My Interview With Andrew Bujalski
I covered the 2009 SXSW and Woodstock Film Festivals for The Film Panel Notetaker.
To read the interview, just click on the picture of Andrew.
Miss a panel discussion? Don't worry! We took notes for you.
The Film Panel Notetaker is a fun and informative educational resource for everyone from film professionals to cinephiles where notes are shared from film panel discussions, filmmaker Q and As, and more.
I covered the 2009 SXSW and Woodstock Film Festivals for The Film Panel Notetaker.
To read the interview, just click on the picture of Andrew.
L-R: Rachel Grady, Molly Thompson, Barbara Kopple, Leon Gast, and Emily Kunstler
Not Pictured: AJ Schnack
Molly Thompson, VP, A&E IndieFilms
When Molly Thompson asked what this panel was supposed to be about, she was told that the panel was to discuss how documentaries have evolved over the last decade: the length of time that the Woodstock Film Festival has been in existence.
Thompson asked Barbara Kopple how she thought documentaries had evolved the past ten years. Kopple responded that she thought that documentaries had started to evolve well before then. For Kopple, the beginning of the evolution of the documentary dated back to the advent of Cinema Verite, and filmmakers like D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles Brothers, whom she considers to be a primary influence.
Leon Gast took it a step further back to Robert Flaherty, and his films like Nanook of the North. Gast first saw Flaherty's films as a student at Columbia University, where he studied film.
Barbara Kopple posed an interesting hypothesis: maybe it isn't so much that documentaries have evolved the past ten years so much as the audiences have. "Documentaries are hot now, and people want to see them. We just spent the last eight years under the cobweb of the Bush Administration. We're just trying to break clear, and I know that Obama has his job set out for him. It's even more important for us at this point to keep on making films about the things we're passionate about, whether it's health care, Afghanistan, Iraq, hunger, or just subjects that we can shed a light on."
In spite of audiences having evolved, however, AJ Schnack mentioned that people often complain about how much staging goes on in documentaries, but pointed out that "People have an idea of what documentaries are supposed to be. Some people believe there are rules, or a rulebook, or a guidebook that you're supposed to follow. I don't think they understand the history of documentaries from Flaherty all the way to where we are today. There's a belief that there must be some method, some agenda, or that you have to have an exact document. Documentaries are an art form."
Kopple cited Tom DiCillo's When You're Strange as an example of how documentaries continue to evolve: "Everyone from The Doors thought, 'Okay, we should be interviewed, or this should happen.' But he was like, 'No. No interviews. We're just going to let you play. We'll have a wonderful narration behind it, and the images are what will mezmerize you, and take you into it, and I think it works."
Gast and Kopple, the veterans of the panel, discussed the complications of having worked on documentaries in the past. Kopple mentioned that when her movie American Dream was in its theatrical run, her mother had no idea where it was playing.
"When I was doing Harlan County and American Dream, no one wanted to fund me. 'Who wants to make a film about Coal Miners or Meatpackers?' At the time, I found this incredible place called 'The Foundation'. You had to be non-profit, tax exempt, and you could write to different foundations, different individuals, who would send money. You didn't have to pay it back, because it was a donation."
Kopple continued. "Now I think it's much easier because distributors like A&E and HBO are always looking for films. Other times, people will call you up and just ask, 'How would like to make a film on Woodstock '69?' They'll give you a budget that's not quite enough, and you'll argue. But I think there's just a real opportunity out there for people who want to make really interesting documentaries."
One of Leon Gast's early films was about Salsa music and culture. At the very most, Gast expected his movie would play the barrios, then maybe play parts of Mexico and South America.
They also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of video v. film:
Said Kopple, "I think with film, you are more diciplined because it costs more. With video, you can just go for it. I don't know that many people that are still shooting documentaries on film."
Gast believes that technology has made shooting much easier: "One of the benefits of shooting today vs. the benefits of shooting then was when you were shooting on film, you had 10-11 minute rolls, and today, you have one hour rolls."
