LAFF 2010 Review: UTOPIA IN FOUR MOVEMENTS
Directors: Sam Green, Dave Cerf
Producers: Sam Green, Carrie Lozano, Jasmine Dellal
Live music by: The Quavers (Dennis Cronin, T. Griffin, Catherine McCrae)
The idea of having a film play with a live soundtrack sounded incredibly intriguing to me as I was looking through what the LA Film Festival had on the schedule for this year. Sam Green’s documentary on the ideas of utopia was to feature a live band, the Quavers, performing while Green himself also performed live by narrating the film as it played. Playing on this idea of film with music, rather than being described as having four scenes, the piece would be told in four movements (as the title indicates).
The documentary itself tackles the history of people’s attempts at creating utopian environments, living by utopian ideals, and our perception of utopia today. The main idea behind the term "utopia" is that of people all living together on a single, universal playing field. It is the hope that if people were allowed to speak, live and communicate in the same way, it would eliminate mis-communication, which is usually the root of all disagreements. The true meaning of the word utopia translates into “no place," proving in itself that utopia is unattainable, as it does not actually exist. But it is that idea, that hope, that wish for a utopian paradise that keep people from writing the idea off completely.
Unfortunately, the challenges and disappointments we have had to face during the 21st century have made it hard for us to believe in utopias or the idea of a “perfect” world. We have seen too much destruction, too much disappointment, and too much disaster. In this year alone the world has suffered devastating earthquakes, oil spills, a continuously failing economy, and an on-going war in the Middle East. It is no wonder our faith in an intangible idea is not as prominent as it had been merely a few decades ago.
However, Green hopes to inspire people to try and focus on the little pieces and moments that could be considered utopian, rather than trying to take on an entire movement. These moments can be found when shopping at a local farmer’s market, participating in a community garden, or donating to organizations to help fund bigger relief efforts. It all leads back to people helping one another and acting as a global community, even if only on a small level, and it is that idea that is considered the true “paradise."
The band, the Quavers, featured only three musicians playing the violin, trumpet, bass, and electronic keyboards. Despite not being a full orchestra (which usually provide a film’s score), the Quavers slightly toned-down touch helped to add that little bit of emotional backbone to a film whose structure is about sharing space rather than competing for it. The amount of practice and timing that must have gone in to the performance must have been extensive, however the members of the Quavers made it seem effortless, a true testament to the band’s skills as both musicians and performers.
Although the concept of UTOPIA IN FOUR MOVEMENTS is certainly inventive and fresh, I thought the slide show style film, plus live narration, plus live music to be a few too many spinning plates and found myself distracted by Green’s performance (which was captivating) and forgetting about the band entirely. Granted, you normally do not want to be overly focused on the music in a film as it is supposed to play in the background, but I hoped that having the live band in the room with the filmmakers would lend to a bit more creative interaction. However, it was without a doubt a feat to have so many different elements, not tied together on a single reel of film, still work and play as though it were a standard style documentary. As stated in the summary handed out at the screening (written by Rebecca Solnit), the idea of utopia is to be social and interact with other people and this project succeeds in doing just that and perhaps, creating a little bit of that utopian ideal itself.