[NEW YORK, NY—MARCH 2017] – Second Life was launched in 2003 as a sandbox-style game, open to users willing to create their own experience within the confines of its digital landscape. There was no objective, users were responsible for their experience. It was not long before the game developed into a thriving world inhabited by thousands of users. However, by the late 2000s, the online world of Second Life collapsed, just as the global economic downturn began to take hold. Using screen capture software, filmmaker Annie Berman sends her own avatar into this virtual world to investigate the remnants of this once thriving community.
In Greek mythology, Utopia means ‘no place.’ Thomas More invented the word to name his invented island—a place (a “no place”) that represented an idealized notion of a perfect society. For thousands of users or ‘residents’ as they were called, Second Life became a kind of search for More’s concept of utopia, albeit in a non-traditional setting reflecting our modern society and the influence of technology.
The film is a first-person depiction of a 3D world rendered in 2D, and the remains, ruins, that do not decay and thus speak to a paradise lost: speculative real estate, realtors' offices, wide open spaces with 'for sale' signs, Harvard University’s virtual ‘sandbox’, and an art gallery on its last days. Utopia 1.0: Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism in 3D! explores our very notion of progress and the role it plays in our ability to imagine utopia, to imagine a better world. In the case of Second Life, given the invitation to come build anything imaginable, Berman asks, what is it that we chose to create?
“I screen Annie Berman's Utopia 1.0 as part of my advanced new media studio class for undergraduates called 'Spaceship Earth.' The class addresses creative projects in imaging the scale of the planet from the urban to the galactic, and the often hybrid material and virtual forms they take. Utopia 1.0 sparks rich discussions about embodiment and spatial navigation in virtual worlds, as well as the social constructs of class, capitalism, race and inequality that accompany us into fabricated spaces. The video surfaces with humor those deep anxieties of the performance of the self online within asymmetrical power dynamics within which young people struggle to navigate today,” says Caitlin Berrigan, professor of emerging media, NYU Tisch Photography & Imaging.
TRAILER UTOPIA 1.0: Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism in 3D! from Fish in the Hand Productions
This is the sixth film by New York-based filmmaker Annie Berman and a follow-up to her 2013 film Street Views, which also explored similar themes of the digital spaces we create and inhabit. Since its debut, Utopia 1.0: Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism in 3D! has been screened in over a dozen film festivals, as well as presented at several academic conferences, including: Codes and Modes, Reframing VR; I-Docs; the CongRegation Conference; and Impakt Festival Utrecht.
As an academic resource, the film offers [students, academics, librarians] a multidisciplinary critique of our modern notions of utopia. Key areas of interest include the intersection of film, media, and technology; as well as economic, philosophical, and political implications which coincide with the decline of Second Life. “Utopia 1.0 is at once thought-provoking, emotionally riveting, and envelope-pushing in its exploration of the intersection of contemporary culture and technology,” says Caveh Zahedi.
About The Filmmaker: Annie Berman
Annie Berman is a media artist living and working in New York City. Named one of Independent Magazine’s 10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2016, her films, videos, performances, and installations have shown internationally in galleries, festivals, universities, and conferences, including the MoMA Documentary Fortnight, Rooftop Films, Galerie Patrick Ebensperger Berlin, Kassel Hauptbahnhof, and the Rome Independent Film Festival where she was awarded the Best Experimental Film Prize. Her work has received support from the Puffin Foundation, Wave Farm, the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts, the Center for Independent Documentary, Signal Culture, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and UnionDocs. She holds an MFA in Integrated Media Art from Hunter College.