Many of the documentarians had interesting stories about their experiences making their movies. Rachel Grady recalled an event during the making of The Boys of Baraka that while, heartbreaking, felt it changed the course of the movie's story for the better.
"We were following this group of kids as part of a program, which was discontinued. We were so sad, so heartbroken that this happened, but it was really interesting, because a lot of things happened because of that. First of all, it made the movie more relevant because I couldn't think of a better metaphor of what happens to kids like this, who are really disenfranchised, and don't get a lot of opportunities."
"They get disappointed a lot because opportunities dry up and die away. For them, this is par the course, but because this happened, it made it a bigger story. But on a personal level it was also significant because Heidi (Ewing, Grady's collaborator) and I were devastated--the children ended up trying to comfort us. Which is why the amazing thing about filmmaking is that your subjects are constantly teaching you about yourself."
"It changed the whole film. It made it a bigger film. All the kids survived it, and created something that was more interesting."
During the making of Harlan County, USA, Kopple found herself as part of the coal miner's picket line: "The women were having a meeting, and they were saying, 'So who's going to be on the picket line tomorrow?' and everyone had to say their names. This woman named Lois turned around to me and said, 'Barbara, are you going to be on the picket line?'"
Kopple responded, "'Lois, of course, but I'm not supposed to be here. I'm invisible.' And she said, 'I have to write your name down. I need to know that you're going to be there.' Sometimes when you have a camera, it makes people more focused as to the kinds of ideas and what they want to do because somebody cared about what was happening."
Leon Gast had a story about Kopple. "Barbara had a Nagra she called 'The People's Nagra'. She had two Nagras. One that she used for her films, and then she had a 'People's Nagra' that she lent to filmmakers who didn't have the money to rent one."
The filmmakers gave a lot of valuable advice for aspiring filmmakers.
Barbara Kopple advised one filmmaker to write a treatment: "Of course, you got to know that this is a documentary, real life, and things are subject to change, but you make so that it's one of two pages of your basic idea. It doesn't mean you have to deliver that."
When it comes to the editing room, Kopple encouraged filmmakers to put effort into displaying their progress: "For Harlan County and American Dream, I put together little scenes, and different people would come in and look at it. Always bring people into your editing suite. Don't ever send a DVD to them. Make them come in so they have the power of you being in an editing room, looking at material."
Kunstler talked about the obstacles posed to novice filmmakers. "It's harder for a first-time filmmaker. I think that in addition to a treatment, they also want to see something, because it's hard for them to believe that you could actually pull it off if you don't have a track record. So actually, starting to shoot, and showing them what your vision is can be very helpful. That's how we persuaded people to believe in us from the beginning."
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe began as a personal archival project for future generations of her family, and was funded through ITVS. "They never accept your funding the first time you apply. You sort of have to knock on the door three times. For someone in my group of ITVS films, it was the fifth time they applied for funding. But what they do do is when they deny funding, they have a one-on-one consulting with the jury. They tell you what they loved about your film, and why they ultimately denied it. They encourage you to re-submit the next year, and that process really forces you to hone your ideas."
Thompson chimed in. "I heard a guy say to me, 'What about Flip cameras? Everyone can use a flip camera now and shoot your subject!' It's like, 'Yeah, you can get an image and footage of a person, but can you really sell your film with it?' I think you should be really careful and not show something that's not good enough."
At the end, AJ Schnack touched upon the proliferation of activist documentaries, such as movies by Michael Moore and Robert Greenwald, and suggested that documentarians needed to move away from that. "These films seem to wear you down with scolding about whatever they believe is the end of the world, and giving us a ten point plan as to what we're supposed to go out and do. There are tons of those films, and a lot of people are making them, and they can go make them. But I'd like to see movies where filmmakers find out why some parents want their kids indoctrinated into this Christian ideology. That's filming."
