"A Machine to Live In" is a hybrid documentary linking the cosmic power structures of the state to the mystical architecture of cults and utopian cities in the distant hinterlands of Brazil. This “sci-fi” documentary provides a complex portrait of life, poetry, and myth set against the backdrop of the space-age city of Brasília and a flourishing landscape of UFO cults and transcendental spaces. In addition, it looks to Brazil’s highly controlled capital not as a triumph or failure of its utopian desires but as a generative domain for imagining alternative cosmologies. Architecture in this context is interpreted as semiotically porous and charged, and presents an inclusive possibility for new visions of the future.
Chicago-based filmmakers Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke are on a journey into the factual and fictional space age past in their jam-packed, wildly adventurous hybrid documentary, A Machine to Live In, which they describe as “a video poem to the utopian imagination.”
Their feature shuffles multiple stories that geolocate around visions and achievements of Brasília, that hallucinatory landscape of a national capital carved from the jungles of Brazil. The film takes “a highly mediatized, cinematographic approach for observing the way people live in, talk about and navigate space,” codirector Zielke says. Shot in widescreen 4K RED RAW with an eye toward a 1960s and ‘70s sci-fi aesthetic, the footage mingles old and new cinematic technologies, including gimbals, drones, helicopters, hot air balloons, 3D LIDAR scanning and geospatial mapping. “The camera perspective will mechanically rotate, spin and float among the architecture as if it were itself an alien craft—or perhaps— the mind’s eye of the architect.”
The “future/science fiction” carapace, inspired by “encounters with esoteric history in Latin America,” contains the vast, transformative and radical architecture of Oscar Niemeyer; the work of novelist/journalist Clarice Lispector; the followers of linguist L. L. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto; cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin; and Tia Neiva, Brazil’s first female truck driver, who became a cult leader.
Building a “cosmology of signs,” Zielke says, “fragments of literary and historical texts work their way into interviews, fictive tableaux featuring temporary architectural sculptures situate themselves in ‘real’ scenes, and historical encounters are enacted by participants in the film. Voiceovers are doubled to reveal multiple identities, and captions are manipulated to reveal multiple perspectives. These devices come together to flesh out five characters, or witnesses,” that serve as chapter markers.
Zielke says the film also reflects today’s megacities, partially from her perspective as a fourth-generation Detroit native and Goldstein hailing from Netanya, in north-central Israel, another modernist, midcentury city. “On some level, these monuments are nothing more than incarnations—of the dreams and nightmares of their makers,” she says. “We suggest that architectural artifacts may encapsulate something more interesting and more difficult to articulate without a mythopoetic language. This is about finding that language not just in the imagination but in the enactment of utopia. As artists, we feel a calling to unmoor, to unfix these monuments from the suspension of disbelief with which they tempt us. To believe them and not believe them when they claim to represent something as large and messy as the creation of a nation before our very eyes.”
The vision of the film itself remains in flux, as the filmmakers ask themselves in the editing room, “What does documentary owe? What are implicit contracts that the viewer makes with the maker? How do you develop trust with your audience in hybrid filmmaking? How does chance and happenstance factor into documentary filmmaking? What kinds of collaboration happen between you and the landscape? Between you and participants? What is a documentary?” Selected for the 2018 IFP Documentary Lab, A Machine to Live In will continue to pose those questions at this Fall’s IFP Week and on the film’s road to completion. — RP
We are happy to announce that we have been selected by Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) to be fellows in their outstanding programs. “IFP fosters a vibrant and sustainable independent storytelling community, represents a growing network of 10,000 storytellers around the world, and plays a key role in developing 350 new feature and documentary works each year.” This is our upcoming schedule:
A few weeks ago, we were invited to present our film at this year’s programme of DOK Preview and it was truly humbling to be assisted by such a great group of talented and friendly organizers. DOK Leipzig is one of the oldest documentary festivals of the world and we couldn’t be happier to network over there.
Photo courtesy of Freddy Neumann.
Andrew Benz pitching “A Machine To Live In” at Nordisk Panorama in Malmo, Sweden.
Photo courtesy of Freddy Neumann.
All the Dok Incubator participants oozing joy for having worked so hard together with such an amazing group of tutors and staff.
Photo courtesy of Dok Incubator.
