Cyberpunk Noir… that’s basically one movie right? BLADE RUNNER, a film which many SciFi fans would put in the pantheon next to ALIEN, STAR WARS, and 2001. Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” offers a vividly bleak peak into the future, a world so fully realized the film only scratches the surface. As Harrison Ford’s Deckard hunts down the renegade replicants, the back alley vision of Los Angeles 2019 is a mere backdrop to the action, but with detail and open ended questions that threaten to overwhelm plot.

Cut from the same DNA, Guy-Roger Duvert’s VIRTUAL REVOLUTION strands us in Paris 2047.  Half of the population is now permanently online, living their lives in a variety of game worlds, and leaving the reality behind.  Nash (Mike Dopud) has been hired by one of the corporation that builds these virtual worlds to track down a group of terrorists who are killing the players (for real) from inside the game. When he infiltrates the terror cell, he finds that the lines between innocent and guilty are far more blurry and maybe the entire ‘game’ is rigged against the human population.

One of Nash' s many online avatars

One of Nash’ s many online avatars

Duvert’s film, which premiered at Dances With Film and just played Filmquest, explodes with big ideas. It is the kind of SciFi film that encourages great discussion about theme, and yet still is full of great action and visual.  In fact, it is hard to believe this is an independent film at all, it looks so amazing.  Cyberpunk questions the impact of technology on our societies – they are fascinated and distrusting all at the same time.  At the same time, the authors of these stories generally show a distrust and a fascination towards these technologies as well. Considering I just bought my Samsung Gear headset this week, we are quite a ways off from technology in VIRTUAL REVOLUTION, but as a society we are well on our way to being prepared to immerse ourselves as far as the technology will allow us.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with Duvert about his film, virtual reality, and why we all want to live in The Matrix:

 

BEARS: This film really says a lot about the way we lose ourselves in our devices… you must have some pretty strong feelings on that…. Care to rant?

Duvert: Our way to apprehend virtual reality and how it will impact us as a society is clearly the topic of the film, but the film isn’t there to impose an opinion or to give answers. It’s there to ask questions. So, I guess I’m more wondering than ranting in it.

Original Concept Art for the film

Original Concept Art for the film

First, when I look at it, I don’t see how we’re not going to end up in a society where most people will spend all their time online, because everyone (the users, the politicians, the companies…etc) have an interest in seeing it happening. So, personally, I’m not wondering if that might happen, I am convinced it will. Now, is this a terrific or a terrible thing? Actually probably both. That’s where I have doubts, that I describe in the film.

On the one hand, having a few millenaries of evolution to end up like vegetables connected to machines, that’s quite a gloomy image. Also, this is the mass control tool that every politicians always dreamed to have. And it will become a reality. So, in a way, this means the end of the idea of democracy like we know it. Pretty bad…

On the other hand, when we look at human history, the poors always had a shitty life. Their best hope was for the next generation, their children, to have a better (or less shitty) life than the one they had. The arrival of virtual worlds means that everyone, poor like rich, will be able to live amazing sensations, adventures! Much more satisfying than what they had before (a boring job, not a lot of money, a boss yelling at them, very few vacations…etc). So, this is also the most wonderful and equalitarian invention ever! So, as you see, there are two sides of the coin. The movie doesn’t impose an opinion, it tends to create a reflection, a discussion on the subject. After the first screenings, we saw spectators arguing about the different positions one can take on this. So, that’s great! This debate is what we wanted to create.

BEARS: The look achieved for an indie feature is really impressive. How did you go about doing all the CG and effects in the film and how did you stretch those dollars?

Duvert: There are several ways to get this result. First, we found talented CGI people who agreed to adapt to our budget, to make a great work. Without them we would never have gotten what we now have visually. Also, we shot the film in order to give it a big production value from the start. When we released our first teaser, people were impressed by our VFX in it. The thing is: we had only 3 shots with VFX in it! Most people were convinced that some of our locations, which are impressive, had to be CGI. Before we started shooting, they were convinced that we would shoot entirely in a green screen studio. The truth is very different: out of 29 days of shooting, we shot one day only in a studio. That’s it. All the rest was shot in real locations. What’s true for real estate is true for movies too. The secret is: location, location, location. We actually spent 6 months looking for the places where we would shoot. By doing so, we found not too expensive locations, with great production value (a renaissance church, a Chinese temple, some medieval streets, amazing abandoned factories, a renaissance concert room…etc).