L-R: T. Griffin, Jonathan Demme, Doreen Ringer-Ross, Tom DiCillo, and Tze Chun
Doreen Ringer-Ross, VP, Film-TV Relations, BMI
T. Griffin, Score Composer, Children of Invention
Jonathan Demme, Director, Neil Young Trunk Show
Tom DiCillo, Director, When You're Strange
Tze Chun, Director, Children of Invention
Late in the Music in Film Panel, moderator Doreen Ringer-Ross addressed the audience and said, "I really believe in the independent film scene as the artist development forum for our business. So I think you're in the right place being at this festival. Go see all the shorts, go meet all those filmmakers and work it. Because I think there's a very fertile ground for new collabortations."
The Music in Film Panel at this year's Woodstock Film Festival was mostly devoted to directors who have made distinctive choices when incorporating music into their films, and why they've made the choices they have.
T. Griffin, the sole composer on the panel, fell into score composing by accident. He had been in a band called The Quavers, which a lot of filmmakers liked, and that led to scoring some of Jem Cohen's short films. In 2008, Griffin was a fellow at the Sundance Composers Lab. He scored Children of Invention, which was directed by Tze Chun.
Griffin says that he does not approach film music as a career, but in the same way he approaches writing his songs, and alternates between working on film scores and his own music. "I spend a lot of time on lyrics and stuff, and I consider building the production around them. I let the characters and songs speak through it, no matter how unusual it is, no matter how much wavering static there is. I try to take the same sensitivity when I work with someone, and that I think is the thing that has brought me to work with filmmakers."
On why he chose Griffin, Chun felt that Griffin possessed a point of view that score composers often lack. "Sometimes if you look at a composer's website, it seems like a publisher's clearinghouse. It's like 'You want sad? I got sad! You want happy? I got happy! You want hip hop? I got hip hop!" Todd's, was just, like, his music, which I really, really liked. As a director, you have to try to control everything. It's such a blessing when something unexpected happens, something mysterious. That's one of the things I really liked about Todd's music. A lot of the stuff I was hearing, you could tell that it was composed in Garageband."
Tom DiCillo thought that the reason why Chun chose Griffin was interesting, and lamented on the lack of originality in contemporary movie scores. "If you think back to some of the scores that Ennio Morricone did in the early 1960s, where he was just having the sound of bells, a guy whistling, a choir, and a snapping whip in his soundtrack. I happen to feel that we really have not progressed too far from then."
DiCillo added, "It seems to me that the movie going experience has changed. I really believe that. I think that it's become in its own way less emotional. And so the music tries to put this artificial feeling and emotion into something that has no emotion whatsoever."
Jonathan Demme and DiCillo shared some interesting anecdotes about working with studios, score composers and prerecorded music.
After the success of the film Beloved, Demme wanted to work with composer Rachel Portman again on the movie The Manchurian Candidate. Paramount contacted Demme, and told him that they had vetoed the idea of using Portman on the film. Why? She was a woman.
Demme recalled being livid. "You hear this, and you can't believe that this is the 21st Century, and you hear, 'Well, women can't do suspense!' Did you hear what you just said? And what woman you're ascribing that to?!?" Demme eventually won out.
As Demme and Portman began working together, Portman would send music to match scenes, and at first it didn't work. After having advocated for her, Demme was embarassed. "The horrifying truth was, 'You know what? Maybe Paramount wasn't right that women couldn't do suspense, but maybe Rachel can't do this hardcore, dark movie. Maybe it's just not in her.'"
"I said to Suzana [Peric], 'I don't think this is going to work, and I think we have to find a new composer, because you know what? I think at the end of the day, Rachel doesn't have a dark side.'"
Peric promptly replied, "Oh, Rachel has a dark side. Wait until you see what happens when you tell her!" He had a conversation with Portman where he told her that "if we didn't get something that really scared the shit out of us within a week, we're going to have to do something different. And the stuff just started coming in. I think Rachel stopped writing so much, and started feeling."
When seeking source music for The Manchurian Candidate, Demme dove into his record collection of homemade tapes and imports from the 1980s. "So much stuff by so many well known artists have gotten so expensive." Peric tracked down members of punk bands like Desperate Bicycles and The Prats, and asked if they'd accept $500 to use 30 seconds of one of their songs. Demme also used a song by the band TV On The Radio before they were more widely known.
