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Our Time On Earth shorts: The Utopians

A man in an orange top is in a workshop and a robot with solar panels on the top is placed next to the camera
20 Jun 2022

Artist and scientist Joaquín Fargas embarks on a quest to reveal the environmental impact of extracting lithium, a key component of electric cars – which aren’t as sustainable as Tesla or Toyota want you to believe.

Three filmmakers have created a mini-series in response to the climate emergency and inspired by Our Time On Earth. A new series is going live each month, here's the first one! 

Filmmakers Frederick Bernas and Nico Muñoz mini-series The “Utopians”, follows Fargas as he creates the “Rabdomante” robot, a solar caterpillar that collects condensation in arid deserts. Its name is derived from “rhabdomancy,” a supposedly divine ability to discover hidden water sources or minerals; but how many thousands of these machines would be needed to produce a real change? It seems absurd to think about – but doing nothing at all would be even worse.

We chatted with the filmmakers to get a behind-the-scenes look at making this mini-series.


The Utopians: Episode 1

The Utopians: Episode 2

The Utopians: Episode 3

Can you explain the process behind the making of your film?

The “Utopians” mini-series is created with material from “Project Utopia,” a feature documentary we have been developing with Joaquín Fargas since 2014.

The full film dives into Joaquín’s world to present a compelling panorama of his work, as well as exploring his family life and seemingly bottomless motivation to make art – which takes him as far as Antarctica, the Andes mountains in Chile and the pristine salt flats of Argentina or Bolivia.

We’ve gathered countless hours of footage over the last few years. As with so many long-term documentaries, the challenge becomes how to adapt the story for different formats and mediums. After receiving this commission, we spent several weeks experimenting and throwing ideas around (between Buenos Aires, LA and London) to figure out what flows best for the edit; condensing our key messages into just three minutes was no easy task.

During the early stages, we used place-holder library music to generate moods and atmospheres, before crafting our own bespoke electronic score – which also informed the edit process, as we sought to integrate sound design at the same time. That organic synthesis between different audiovisual elements becomes even more important when time is so rigidly limited. You have to make every second count!

How does your film respond to the ideas behind Our Time On Earth?

Just like the exhibition, our project is designed to interrogate technology and consumption in a grand context – making a sincere point about the future of our planet, with a light touch. We aim to reach beyond the constant avalanche of heavy headlines to explore environmental issues in a more contemplative, measured fashion.

Electric cars are frequently championed as a green solution, but it feels like a classic catch-22: Although they produce significantly lower emissions than petrol-based vehicles, the high environmental cost of manufacturing (which needs a staggering 30,000 litres of water for every ton of lithium produced) must also be taken into account.

And while we ask plenty of questions, we don’t claim to have the answers. The negative effects of lithium extraction cannot be disputed, but it’s also clear that living without it would be extremely difficult. Can a sustainable balance be found? And what does our future hold if humans continue annihilating natural water sources in this suicidal spiral of death and decay?

What does the filmmaker of the future look like?

The cinema world has been turned upside down over the last 10 years. Being able to shoot video with DSLR digital cameras represented a true paradigm shift, democratizing the means of production and considerably lowering high barriers for entry which prevented many people from getting started.

Now, with phones and drones becoming smaller and more sophisticated by the month, filmmakers are more mobile than ever before – while a new generation of digital natives is radically reinventing the essence of content. We believe the next step in this evolution will be wider access to VR and AR equipment, for both producers and audiences. Creating in these formats is going to be as normal as shooting photo or video for us today. But we don’t believe everything will (or should) be virtual, and we're excited about new ways to use all this technology for reimagining live experiences in the physical realm.

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