Imagine a city occupied exclusively by the upper class. High rents and property costs have pushed out construction workers, public school teachers, subway operators and other middle- and lower-wage earners.
Director Barry Jenkins explores this idea of extreme gentrification from the point of view of a couple who have been forced to move inland from San Francisco after a job loss and family illness. The city seeks out Kaya and his wife, Helen, to test a new program that entices working-class laborers back to the city with fair wages and the promise of a college scholarship for their young daughter — in exchange for taking up blue collar work.
“Futurestates” asks filmmakers to imagine how current events could play out 20 to 30 years from now and to explore that idea through short narrative film. Gentrification, race relations, government power and global warming are just a few of the topics explored in this second season of the series.
Read a Q & A with Jenkins and watch a trailer after the jump:
ART BEAT: Why did you choose to make a film about urban migration and gentrification?
BARRY JENKINS: When I think about the future and how our society might change for better or worse, my mind usually thinks of how and where we’ll all live before moving on to issues of technology. I’m obsessed with these things.
ART BEAT: The Futurestates series asks filmmakers to predict the future. What was your experience with science fiction leading up to this film?
BARRY JENKINS: I had absolutely no experience with science fiction prior to this. The beauty of the mandate was Futurestates’ request to have the film reflect issues that are rooted in the world we currently live in. When you approach it that way, it mitigates the more outlandish ideas we sometimes associate with science fiction.
ART BEAT: What are the advantages and disadvantages of telling stories from a futuristic point of view?
BARRY JENKINS: The advantage is that it’s all speculative. So long as you’re unique and specific in your vision, whatever world you create should be unassailable because how could anyone else know any better? It’s the future! The disadvantage falls more or less along the same line, when you’re writing something about a time and a place that doesn’t, that hasn’t yet existed, you’re essentially working without any established foundation. It’s a tightrope.
ART BEAT: The film features several people who had actually been victims of gentrification in San Francisco. What led to this decision?
BARRY JENKINS: It was one of those spontaneous, in the moment things. The people you mention had showed up as extras, just background people for the scene. During downtime, we struck up conversation as a group and I realized many of those people were living the experience my characters had faced. It was a gut thing.
ART BEAT: This isn’t the first time you’ve explored issues of race and gentrification in San Francisco. In the feature length film ‘Medicine for Melancholy’ the male lead worries openly about demographic shifts in the city. Why is this issue important for you?
BARRY JENKINS: When I think of life, of the quality of life and how we live in America, the shrinking middle class and expansion of impoverishment, the end result of that is the alteration of the American “home.” To me, that’s where it all finally funnels down when we think of the economy — the jobless rate, the widening gap between the haves and have nots — it all ultimately settles in demographic shifts, in determining how people live in this country. Exploring the effects of this shift is crucial to charting the shifting mood of this country. When you get down to it, we all live in America. Yes, that’s a key unifier amongst us. And yet, our experience of being her is greatly defined by the state of our homes. It’s absolutely important to me.