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PEOPLEText: Satoru Tanno

A documentary film Synthetic Pleasures depicts how human beings and the environment are being influenced by the development of technology. Last year, in Sundance film festival, Synthetic Pleasures was screened and highly regarded as a milestone film in the 90s.
SHIFT took an interview with Iara Lee, director of the film and asked her about the film and her forthcoming documentary film Modulations.

When did you start living in the U.S?

I moved from Brazil. I came to the U.S in ’89. I used to run the film festival in Brazil. So, I would watch 10 films a day. I would go to Canne, Berlin, Venice, all the fests. I scout interesting films for my festival in Brazil. And then, I decided that I wanted to go behind the camera. So, I moved to the U.S and attended a film school and made three short films. Synthetic Pleasures was actually going to be be my fourth short film. But, the subject was so interesting, I decided to expand and it became my first full length film.

I heard it took three years for you to release your first full feature length film.

Yeah, it was a big work in progress. I went a little and it expanded more and more, it was not like something that started with a script or a storyboard. So, it kind of evolved with time, you know. Then once the film was ready, I did the festival circuit. I went to the main festivals like Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, and I spoke to many distributors in the U.S, for example, and they just didn’t have a grasp on how to go about distributing an odd film like that. So, I decided to distribute it myself. In a very successful way I got this film into 73 cities in the United States.

There’re many famous interviews of subculture heroes such as Timothy Leary, R.U.Sirius etc… What was your motive for filming Synthetic Pleasures?

Ah, these people are basically the technological icons of our contemporary society and I was always a big admirer of Timothy Leary, R.U.Sirius’s philosophy. So, I thought he would be perfect for the movie. He is the one who always kind of updated himself all the time. The same way, he used drug and (in an empowerment way), He thought computers with the same thing. You know, computers were considered like empowering machines to transcend the boundaries of the physical world. And, R.U.Sirius has always been a very revolutionary person in the sense that he also thinks technology should be used for fantasy and, you know, to go beyond to more reality. So, I just did a lot of research and chose the people that would be the best people to create a content for my film. When I first approached them, they had no idea what I was gonna do with it. They were all very surprised at the end once the film was ready.
They really enjoyed the film. I felt very good because they kind of supported my film when I had nothing to prove, you know. They basically took chances by supporting my project. I was very happy to see that they at the end were very pleased with the final film. That was Timothy Leary’s last appearance in a motion picture. A lot of people made video programs with him when he got sick, when he was almost dying. But, it’s definitely his last appearance in a motion picture.

I very well remember R.U.Sirius was in a bath tub.

R.U.Sirius was not a very serious person.(laugh) Whatever I would ask him to do, he would do it, you know. I basically said, no, what about we do it here in the bath tub. And, he’s like, “Yeah, sure”. He took his clothes off and ,in one second, he was in his bath tub. Roll camera roll film and let’s do it!!!

That’s why he was in the bath tub. (laugh)

He is a very spontaneous and open-minded person. he’s totally open for any kind of experimentation.

I guess that you tried just to describe the future of technology….

Yeah, and it’s a little bit of a warning, too, as you say. Because I can’t really define an answer, It’s one not just good or bad, it’s good and bad, it’s evil and, it’s also wonderful, you know. So, it really depends on how we’re using it. A lot of times, people want simplistic answers, you know. Sometimes, they say “Oh, this film that has a strong point of view”. But, it’s not that. It’s just that I don’t think things are so simple. So, I tried to convey with the film the complexity of the subject. If you are somehow an (alienated) person, you may just look at the indoor beaches, Seagaia, and say “oh, this is cool”. But, if you are someone who has deeper knowledge and deeper ideas philosophically you start questioning all these guaranteed pleasures of the indoor beach. People’s reaction to the movie tells me a lot about who they are. People can perceive the film in different levels. Some people just look at the facade of the film and they just think it’s just cool, you know. But, people who are more interested in aesthetics, morality, philosophy, they look at the movie and they see a lot of deeper thoughts and questions that the film raises.

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