Utopia in Four Movements

Utopia in Four Movements is a "live documentary" by Sam Green and Dave Cerf. It was presented at the American Film Institute's Silverdocs Documentary Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland (just outside of Washington, DC) on June 26, 2010. This "live documentary" was a multimedia presentation. The filmmaker Sam Green, in the flesh, narrated the film with live background music provided by a trio called The Quavers, with Dave Cerf masterminding the sound. So this is not (yet) a standalone documentary film.

The four utopias are (1) Esperanto, (2) revolution, (3) shopping malls, (4) forensic anthropology. The general theme undergirding all the "utopias" is the frustrated dream of an egalitarian society. Esperanto is not only the first utopia of the film but in a sense its anchor.

Esperanto was presented with quite a bit of photographic footage originating prior to World War II and film footage of contemporary Esperantists from a wide range of nationalities at world congresses. As most of my face-to-face contact is with American Esperantists, I rarely get the full impact of oral communication across language barriers. All this was quite inspiring and swelled me with pride in being an Esperantist.

I was quite stunned to see film footage of Zamenhof himself, which I didn't know existed. I wish we could get hold of this and preserve it in a usable form ourselves. I inquired afterward and was told it came from a French newsreel and was difficult to acquire. Sam Green was rather pressed for time, so I didn't get a chance to pursue the matter, but we should inquire as to the details and availability of this footage.

Including myself, I identified three Esperantists in the audience. At the end of the Q & A, Jim Ryan, sporting an Esperanto T-shirt, was called upon to say a few words about Esperanto and the presence of the local society. Afterwards, he handed out flyers to exiting attendees.

It was fun for me, and good for Esperanto, unless you think a photo of Mao's red book in Esperanto might give people the wrong idea. (I'm told it's not the red book but Mao's Elektitaj Verkoj Vol. I [Selected Works].)

Evaluation of the whole film requires more in-depth analysis. I think the strength of the relationship between the overall point made about the difference between the perspectives of the early 20th century and now, and the fragments of historical information provided, particularly about revolutionary movements, could be questioned, for the actual examples given could serve to undermine the general argument. I brought this up with Sam Green, who admitted the problem. Regardless, we get a rather impressive exposition of Esperanto, both of its explosive growth and presence prior to the Second World War, and its persistence up to the present time.

If you can read Esperanto, you will see from the Libera Folio blog that some Esperantists were put off by the film. I don't know much Sam Green varies his narrative at each showing, but I don't see him depicting Esperanto as a noble failure. If anything, he demonstrates the resilience of the Esperanto movement, and by showing Esperanto as a living language, in which people of all nations participate, he releases Esperanto from being held hostage to finvenkismo [final victory of Esperanto as an international auxiliary language]. His depiction of Esperanto conferences reflects his 1000-points-of-light theme about patches of limited progress in the face of the smashing of big dreams about a comprehensive social overhaul.

Sam Green's aim, as he has stated in public and to me personally, was to paint a poetic rather than historically precise portrayal of any of these 'utopias'. The question remains as to whether people would get the general gist of his contrast between the big dreams of a century ago (and up through the 1960s) and the dismal prospects of today, or whether they would scrutinize with critical precision the details of what was being presented and question its logic. I would hate to see the '60s summed up by the Brinks bank robbery and the Cultural Revolution. I don't recall whether I saw Green's documentary on The Weather Underground on PBS. It's quite possible, but then I also saw the film the Weather Underground itself made underground in the '70s, and my memory is blurring. As I told Green after the film, people might get the wrong idea from the examples he chose, a possibility he admitted. But you can see how his associative thinking worked: big dreams turned into disasters, Viennese ex-socialist inventing the American shopping mall, ex-Maoist becoming mega-mall developer, Cuba trying to keep the dream alive, American fugitive and expatriate in Cuba keeping the dream alive, Mao's book in Esperanto. It's a chain of associative connections which are not logical from the standpoint of serious historiography, but which, if not scrutinized too closely, support Green's imaginative construct.

I'm also guessing that Green, who is evidently too young to remember the '60s, might be over-romanticizing the wrong things, or more accurately, might have internalized a crude opposition between utopia and disaster, taking each as frozen images of political movements to place in opposition to one another, which is no way of understanding real history. I hope he doesn't wear a Che T-shirt. I couldn't stand that stuff 40 years ago.

And now, a couple paragraphs for non-anglophone Esperantists, followed by a list of links.

Krom la anglalingvaj retpaĝoj, rigardu Utopio en kvar movimentoj ĉe Verda Filmejo. En la blogo Libera Folio vi trovos plurajn plendaĉojn pri la filmo, kelkajn defendojn, kaj plurajn kromdiskutojn. Bazita de la ĵusa specifa prezento en Silver Spring, mi ne gajnis impreson pri Esperanto similan al tio de tiuj kiuj reagis negative. Ŝajnas al mi, ke la ĝenerala bildo pri Esperanto estas pozitiva. Se oni atentos detalojn, eble oni perceptus alimaniere, sed neniu povas certi pri reago de novulo kiu antaŭe sciis nenion pri Esperanto.

Eble ekzistas problemo pli ĝenerala, t.e. nostalgio pri utopioj kiujn oni funebras kiel malrealismajn. La ŝlosila difekto--aŭ manko de logiko kaj konsekvenceco--estas en la dua parto de la filmo, pri revolucio--kies mesaĝo finfine malkoheras kiel rezulto de la ekzemploj elektitaj.

Links / Retligoj:

Utopia in Four Movements

Sam Green

American Film Institute's Silverdocs Documentary Festival

Silverdocs: A conversation with Utopia in 4 Movements Director Sam Green

Utopia in Four Movements | San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Sam Green @ YouTube:

Sam Green: Hoping for the Best

Sam Green - Utopia in Four Movements

SFIFF53 Video Scoop Friday April 30
Utopio en kvar movimentoj

Filmo pri utopio ignoras la realan Esperantujon

1 comment:

neil.nachum said...

Dankon por via. eble plej longa, eble sola du-lingvo recenzo.

Thanks for perhaps the longest erhaps sole bilingual review of Utopia.