Tom DiCillo remarked, "I think Jonathan is a prime example of someone whose music in his films has always, always taken on its own life. I doesn't just supplement the material. It's a marriage."
DiCillo got screwed over by the first composer of his movie, Box of Moonlight. "This guy was famous! And the producers were saying, "Yeah, okay, he's good. He's done a lot of work in the underground, and he's done films from the New York Independent Scene, and I said, "Okay, great!" I knew him, but from the onset, he only wanted to do what he wanted to do. I respected that. I said, "Fine, this guy's got talent, some experience, I should let him do that, instead of stopping him. The movie was about juvenile delinquency in Rural America. The music came in sounding like it was written after a bad heroin fix."
I called him one night, and I said, 'Listen. I just want you to know that you're doing a great job, and the movie is going to sound fantastic. I really trust that.' He said, 'Yeah, you're right. I am doing a great job. And you know what? My music is a gift to me, and it's really, really, hard just to give it to you.' I was so stunned that it took me a second to realize and say back to him, 'I don't think you're just giving it to me. We're paying you eighty thousand dollars.'" DiCillo fired the composer, and brought in Jim Farmer, who scored the movie in two weeks. (DiCillo talks more about this story here.)
"If you do have a connection with a composer or anyone you have a real bond with, value it, cherish it, and stay with it." DiCillo advised filmmakers. "When you have the choice between someone who is famous, and someone just starting out and has enthusiasm, enthusiasm wins everytime."
For When You're Strange, DiCillo composed his own music. "There were long sequences where there were transitions happening, and I needed some sort of musical interlude, just to have something to edit with, so I started composing pieces myself. Very, very, simple stuff--I wouldn't even call it music. To my utter astonishment, The Doors heard it and liked it. So it stayed in there. It's kind of a musical palate cleanser between their music, which is so intense and rich. My music sort of bridges the gap and adds a little mystery to some of the most surreal elements."
At the conclusion of the panel, DiCillo stated, "In some ways, every film has something that music can help somehow. It's not that you want to put a Band-Aid over it, or put frosting over it. That's not the point. Making a low budget film, you're going to find an extremely difficult and chaotic process. So if you're lucky, maybe you'll get 70% of what you set out for."
L-R: Peter Saraf, Scott Macaulay, John Sloss, Ira Sachs, and Richard Linklater
Scott Macaulay, Editor, Filmmaker Magazine
"I don't think we're back to 1985. I think we're back to 1975. Which is okay, because we have all these new tools. It's the best time ever to be a filmmaker," Richard Linklater stated at the beginning of the panel, "The Changing Face of Independent Film."
Independent Film has seen a real sea change in the last few years. As John Sloss pointed out, "It isn't that the people have lost interest in these types of movies. It isn't that piracy has become the norm. It isn't that DVD revenues have fallen off a cliff. For some reason, the studios have pulled out of the specialized business." Many studios have either downsized or eliminated their specialty divisions, choosing instead to focus on in-house productions. A lot of fingers were pointed at the studio system, who were accused of perverting the idea of what an independent film is:
Linklater: The culprit seems to be the studio's specialized divisions, who basically have taken a singular vision, an expression, and commodified it. Then [they] jacked it up, and it's gotten to a point where these films are getting $20 Million spent on them, and giving them specialized screenings. They've blotted out the possibility of pure independent film, and audiences finding independent films.
It used to be, "That's a cool little film, let's give it a go. If it makes $2 Million at the Box Office? Hey, congratulations! Big Success! Now, they're turning down all these wonderful films that can't make $20 Million. They have the mentality of , "We can't even bother!"
Linklater also lamented the loss of a current cultural dialogue that would raise the profile of smaller independent films:
Linklater: Even in my hometown (of Austin, TX), there have been four or five films from local filmmakers that I think, "20 years ago, this film would've gotten distribution, this film would've had a cultural impact. I'm thinking of Alex Holdridge's In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Wonderful movie! Where's the cultural impact? That's what I think we're missing right now.
