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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Future Unknown: A Conversation with Brett Story

Photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film 
By Lindsay Brayton

Brett Story is an award-winning filmmaker and writer based in Toronto. The Hottest August is her third documentary feature and screens exclusively at BAM Nov 15—27.

Lindsay Brayton: How do you feel about the future?

Brett Story: I feel fearful, but energized. Fearful is not the same as hopeless. Hopelessness seems to me more about feeling vacated of any energy, any will or desire to build anything better. And I have lots of energy and lots of will and desire, and I’m energized by the people I see fighting for a better world. But I also worry very much—not just about what kinds of destruction we as a human species, organized into hierarchies of power incentivized to exploit the earth’s resources as much as possible—are wreaking upon the earth, but about how we will treat each other as our fears grow. We have to decide that we fight for each other.

LB: How did The Hottest August come about?

BS: I think I’ve been reflecting a lot myself on the question of the future, and on how my own experience feels very different than that of older generations who, because things felt possible and open, made things and enacted ambitious ideas. I wanted a cinematic means of figuring out what was collective about my personal experience, what was political about it. And I’ve always been interested in the “encounter” as a cinematic method; the way strangers and places are characters in our own lives, and therefore might count as central characters in our films.

Photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film

LB: You’re Toronto based. Why did you decide to make this film in Brooklyn? Do you find that New Yorkers have a perspective on the future that is different from Canadians? Do Canadians and Americans worry about different things concerning the future?

BS: The short answer is that I was living in Brooklyn when I made this film, and I wanted to make a film about where I am, and where others are, when we share space. But I also think New York generally is paradigmatic of many of the themes of the film—rising inequality, spatial segregation, organized racism, and the experience of being at once at a remove, and also all too close, to the immediacies of the climate crisis. I don’t think Canadians and Americans worry about different things, no, but I think they might tell themselves slightly different stories about who or what is responsible for their troubles and what the role of government should be. And of course, sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are the same. As the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) said recently, we all live in same country after all, and that country is capitalism.

LB: You’ve also programmed a short repertory series called In This Climate. How did you decide on the four films in the series?

BS: The Hottest August certainly emerged in part out of my own frustration with a lot of “climate change films,” which I find myself almost never wanting to watch. I’m not a disengaged person —quite the opposite—and so I have been reflecting on what it is that can feel so stale about a lot of these films (though of course not all of them!). And for me, they often feel disconnected from other urgent questions, like who has power in society and what do we do with our fears when we ourselves don’t feel like we have power. I wanted to program a series that treats both “climate” and “crisis” as expansively, and historically, as I think the climate crisis deserves to be treated. And so I chose a diverse set of films that hopefully brings out some of the connections between colonialism, immigration policy, collective melancholy, the global arms trade, and resource extraction and ecological catastrophe.

Photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film

LB: Can you give me two sentences on why people shouldn’t miss the films in the In This Climate series?

BS: People should come see these films because they will make you think and feel and want to spend time talking them out with friends afterwards. These are some of the most beautifully rendered and thought provoking films I’ve ever seen and they will lodge themselves in your psyches for weeks if not months afterwards.

LB: I was re-reading Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review of Children of Men from 2006; she writes, “we Americans are in an apocalyptic frame of mind.” Here we are 13 years later and I’d say the frame of mind is still apocalyptic. Is there something different or unique about despair in 2019 concerning the future, or is this feeling evergreen?

BS: It was interesting re-watching Children of Men for this series because I realized that it’s begun to feel less identifiable as a work of speculative fiction. I almost couldn’t tell if it even “works” in the same way as it did when I first watched it, because there’s almost too much resonance with the present. The future, it seems, is now. I think the despair we feel is almost less about the future as it is about the present, and the apocalyptic frame of mind is also an apocalyptic frame of present politics. Which is to say, I think we have to fight nihilism wherever we see it, including in the policies of politicians and CEOs hell bent on amassing as much wealth as possible while burning the whole world to the ground.

The Hottest August screens exclusively at BAM Nov 15—27.

Lindsay Brayton is the BAM Film Marketing and Publicity Assistant
© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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