Slant 11 Preview: Digital Antiquities

Slant is proud to have the Texas premiere of J.P. Chan’s Digital Antiquities, a sci-fi tale set in the year 2036 about a young man named Kai desperately trying to get some information off this old round shiny thing called a CD. He seeks out Cat, the cranky proprietor of a shop of outdated technology, who begrudgingly helps him on his quest.

J.P. Chan is no stranger to Slant. His films Dry Clean Only, Beijing Haze, and I Don’t Sleep I Dream, have played in prior years of the festival. We caught up with J.P. recently to hear more about his latest film.

J.P. Chan, director of Digital Antiquities, and production designer Tom Soper. Photo by Stephanie Wu.

Digital Antiquities is part of Futurestates, a series of short films about social issues as imagined in America’s future. How did you get involved in that?
ITVS, the funders of Futurestates, was looking for emerging, diverse filmmakers to commission. I was invited to pitch an idea for the first season that premiered last year, but they rejected my idea. Fortunately, they invited me to pitch a different idea for season two and liked this one enough to greenlight it.

How did you conceive of the story?
I’d been thinking a lot these past few years about how civilizations come and go and what remains of them for future peoples to discover. Things like pyramids, the Great Wall of China, and stone tablets survived because they’re massive and/or are built of things that don’t disintegrate easily.

Contrast that to today’s increasingly digital lifestyle, where precious memories and records are still largely stored on fragile CDs, hard drives, tapes, and memory cards. Things will probably be better preserved once everything gets uploaded to the “Cloud” but even then there’s risks. In Digital Antiquities, I wanted to explore all these ideas around memories and loss, about secrets and mysteries that can be found on our computers and in our hearts.

The characters spend some time in a tunnel made of e-junk, carefully trying to pry parts out. Was it hard to get all the junk to make the tunnel?
Yes! We were lucky to partner with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, an organization that recycles e-waste here in NYC. They loaned us several hundred pounds of donated equipment which we disassembled and made into sets for the movie, including that tunnel. Our amazing art department led by production designer Tom Soper created a thirty-foot long tunnel made of e-junk in a decrepit loft space in Manhattan.

This tunnel was extended in CGI by our visual effects genius Leonid Karachko and VFX supervisor Johnny Woods. After the shoot, my producer Diane Houslin and production manager Tsia Moses had to oversee the disassembly and return of several dumpsters worth of e-waste to the organization. It was an ordeal, but thankfully the results were worth it.

Digital Antiquities, by J.P. Chan

One thing that we think is awesome about you is that you’re a a self-taught filmmaker! Tell us how you got started in filmmaking. How do you balance your work life and filmmaking life?
Aww, thanks! I’d been wanting to make films since I was a kid, but got distracted for a few decades. By the time I was ready to begin, I was too old and too fiscally responsible to get a formal, expensive education in filmmaking, so I just started shooting inexpensive short films on my nights, weekends, and vacations outside of my day job. In fact, that’s what I still do. I balance these two full-time jobs by sacrificing a lot of other things in my life, primarily traveling around the world like I wish I could. Instead, I try to create worlds in my films and travel there instead.

You were at last year’s Slant. What was your favorite part about the festival or about visiting Houston?
Getting to hang out and watch movies with my little sister, who lives in northwest Houston. Being in New York, I don’t get to see her often and she never gets to come with me on my film festival travels, so Slant 2010 was a great combination of both. Also, last year’s Slant is where I first heard Goh Nakamura’s music and now I’m a huge fan of his and a friend too. Thank you, Slant!

Digital Antiquities screens as part of Slant 11 on August 11 at River Oaks Theatre.

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