I think we're living in very commercial times. It's just sad. Obviously, there's a graph going like, "Oh, there were commercial times where everyone cared about art." No, it's just been getting more and more commercial. I'm afraid. It used to be that you had films where it wasn't about commercial success, it was about what it was about, and what it meant to people. And it qualified to be part of a bigger cultural conversation that went on. Now, newspapers and magazines are like, "Should we cover this?" And they'll be like, "No. It's just a little film. It's not going to make a big impact."
Macaulay: What the crisis is is that of meaning and value to people, having them enter the broader cultural dialogue.
Peter Saraf, producer of Little Miss Sunshine took an issue to the demonization of the so-called "Indiewood" film, and those who irk a living from it:
Saraf: I kind of argue the idea that success is a bad thing. Maybe there's been an over-commodization and an overcommercialization of a lot of independent films. A lot of us have made a living, and that's not such a bad thing, to have a certain amount of commercial success. I think we're in danger of de-humanizing it.
I produced a movie that has often been identified as part of the problem, Little Miss Sunshine, and it's one of the films that have caused a lot of outsized expectations of what Independent Films should make. I went to every specialized division for years and begged them to invest, to co-finance to even just commit to distributing the movie. There may be a lot of things that we could point out and blame, but I don't think that success is such a bad thing.
Scott Macaulay and Ira Sachs reflected on the pitfalls of the relationships that Independent Films had with the studios:
Sachs: There was too much money, too many films being made. I think that a scarcity of capital would eliminate the films that shouldn't have been made anyway. Granted, we don't live in a perfectly economically efficient paradigm. But I do think the scarcity of capital, and I've observed this, is forcing everybody to sort of drill down and maybe go back and perfect what they're doing. It's allowing the quality films to still get made.
Macaulay: One good thing, I think, coming from this crisis is because the market is in some ways evaporating, is that some of the more pernicious effects of that market will hopefully go away, too. I think that a lot of us who got started in Independent Film were passionate, and then the business component came in, and sort of began to second guess the work, or think about the work in a certain way.
It's like, "Well, if I'm going to make a film that's going to be bought by one of these companies, it's got to be a little like this, or I might have to cast this type of person in it, or the screenplay should have these formal attributes, and in many cases, it made some great films. But there are tons of films that aren't so great, or films that should've been done in another way, or shoehorned it into the wrong form. Hopefully, these bad representatives of Independent Film will be gone.
The panelists see a silver lining in new technological developments, such as Video On Demand, but also mentioned how difficult it is to make money with On Demand and cable without the studio's pre-negotiated output deals. However, former specialized division employees have been setting up their own independent agencies to assist independent filmmakers with P&A and other services. No longer do studios and specialty divisions have "the secret sauce" that enables them to feel that they can get a movie out to the public better than the filmmaker can. Former New Line executive Russell Schwartz, for example, has set up a new company, Pandemic Marketing, to deal specifically with the marketing of movies. Panelists speculated that P&A may become an essential part of a movie's budget in the near future.
Linklater: I tell people now when they're trying to raise $250,000 to make their film, I tell them, "Raise another $150,000 for P&A, even if you end up doing it yourself."
I know the headline for this blog sounds a little macabre and something you might see in Weekly Weird News, but it’s just a pun for saying that I watched half of Tze Chun’s “Children of Invention” and half of the panel, Amazing Women in Film. How is that even so? Well, the Woodstock Film Festival has such an amazing array of both films and panel discussions that it was so hard to choose between what to see and what to do. I had originally anticipated seeing “Children of Invention,” which started during the panel’s timeslot. On my way to see the film, I ran into a festival press rep that wondered why I wasn’t at Amazing Women in Film, because Uma Thurman (who was in Woodstock for her new film "Motherhood") and Mira Nair had been added to the panel at the last minute. I was torn. So like King Solomon in that story in the Bible (which I don’t exactly remember the whole story), I was presented with the offer to cut the child in half, just like the mother in the story, except the mother begged the king not to cut her child in half, and I actually ended up cutting both “children” in half…in a way…I guess...which makes me a horrible mother. The point is, I saw the last half of Amazing Women in Film, and then because that cut into "Children of Invention"’s timeslot, I got the see the last half of “Children of Invention,” which by the way, I loved, and also stayed after for the Q&A (notes coming soon)…and Tze, if you’re reading this, I hope to see your film in its entirety really soon. In the mean time, below you will find some highlights of my notes from the second half of Amazing Women in Film. (As a result of this panel, I really want to go see Mira Nair’s new film “Amelia”).
