Opening in selected UK cinemas this Friday, Future My Love is the feature debut of Swedish-born, Scotland-based visual artist and film director Maja Borg, who has made a variety of award-winning documentary and experimental shorts over the past decade.
Embarking on “a poetic road trip through the financial collapse”, she entwines three strands of deeply cinematic DNA: a present-day journey, shot in HD colour, to the Venus, Florida research centre (plus philosophically related destinations across America) run by 97-year-old futurist Jacque Fresco, who outlines his vision for a resource-based economy; archive footage of postwar technology pioneers discussing similar ideas; and a fictive, black and white Super 8 segment wherein our guide verbalises her hopes and anxieties through a voice-over addressed to the composite persona N.E.M., silently portrayed by Nadya Cazan.
This all coheres into an enthralling work which invites viewer immersion, discussion and – hopefully – action. Maja kindly took the time to chat on the phone from her home in Glasgow to BEV scribe Manish Agarwal…
BEV: Starting at the beginning, was there a particular incident that inspired you to make Future My Love, or just a general sense of dissatisfaction with our monetary-based society?
MB: It was actually kind of both. I made a short film before I made Future My Love called Ottica Zero. That film came out of a frustration over the system, but also a frustration with myself. In that I find it very, very easy to critique [the system] but I realised I was very bad at looking at anyone who wanted to present any kind of solution or more productive debate. Ottica Zero features Nadya Cazan, who is acting in Future My Love as the embodied ‘You’. She met with Jacque Fresco in Ottica Zero, the point being to do a film celebrating their view. To be for something, not just against something. And that was how I came into contact with Jacque Fresco. This was in 2007. At that point there was hardly anything made on Jacque Fresco’s big social vision. He had been acknowledged as an architect and a designer, but not really as a social thinker. So I felt very much like I needed to make another film about the monetary system and the resource-based economy.
I’d never heard of The Venus Project before, but much of what Jacque says seems pretty sensible. Did you have questions at the outset?
Yeah, of course. I was very sceptical when I first met Jacque. I ended up spending a lot of time at The Venus Project and had different crew members with me at different points during the production. Everyone seemed to go through a first encounters stage of being quite provoked [by Fresco’s ideas]. I’m still critical and I don’t think exactly the same as Jacque Fresco, but I’m not provoked anymore. Jacque is incredibly honest and that comes with him being absolutely undiplomatic. I also think he quite likes to provoke people.
We were debating the usefulness of art quite a lot. Jacque was speaking about the danger of poetry, because it’s open for interpretation, whereas the scientific language may be a blueprint that can be sent anywhere in the world and it won’t be misunderstood. It’ll be the same car if you send the blueprint to China, or whatever. He likes that precision, that there’s no room for misunderstanding. Of course for me, as an artist, it’s very important to have the freedom that comes with pushing language and interpretation. That’s how we expand language, in my view. So we had a lot of debate around that. In the beginning I was defending art and he was defending science, but the interesting thing is that when we started to define what was valuable, we were actually talking about the same questioning process. It’s the same curiosity that drives both.
Science is often presented to us as something rational and empirical, as opposed to affairs of the heart, which are characterised as irrational – cause and effect can’t be determined as precisely. So it’s refreshing to hear Jacque talk about love in really fluid, open-hearted terms.
Yes. He’s not an unemotional character but I think that’s maybe where people reading his work get stuck in the beginning. He’s not speaking about how people will feel in the future – or how he feels about the future – because for him it’s very much about designing a physical system in order to give people the freedom for their own personal lives and personal experiences. An economic system influences the way you’re thinking and feeling. For example, the difference in feeling towards your community in a scarcity situation versus an abundant situation. Also how our dreams are limited by the extent of our financial situation. So they are all the time related. The reason why Jacque would want to change the economic system is for people to be able to expand as individuals. But that’s not what he focuses on, if you see what I mean.
By extension, if economic structures dictate the way we feel then they can also modify the way we have relationships. Hence your second person narration. Was that always going to be part of the movie?
No, it wasn’t always there but very, very quickly it became apparent that that’s what I think is important to discuss and understand. That economy isn’t just something that is for people in suits. It has to something do with the way we all think and feel and create relationships. We have experiences of different types of relationships, which also means that it’s easier to imagine different types of social systems. Yet wherever I went in the world, the idea of free markets was so incredibly dominant. There weren’t really any alternatives discussed. You could have a left-wing approach or even a communist approach, but the discussion was still dominated by free market thinking. Which is a relatively new thing for our time, to have one ideology be so dominant. It’s easy to forget that there can even be another kind of social structure that isn’t based on these free market fundamentals, like competition. These things that are good within the market system because they make us evolve, but also have sides that are problematic for us in other situations. So to put the personal relationship together with a social relationship became important. To go into the questions that I thought were really, really interesting and also to take it beyond a project that Jacque was working on.