We are currently at the 2nd Workshop Session of the Dok.Incubator 2017. During this second session, we are focusing on building specific marketing strategies, a proper distribution plan and expanding our international film market network.
Our week at the incubator was packed with transformative meetings, generous resources, and critical discussion with other filmmakers and widely experienced tutors. We are looking forward to our next workshop in Mojmírovce, Slovakia where we will continue to expand our knowledge and grow our network. In all, we are very thankful to the kind and amazingly hard-working dok.incubator team that hosted us and guided us throughout the whole experience. Photos courtesy of dok.incubator and Andrew Benz.
We have been selected to the prestigious dok.incubator program this year. The workshop consists of three residential sessions in three different cities, all a week long and roughly two months apart. The first looks at the rough cut, the second assembles a fine cut and the third works towards locking, with an emphasis on marketing.
The unique Dok Incubator is an organization specializing in supporting documentary projects in the rough-cut stage. The focus of our participation will be working hard in the editing room, building a clever and tailor-made distribution plan and marketing strategy as well as meeting up with important international distributors.
Our timeline is:
1st – 6th May – Třešť, Czech Republic // ROUGH-CUT
26th June – 1st July – Mojmírovce, Slovakia // FINE CUT
18th – 25th of September – Malmö, Sweden // NEAR PICTURE LOCK
At this stage, we are actively fundraising to support our participation and cover expenses like flights accommodations and other associated fees. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please email us at email@example.com, or donate directly to the project through PayPal by clicking the link below. All donations are tax deductible.
Do you have extra frequent flyer miles? We are accepting donations of frequent flyer miles on any airline that flies to Brazil (Mileage Plus, AAdvantage, SkyMiles, etc.) If you would like to donate miles, please contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All donors will receive a special THANK YOU in the film credits, as well as an advance copy of the film.
Why Make This Film Now?
Being a filmmaker today means something very different than it did a few years ago. Our current political and social climate is arguably the most divisive, chaotic, and turbulent period that anyone of our generation or younger has ever experienced in this country. As the United States of America collectively struggles to come to terms with the current political regime, we find essential to reveal and question how structures of power are constructed and performed. To that end, we have committed ourselves to teasing out the relationships between social and class systems, myth-making and nationalism, the state and its cult-like powers. There are many historical and cultural similarities between the United States of America and Brazil. Among one of the most prominent ones is that both countries, in spite of their political instabilities, reinforce the status quo through architecture (whether border walls or frontier outposts) that enable surveillance and strict regulations of urban space.
Brasília’s power and iconic status was solidified through its carefully crafted mythology as a utopian city and the promise it represented to Brazilians at the time of its founding. Although the state has successfully amassed vast economic power, Brasília is just like the rest of urban Brazil: surrounded by enormous slums, supported by poor migrant workers, and plagued by long-standing corruption. The lessons inherent to the story of Brasília, historically defined by its incipient democratic movement, have implications worldwide as nations reconcile globalization and their own economic insecurity. Structures that once represented progress, order, justice, equality and freedom, are once again being considered sanctuaries for demagogues aiming to preserve their dubious positions, and implementing policy in the name of progress and development for the benefit of the ruling elite.
One need not look further than today’s news to understand the topicality of the content of “A Machine to Live In.” With President Dilma Rousseff having been impeached after sustained protests in August of 2016 and current President Michel Temer now under scrutiny with the word “impeachment” being floated again, Brazil’s democracy remains fragile. Through casting new light on the dynamic story of the city, where of course these impeachments are now taking place, we are offering a new, historically informed perspective on this challenging moment.
Brasília’s story is also resonant with situations around the globe. As cities continually seek to modernize, many of the same mistakes are being made. Brasília teaches us that no urban environment can be converted into a futuristic monument through large-scale injections of technology or physical infrastructure meant to smooth tensions and produce harmony. There are always unforeseen repercussions. Yet, we continue to hear the distorted echo of failed utopias; the idealism of “smart cities” persists like déjà vu. As with Brasília’s construction history, we hear of thousands of migrant workers, often badly treated and manipulated with false promises, to build mega-cities in places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China, and many other urban spaces planned from the top-down visions of the government officials.
Our view, however, is not that utopian projects should not be attempted at all. Rather the opposite: that there is a profound need to inspire more utopian imagination. To build worlds beyond the paradigms of exploitation and corruption, and to once again engage the questions of a collective vision of the future.