Adams mentioned that the Sandra Bullock film “The Proposal” was number 10 at the box office this year so far, and has grossed $286 million worldwide. This isn’t necessarily a validation for women dominating the box office, but an interesting figure, she pointed out. Koltai-Levine said there are opportunities out there for women, but it’s a re-tooling. Ancillary markets will support theatrical. If a film breaks even, then it’s ahead of the game.
Nair talked about her latest film she just completed, “Amelia,” starring Hilary Swank. It will be released on between approximately 1,800-2,000 screens. She said this is not an over-the-top women’s movie. It’s a full-on action/adventure about Amelia Earhart’s life through her final flight. Nair questioned, what is a film about a woman? Can these films make money at the box office? Her film is about a woman who balances her life on a see-saw. In Nair’s version, Amelia is the beloved and her husband is the lover, which would probably be reversed in most other films. The film is marketed like an action/adventure, like Out of Africa. It’s a very organic film with that epic sweep. Nair said she was intrigued by Earhart’s goofy humility. She just wanted to be flying. People don’t know how to be humble. Nair likes the idea that a young girl can dream it and actually do it.
When the panel was open to questions from the audience, one question was about the feminine journey. Is it different than the hero’s journey? Dieckmann, the director of “Motherhood” (that was part of the Woodstock Film Festival) starring Thurman, said she’s more interested in the internal complexity of a character. It’s not necessarily a gender thing. Thurman asked how does one dramatize an internal battle? Adams recalled a scene in “Motherhood” where Thurman’s character becomes ecstatic when she connects with who she was when she was 18. Through this external action, you see an internal struggle. Dieckmann said one of her favorite performances of Thurman’s was in Nair’s film “Hysterical Blindness.” She loved the moments of patience watching an emotion happen. Nair said an actor has to be brave enough to be absolutely raw. That’s what she was going for. It’s a simple story of a woman looking for love in all the wrong places. Nair said Thurman had to create the ability to be truthful and honest. Thurman said that both Nair and Dieckmann are two of some of the only female directors she’s ever worked with. She added that it’s difficult for a male director to tell a woman what he wants for the woman. They still can’t help to objectify a woman.
Another question asked was if there are any plusses or minuses working for a studio versus an independent? Nair said that a director has to have conviction or purpose and a point of view. She said you have to have a heart like gossamer, but your skin has to be elephant tight when working with the studios. She said you have to dance with them, and to pick your battles. Thurman reminisced about when she worked on Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liasons.” Frears told her, “Always say yes!”
New York, soon. Technology’s exponential growth is fast and furious. Human life is in the process of being transformed. Mankind stands on the verge of re-engineering its biology—merging with the incredibly intelligent machines it has created. Mia 2.0 (Jane Kim), the world’s first ‘Transbeman’ and her inventor, the eccentric Dr. Tom Mortlake (James Remar), conduct a bold political experiment designed to prove that human reliance on the fragile flesh body is over and ‘eternal life’ is at hand. [The film also stars Kevin Corrigan (Harmony and Me) as the unauthorized biographer of Mortlake and Florencia Lozano (One Life to Live) as the detective trying to capture Mia 2.0.]
Moderator: James J. Hughes, Ph.D. Associate Director of Institutional Research and Planning at Trinity College in Hartford
Martine Rothblatt – Ph.D, MBA, lawyer, author and entrepreneur.
Ray Kurzweil – One of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers and futurists, with a twenty-year track record of accurate predictions.
Wendell Wallach – Lecturer and consultant at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.
Below is a summary of the highlights of this discussion.