For the viewer, having these three stylistically distinct strands also gives the film a really cinematic texture.
Yeah, that’s a nice thing! It’s very much my philosophy with filmmaking overall. whether it’s documentary or fiction or purely experimental. I really think that if what you’re making has to do with inspiring people to take some kind of action – even if that action is just thinking – I feel you have to involve people on more than a purely intellectual level. Because there is such a vast amount of information around us all the time. We know the situation with the environment, that that doesn’t work. We know that the economic and banking system have a lot of problems. But it’s almost like we have so much information that we can’t quite deal with it. Because we have to live within it. So for me, in order to make information relevant you find some way of relating to it emotionally. That combination of emotive and intellectual images. Linking the two is key in my filmmaking.
Was the character of N.E.M. something Nadya and yourself collaborated on? How did that evolve?
I started this film before the current economic crisis. In 2007 there was very little talk banking systems. I started off making a film that was more information-based. I wanted to explain what money actually is, the basics of banking, moneylending, that kind of thing. But then after 2008 people knew about it and also seemed to be more interested in larger questions about economy. So when I rewrote the film I decided to use myself – my own experience of love and relationships – as a way into the material. As a microcosm for understanding the social system.
I wasn’t quite sure because the love story… It’s my love story, I suppose. I’m the constant in it. Since my first relationship when I was 14, it has gone through a number of people. During the years that I was making this film, I tried to find the perfect type of relationship for me. In the same kind of spirit as Jacque’s social system, if you like! Taking responsibility for everyone involved. The same problems I ran into personally – being challenged by feelings from the past, or things you may want to feel because you think them, but your body hasn’t caught up so yet so you can only think them – those are also relevant in how difficult it is to imagine a new social system. The fear that blocks us from leaving something that we know doesn’t work, for something that might work but is unknown. So I wrote the narration to a ‘You’ – the love – which then became this N.E.M. character, who is a combination of the different people I have loved.
I needed to fictionalise it enough for an audience to relate to in an hour and a half. Nadya was both the person who brought me to this place and also for a time my lover. She’s also very interesting in that she’s an actor, but you don’t know when she’s acting or not. She’s acting as much in real life as she is in front of the camera. We had some footage left from Ottica Zero and she was up for doing some more images. So she became the obvious face. Also the way she was dressed when we met, with her headscarf, adds another layer of the private and public spaces, the East and the West. It gave me a visual metaphor to play with.
For two-thirds of the contemporary strand, the picture’s terrain is the United States, because The Venus Project is based there. Then the final third travels to Europe. Did you look more globally as well, during your research?
I did, but I wasn’t forcing it, to make it as global as possible. I looked at where the threads from The Venus Project were leading. One reason why it became maybe heavier in the US is because I needed to follow Jacque’s history in order to explain his theory. So I’m following his physical journey as well.
To me the film feels optimistic and forward-looking, as befits its title. But five years is a long time to work on a project: did the process of making this change your outlook?
Yeah, I really think it did. One, I got to study economy a lot, which was great. But maybe the biggest change in terms of optimism or pessimism – and my generation is very well trained in being sceptical about the future – is that when I was first connected to these ideas I thought thatis just too big a job. Therefore it cannot happen. He’s talking about redefining the global economic system. It’s too much.
But the more I learned about the economy, from the impact of the industrial revolution onwards, the feeling is not that it’s a huge thing that needs to be done. The feeling is that it’s a fucking – sorry! – huge thing that has already happened, that we haven’t quite adapted to. Which puts us in a position where we basically hurt ourselves. Because we haven’t adapted to this enormous, environmental change that we have created for ourselves through the introduction of technology. The world has already changed. The question is how are we going to change with it? That gives me a much stronger feeling of empowerment. And urgency. I’ve had moments when I feel quite frustrated because it feels very possible to change, in a very radical way, without just having an emotional revolution. It feels very, very possible and it’s also very, very needed.
Birds Eye View celebrates and supports female filmmakers. What advice would you give to women starting out in film?
What advice… that’s a difficult question! Maybe just to do it. Don’t wait for permission from someone. Just do it. Even if that means in the beginning that you can’t expect any money. Don’t wait for funding or school or whatever.
Future My Love goes on nationwide theatrical release from Friday November 15, courtesy of the Independent Cinema Office. A list of screenings can be found here. You can also follow its progress via Facebook or Twitter.