Animating These Post Modern Times
Last summer, Reality Sandwich editorial director Daniel Pinchbeck collaborated with filmmakers Joao Amorim and Nikos Katsaounis on the animated short "Toward 2012," which became a hit on YouTube and CurrentTV. The video combined Pinchbeck's thought provoking observations about our transformational times with eye-popping motion graphics that brought salient points home with energy and humor.
The success of "Toward 2012" has led to a series, "Post Modern Times," now premiering on the Iclips Network. Post ModernTimes promotes a new understanding of our world, highlighting practical tools and visionary techniques for a sustainable future – think "The Simpsons" meets Buckminster Fuller and Aldous Huxley. The series is produced in association with the animation studio Curious Pictures.
The first of 10 webisodes is now live online. Titled "Consciousness is the Key," it's a remix of "Toward 2012" by four underground hip hop artists – Naada, H2L, iLL SpoKKinN, and Reality Sandwich contributor Propaganda Anonymous– and producer euphAmism.
New releases every twenty days will cover topics from sustainability to alternative energy, psychic research to ayahuasca shamanism. Upcoming webisodes will feature: Kevin Danaher (co-founder of Global Exchange, executive producer of The Green Festivals), James O'Dea (President of The Institute of Noetic Science), Rick Strassman (author of "DMT the spirit molecule"), Rick Doblin (president of MAPS), Maria Alice Campos, (member of the Thirteen Grandmother Council, representative of the Santo Daime church of Brazil) and many others.
I recently interviewed Joao and Nikos about their work on "Post Modern Times." Director Joao's Amorim credits include the animation for the just-released documentary "Chicago 10," which opened Sundance. Co-director and Producer Nikos, Katsaounis an Emmy Award-winner, produced the hit underground feature, "Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within," on non-ordinary states of consciousness and trance culture.
AE: How did this project get started?
Nikos: Post Modern Times got started quite synchronistically. Daniel and I had been neighbors for several years. We tried to work together in the past but nothing had come from it. I had just finished working on "Entheogen," for which I had interviewed Daniel, when he proposed we try to work on something new together. He had just recently been approached by Joao, who had read 2012 and wanted to make an animated film about the ideas in the book. I've known Joao socially for many years, bumping into him in some pretty random places, so it was pleasantly surprising to be presented with the opportunity to work together. We began the series and in parallel are working on a feature film that explores these topics further.
Nikos, can you talk about the evolution of your own work as an artist and filmmaker? How has your consciousness shifted over the course of your life?
Nikos: I had certain experiences when I was quite a bit younger through dance and electronic music, which triggered questions that still inspire me to create and tell stories today. I felt very lost in the beginning, because of growing up in Greece, access to literature and information about these subjects was hard to come by. The opening, comfort, and inspiration that certain books, films, and other media provided me with, is what has motivated me to want to pursue this path. Each piece of media I stumbled upon seemed to come at the right time for me to be able to integrate it. I cannot explain how it felt to discover some book or documentary after many years that reflected a story that I already had made up myself, it made me feel like I was connecting to a truth that transcended cultures, time and space.
This exploration led me to spending a year traveling through South America and that solidified my commitment to exploring the significance of this time we are in. Indigenous knowledge is on the verge of being lost forever and ironically it seems like we could use some of it right now, and video is so available, and the pipes on the web have gotten wide enough so that video can flow through fast enough to make change possible for others who seek it.
That is why I resonated so strongly with Daniel. He is able to synthesize a wide range of information and articulate it from a holistic perspective. Information has been liberated since the birth of the Internet. Now for the first time in history we have the ability to cross-reference information, observe patterns and behaviors from every corner of the globe. The mirror through which we see ourselves in is composed of a mosaic of culturally different experiences, and now we are pulling far enough back to be able to see our reflection as a whole – not fragmented. By exploring the knowledge of our ancestors, transmitting it through this collective mind, we might be able to contextualize our current place in history. I am passionate about contributing to this body of information, to facilitate others to see the vast interconnectedness and magical nature of things.
Same question for you, Joao. How has your artistic work evolved?
Joao: I always liked film and animation. My father got us a Super8 projector in the Seventies. From the age of four or five, I remember watching Eisenstein, Chaplin and Disney... I also always enjoyed drawing.
I ended up studying Transportation Design at Art Center College of Design. It was there that I first got in touch with the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Design Science. At the time I even conceptualized an amphibious Hydrogen powered car for a futuristic Holland...
However after a few years working as an industrial designer, I quickly learned that I was not going to be able to work on all this super innovative ecological projects.
