions may vary widely – and we worry that other people with more power and fewer scruples than ourselves will prevent the things we envision from ever taking physical form – but we live in hope that, somehow, these prismatic projections will harmonize into a solid ray of light capable of illuminating all of our lives. The future, we tell ourselves, has yet to be written – but as long as we pen it in the richly accented vernacular of experience (and we really don’t have any choice about that), it will never be quite as protean as we imagine. In fact, humanity’s eternal romance with the future is just another aspect of our ongoing love affair with all that has and must come before it.
Maja Borg’s brilliant documentary takes its cue from that fundamental insight – beguiling the viewer into a meditative space of mixed-media, mixed-metaphor musing upon the Heraclitean vagaries of change and chance encounters with new states of being and new ways of being within the state. Growing out of the director’s long engagement with the life’s work of nonagenarian futurist and social engineer Jacque Fresco, Future My Love presents a loving, if somewhat skeptical, portrait of the mid-20th century dream of peace and progress through abundance.
From the comfort of his carefully designed and constructed home base at the Venus Project in southern Florida, Fresco expounds upon the pressing need to abandon the current capitalist model in favour of a resource-based economy. An immensely appealing individual, the visionary speaks with conviction as he stresses the role that social and technological structures play in forming human character. Once a member of the Technocrat movement, which advocated a world ruled by scientists and other experts, Fresco still shares many of that group’s cherished beliefs, although he is careful to distance himself from some of the more coercive implications of the movement’s centralized world order. Though forged during and after the Great Depression, the future Fresco sketches speaks to many contemporary concerns. The elimination of economic inequality, the liberation of science from wasteful subservience to financial imperatives such as planned obsolescence and the annunciation of a new era in human relations with the environment – it all sounds so good. So why are we having such a hard time getting there – or somewhere like it?
Borg likens our collective reluctance to let go of capitalist thinking and modes of production to the slightly hollow, but nevertheless extremely powerful, feelings that keep flailing lovers in a clinch. The idea of letting go, of imagining oneself happy in another romantic or social configuration, is both intoxicating and terrifying. The director skillfully intercuts her footage of Fresco’s model future home (where he lives with his colleague Roxanne Meadows; cut off, for the most part, from the “normal people” of Florida) with lyrical 8mm passages derived from her own passionate (and sometimes very lonely) romantic life. The film moves toward a recuperation of the estrangement that we most certainly must feel when we finally resolve to separate ourselves from the political or personal associations that have given meaning to our lives. She urges the viewer to think of these moments not as radical breaks between the past and the future, but rather as the unforeseen but nevertheless organic fruits of a lifelong love affair that cannot die, but only changes. No matter where the future takes us, the past will be there too – in the streamlined shape of a city designed in 1957, or in the memory of an ex-lover’s cherished smile – and we’ll be more at home there than we dream.
Future My Love made its North American premiere at the ROM on April 26. It will also show at the Isabel Bader Theatre on May 3 (6:45 pm).
Consult the complete Hot Docs Festival schedule here.