Hughes asked Rothblatt to talk about the notion of cyber consciousness, to which she replied that for her, it had its roots with both Hughes and Kurzweil. In 2001, she received a copy of Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. It hadn’t occurred to her why the word “spiritual” could be juxtaposed next to the word “machines,” but she became convinced after reading his book that machines could and would become spiritual. At that point, she decided that there was a secular vision of utopia that to her was tangible and realistic. A few years later, she came across the World Transhumanist Association, which is dedicated to building a popular social movement. She said that cyber consciousness in a nutshell is the consciousness that everyone feels in their minds, but it’s based in software and computer circuitry. Reflecting on the idea of putting together facts or pieces of our lives in such a search engine approach, Rothblatt said if one were to create a copy of one’s consciousness, it’s possible to do that by having in a software form, a robust inventory of your most important memories and feelings. She believes we’re approximately 10-30 years aware from developing what she calls MindWare, a software that will think the same way a human being thinks.
Hughes, a Buddhist, said that in Buddhism there is a notion of self, which resonates in an aspect of this discussion. Hughes went onto ask Kurzweil about this idea of singularity. But first Kurzweil reminisced about his days at MIT when everyone had to share one computer, which have vastly improved since then. He said this is not an episodic phenomena, and actually very predictable. The world changes quickly, and we can anticipate where it’s going. The underlying properties of information technology has predictable trajectories, but some people are startled by his visions and projections of the future, one of which he said is the most important revolution that is coming, that being artificial intelligence. He said it’s not going to be an alien invasion of intelligent beings to compete with, but will extend who we are. There are cyborgs walking around today with computers in their brains, such as Parkinson’s patients. This technology will be a billion times more powerful in 25 years. Kurzweil said that we are a pattern of information in our brains, but it’s not being backed up. People might question about putting a computer inside of our brains, would that be really a part of ourselves? Some Parkinson’s patients with computers in their brains now feel that it has become a part of them. He reminded us that these developments are at an early stage, and they’re going to develop at an exponential pace, and so he feels by 2029, a computer will match human intelligence.
But what of the skeptics? Hughes asked Wallach, whom he called a “friendly” skeptic of the timeline, to share his point of view. Wallach said he’s skeptical because no one has convinced him yet what the progression will be. He’s also confused how the term “singularity” is used. He said there’s no question that a computer can do all kinds of things he cannot do. But looking at other aspects of intelligence, the surface hasn’t even been scraped. Things like consciousness or emotion that are important to human intelligence, it’s not clear that there with the kinds of technologies being developed. When he talks about his skepticism, he talks about it in three different terms: complexity, thresholds and ethical challenges. The complexities are being downplayed a little bit, creating a tight deadline. There may be some wishful thinking and pitfalls. His main concern is how we’re going to navigate these technologies. There are also an enumerable amount of technological thresholds that need to be crossed. And with the societal and ethological challenges, he said science doesn’t develop on its own. He thinks that we still have some ability to make concrete decisions about which pathways are dangerous to go down. Another issue encountered is that some technologies today aren’t getting funded. They are plausible, but unless there are resources being putting into them, they won’t pass quickly.
Speaking of funding, Hughes moved on from the fundamentals previously discussed to the plot of 2B, a science fiction film that deals with the legal status of an electronic version of our personality with a protagonist who is really rich. Hughes asked, what do we need to do to prepare for the prospect over this conflict of inequality? Rothblatt said that the point of view that would be taken by virtually everybody in society is that once they are persuaded that cyber conscious beings value their life, that life will be respected. The value of a life is the value shown by that life. Rothblatt also thinks that Kurzweil has demonstrated that the great thing about technological advances is that there is a corresponding democratization of the access to it, alluding to the rise in popularity and use of cell phones. Kurzweil added that 20 years ago, it was wealthy, rich guys who could only afford to have a cell phone. He said there is a 50% deflation rate in information technology. These technologies start out unaffordable, but they don’t work very well.
Woodstock Film Festival held another impressive showing of films and panel discussions in the artistic hamlet of Woodstock, NY, in the Catskills, during the festival’s 10th anniversary. Notes from panel discussions and filmmaker Q&As will be posted in the coming days.
Labels: Woodstock Film Festival