I ended up learning 3D and animation. I moved to California and worked for SGI, and from then on dedicated my career to animation. I then moved around the world working as an animator, animation supervisor and eventually as a Director. After working on "Chicago 10" and after reading Daniel's book, I realized, I could not just go on working on commercial projects. I had already done a few socially charged shorts: ("Don't Get Charged Up," "Ferrets for Freedom," etc...), but now I had decided to take it a step further and united forces with Daniel, Nikos and our editor Fellipe Barbosa to produce the first Post Modern Times short, "Toward 2012." That was effectively a pilot, and it got 65,000 hits, which led to the series...
Joao, you recently did the animation for the film "Chicago 10." This film was very successful and popular at festivals. Talk about why so many serious documentaries are using animation these days. What is it about animation that works so well rhetorically?
Joao: I believe media needs to adapt to its times. In the case of "Chicago 10," this is a film set in the past but very relevant to what we are living today.
Also in that specific case, the film was done using archival footage. So it would be rather odd to have the real Abbie Hoffman in one scene and then cutting to some form of reenactment. Through animation you can create a caricature of reality.
To me it comes down to creating a visual language that is exciting to young people and that will get them engaged, that will instigate them to take action.
Nikos, what about you? Why do you think animation is so effective?
Nikos: Animation is a prime form of story telling. It has its deepest roots in the dark caves of early man when language and storytelling were at their infancy. Ideograms, hieroglyphics, and other iconic languages have a universality that appeals to our intuitive nature. Plus we are accustomed to watching animation, since its one of the first things we actually see on TV, as a child. In essence a cartoon character, or a hieroglyphic symbol, are simplifications of reality, and through that simplification only the most revealing characteristics are used to animate a character. A cartoon or animation is a caricature of what the storyteller wants to represent, which makes it easier to direct the audience's attention to the essence of what you are trying to say. Homer Simpson is a caricature of someone who I know, who you know; a stereotype, an archetype perhaps. That someone might be a part of myself, and by Homer embodying the characteristics that I identify with, I identify with him. A powerful form of intimacy is created between me, Homer and everyone else who is reinforcing a collective social stereotype/archetype.
There is also something about the fact that it is not real that lets animation get away with so much more. I am not sure if everyone thinks this way, but my thought process resembles animation much more that it does a written text, or a series of words. So I guess these are a few reasons I can think of why animation can be very effective in conveying sensitive information. (It's also a very effective tool for propaganda.)
When you made "Entheogen," Nikos, what were some of your goals and how do you feel the film has been received so far?
Nikos: Working with Rod and Kevin was an incredible experience. The most interesting part about "Entheogen" was how we met (online on Craig's List). They were shooting an interview with Alex Grey at CoSM in New York, and I replied to an add for a camera position. Their hotel had cancelled their rooms so they ended up spending the weekend with me. We seemed to have the pieces that each of us was looking for in each other. They had shot a series of interviews already and I had a lot of footage that I had been collecting from my travels and from digging in libraries, etc. Even though we were from completely different backgrounds and cultures we saw the world through the same lens.
The film felt as if it was an egg that did not want to hatch until just the right moment, and it finally did. Our conversations will be something I will miss. They were proof that what we were trying to do had some validity, some truth. Throughout the two years (including some challenging times) that we worked together, we came across so many people who shared this "new world view." The excitement that comes from "connecting the dots" is something that is hard to put into words. But a great friendship and a lot of self-discovery emerged as a consequence.
The film has been to a few festivals, won one award so far, and popped up for free online – which was kind of flattering but financially painful. But the most meaningful connections are individuals who have reached out because they resonated with the subject matter and were able to forgive its un-groomed nature and feel the passion and the importance of this information getting out there. Many people have requested permission to screen the film for small groups of people and we steadily are selling DVDs from our website, all over the world. It is very satisfying to be approached by people saying that they want their parents to watch the film, or pass it on to a friend who is skeptical about all of these things, because in some way I think all three of us were motivated by our families and our need to be understood and not be disregarded as deadbeat hedonists.
Joao, do you ever get the feeling that the 2012 consciousness shift idea is only relevant in a psychedelic niche? How can we bridge a gap between something like "global warming" for example, and people who are interested in this 2012 shift without relying too heavily on the psychedelic experience as the sole catalyst for understanding what's happening?
Joao: The answer is yes... It has a lot to do with the obsession about the date and the five million crazy theories around it. That stuff puts people off, I am certain.
I think the psychedelic experience can work for some, but it is not a must at all. I personally meditate twice a day, and go to a flotation tank once a month. On a regular basis I find that way more effective and accessible for people. Sound and resonance is another way...
