“If you’re a filmmaker today you have to accept that people are going to watch your work on a laptop while they’re checking their email,” said Academy Award-nominated director Sam Green before Thursday night’s sold-out opening of his new “live documentary,” Utopia in Four Movements, at The Kitchen in Chelsea. ”I’m still very much attached to the magic of cinema, so part of making a live film is that people will have to come see it.”
So what’s it like to watch a live documentary? Kind of like watching a lecture, but with a full band and the prettiest PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever seen. On the screen, Green’s footage traced the history of twentieth-century Utopian dreams: Mao’s socialism, the constructed international language Esperanto, and the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, during which participants buried a time capsule to dig up in 5,000 years. “It’s so weird because most time capsules are buried for like a hundred years. It just show’s how hopeful New Yorkers were about the future then.” Green, who is based in San Francisco, narrated the film while moody Brooklyn “porch-techno” band The Quavers, along with former Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, performed the soundtrack.
Green says there’s a “small wave” of artists taking on the live format today. There’s the filmmaker Brent Green, who screens his films with a live band, sound effects and narration. And there’s San Francisco’s Pop Up Magazine, a popular live magazine-cum-variety show. “I believe people are hungry for live things,” he said. “Plus, sitting in your apartment watching a documentary about Utopia’s just kind of sad.”