Review by Marc Glassman
The Future Is Now
Gary Burns and Jim Brown, directors and writers
Starring: Paul Ahmarani (The Man of Today), Liane Balaban (Woman of Tomorrow), Alain de Botton (philosopher), Rivka Galchen (novelist), Christian Bok (poet), Marlene Dumas (artist), Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter (scientists), J-P Sartre (guest philosopher)
In a city much like Calgary and in a time much like today, a TV journalist becomes intrigued by a man she’s interviewing for a piece on the problems and successes of the world as it exists presently. So the feisty reporter follows the man and confronts him.
“Why are you such a libertarian–and why are you so pessimistic about the future of humanity?,” she wants to know. He provides nonchalant but open-minded answers, which fail to satisfy her. In the time-honoured tradition of wanting to change someone who interests you, the self-proclaimed Woman of Tomorrow decides to reform the equally self-ascribing Man of Today.
Premise established, our Man of Today, a bald, humorous Quebecois, finds himself jet-setting from Calgary to Europe, in search of answers. Along the way, he meets real people, who describe what they do and why they’re affirmative about life: scientists Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter, poet Christian Bok, novelist Rivka Galchen, philosopher Alain de Botton, artist Marlene Dumas–well, you get the point. There’s even a guest appearance, from beyond the grave, of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Gradually, our pessimist becomes a wary optimist. Nothing else happens in this film. No romance bubbles between the Woman of Tomorrow and the Man of Today. Nothing emotional happens to the Man of Today.
The Future is Now is a hybrid docu-drama that is neither dramatically engaging to work as fiction nor philosophically interesting enough to be reshaped into a documentary. To go along with Ms. Balaban’s reporter, I have a question: what has happened to Gary Burns? Originally a punk filmmaker with a wild sense of humour, whose film waydowntown won the Best Canadian film prize at TIFF ten years ago, I’d like to know: where’s he gone?