I believe that meditation should be taught in school, as well as permaculture, bioconstruction, music, arts, dance. A more hands on approach would help kids connect to nature. What we need to do is to re establish this notion that we are part of Nature, we are nature!
That reminds me of David Lynch's efforts, bringing something like quiet time or meditation time into elementary schools. Nikos, do you think we build bridges without relying too heavily on psychedelics?
Nikos: I do not believe that any substances are necessary to achieve a contemporary/relevant worldview. There are many ways to tap into this knowledge, primarily through something we all have: our bodies.
Having said that, synthetic and natural entheogenic compounds can accelerate understanding and give us powerful experiential knowledge. That can be either positive or negative. Its an extreme sport in a way. You don't want everybody skydiving or skateboarding either. Almost anyone can try it and can have a positive or negative experience, a few will love it and pursue it as a way of life, and many will do it occasionally and get something out of it.
Due to the socialized fear surrounding these substances as a consequence of their mass use and misuse during the sixties, today it requires an adventurous spirit. People who are attracted to them are ones who are more likely to question things regardless. There are risks involved and one must be willing to face one's dark side, must be willing to let go of everything they might think is true at times, but if you manage to make it out in one piece you feel quite victorious.... you can't let that get to your head though either. Feeling self-righteous and all-knowing as consequence of artificially induced mystical experiences defeats the initial purpose all together. That purpose is to open up, not become dogmatic and undiplomatic. This is a real danger, and many have slipped on that banana. Timothy Leary and Charles Manson are two quick examples where the ego got in the way of their awakening. But I guess both of them had a lesson to teach us all at the end of the day.
Now we know more than we did fifty years ago. We have had generational experience on the issue in the West and the truly positive benefits from their use are surfacing across the egalitarian landscape of the Web. In parallel, many of the natural compounds have been used indigenously for thousands of years and are deeply enmeshed with the ways of life and worldviews of people in those cultures. Today, because so much information is available, people can overcome some of their socialized fears and be more open to having an experience.
The setting is crucial, so I favor a ritualistic use of the substances. That does not necessarily mean a Shipibo shaman has to administer the substance. But I do believe the more intention and respect that is put into the "ceremony," the more rewarding the trip will be. That doesn't mean you cant be silly and have fun. I guess its about honor in the end of the day.
Is there a generational rift at all between, say, some of the baby-boomers or 60's counter-cultural elders and the younger generations now in their 20's or 30's?
Joao: Somewhat, yes... In the Sixties, the left still romanticised socialism. Now that has changed. Young people are so distracted by our culture of excess. Excess of food, violence, stimulation and so on... It is hard to get young people excited about politics, or to take action about anything really. But I see that changing. I think the change will be exponential. At least I hope so...
So, how do we reach children about things like global warming, an upcoming shift in consciousness, etc? Any ideas?
Joao: "Post Modern Times" is not targeted toward children. If anything it is more like "Sesame Street" for adults...
I would love to work on social projects for kids. I think to reach kids, it has to be fun, first of all... With humor you can touch everyone. I think you need to use a language that is dear to them. Lately I have been conceptualizing a evolution of consciousness video game...
Clearly there is Hollywood interest in films about global warming. The DiCaprio narrated "Eleventh Hour" and the award-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" are good examples. But why is it so hard for Hollywood to explore the evolution of consciousness?
Nikos: I feel there is definitely a taboo around the subject. There must be a cosmic reason for it, perhaps it has not matured within the margin/avant guard enough for it to be mass processed and distributed by Hollywood. Maybe it's an individual, personal thing that cannot and should not be pumped through our traditional channels of mindless information?
I also feel that there are a lot of egos on the issue and it's difficult for people to crystalise a grand theory about everything. It's an ambitious task, and the information needs to be presented in the right way in order for it to be accessible and not scare people away.
But I believe music and all media are in some way like spells – they penetrate us to our core, if we let them. We now all have the ability to amplify our voice, reach out into the world and see if anyone else agrees with us. This encourages us to grow, to change, to act. That's why we believe it's so crucial to reach out to the younger generation and provide them with inspirational media that hopefully will inform them and encourage them to learn more.
As a filmmakers, how do you try to balance a proper amount of concern with a disposition of peacefulness?
Nikos: This is a tough question to address because it is difficult to explain the mixed emotions we all feel while we have been working on PMT. Its very hard, because we can go from having a great day to having a terrible day, and from being inspired to getting depressed, and then apathy sets in also at times. But it's in the effort that I find meaning...
I don't really know what else to do. I am happy and hopeful overall, but it is definitely challenging.
Joao: I think the biggest challenge is to stay focused while pursuing the truth. I am an optimist and I know we will make it!Tweet