BEARS: You are a French director, living in the US, and then you went back and shot in France. What made you come to the US, what made you shoot in France?

Duvert: I came to the US to accelerate my career, to be in the middle of where things happen, and I don’t regret having made that choice. I went back to France to shoot there for several reasons: (1) I was born in Paris, so I know the city pretty well. I was pretty involved myself, with the help of my unit manager/location scout, in looking for the locations. (2) Paris is a beautiful city, but I feel that until now, the directors who shot it best were not French. So I wanted to show a personal and visually intriguing vision of Paris. (3) I created a team, on my last short, CASSANDRA, and I wanted to work again with them. They live in Paris, so shooting there was cheaper for me than if I had to transport them elsewhere.

BEARS: France does not have much of a history with Science Fiction, why is that? Did you find people had a hard time understanding what you were trying to do?

Duvert: We actually have one, but it is really old. In the 70s and 80s, France had a very strong artistical pool in Science Fiction. You might have heard of Moebius (who inspired for instance the movie The 5th Element). A few anime movies were amazing (The Masters of Time, for instance). But it died in the middle of the 80s, with an industry focused only on social dramas and comedies (and a few cop movies). Which is sad.

That being said, people consume a lot of sci-fi, in movies, comic books, tv shows, so they do have a good general culture about it. So, when I hired people, I had no problem getting them to understand where we were going, even if at first, they were all wondering how we could do something like this. But they trusted me, and I owe them for that!

BEARS: A big part of your film is about a revolutionary, basically terrorist group.  Did you ever have any concern about touching on that subject in a wake of current global politics?

Duvert: Terrorists always existed. If you’re referring to Muslim radicals, they already existed one millennium ago! At the time of the crusades, western crusaders actually allied with the ashashins (Muslim terrorists) against other Muslim cities. In the 13th century, the Thugs, in India, became a big terrorist organization. More recently, we had the Boxers, in China, at the beginning of 20th century. I remember Paris in the ’90s being shocked by a wave of terrorist attacks, or I also remember the terrorist attack in Oklahoma. There have always been terrorists. Nothing new under the sky. What changed recently is just our way to mediate “ize”  it. TV and social networks have totally changed that. So we have the impression that the phenomenon is huge. It’s not. Terrorist killings in western countries represent a very small percentage of the killings (most come from accidents and regular criminality). And the number of killings never stopped decreasing, unlike popular beliefs.

The film shows terrorists who have a noble purpose, but very questionable means. And I think that this also will arise some discussions. Some spectators will consider them as revolutionaries and will support their actions, while some others will consider that violence should not be used, and see them as terrorists. Here again, the film isn’t about good vs bad people. It is about people making choices according to their values, to their experience. And this, of course, creates interesting situations and bloody conflicts.

BEARS: I love the world building you’ve done.  How well do you know your future? Are there bits of detail that you love that never made it into the screenplay (but affected your story none the less)?

Duvert: We actually gave a lot of thoughts about the world we wanted to build and show. You can’t imagine all the questions we actually asked while working with the set designer and the props designer. For instance, does paper still exist in 2047? (we decided “yes,” because it stays a very cheap way to advertise when you don’t have much resources). How do people eat if they never leave their places?  What about the children? How can people reproduce if they spend all their time online?

We actually answered all of that, but most of it of course is not on screen. We even had to decide how the big futuristic towers like the one where the hero lives work. For us, 80% is mostly residential flats, while the upper 20% is commercial. So the residents never need to leave the tower. They just take the elevators, buy what they need, and go back down to their place. Or they have it delivered in front of their door. So the towers receive the merchandise by air, by the top. And this goes on and on, on many questions like this.

The level of detail is pretty high. We created our own companies brands, our own sodas, our own alcohols, food…etc. It’s this amount of detail that allow this world to be visually credible.

That being said, this might not be dead forever. We are actually working on the possibility to make a TV show out of the film. Nothing is decided yet, but we already met several people interested in the concept. So we’ll see. Maybe you will see more of this world soon…

 

VIRTUAL REVOLUTION continues on the film festival circuit with upcoming screenings at WorldCon in Kansas City and DragonCon in Atlanta. For more information, check out their website, www.virtualrevolutionmovie.com.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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