What if you predicted what the world would be like hundreds, or even thousands, of years from now, but when that future became the present, no one gave you credit for your amazing vision? To Marisa Cohen and Issac Alexander, co-founders of HDFEST, forgetting a visionary is intolerable, and they are on a mission to make sure credit is given to some of the most imaginative visionaries of all time: science fiction writers.
“I strongly believe that science fiction writers spark the imagination of everyone from the general population to other writers,” Cohen says as she talks about her project, Cities in the Sky: Science Fiction’s Forgotten Visionaries, an art and animation infused feature length documentary revealing the amazing works of visionary science fiction writers.
The movie, which is currently being funded on Kickstarter, seeks to tell the story of science fiction writers from centuries and millennia ago that predicted social, political, and technological aspects of today’s civilization. Science fiction writers can have an influence on shaping future technologies. Cohen notes, “today, many scientists, inventors and even engineers credit Star Trek as what pushed them in the direction of their chosen fields.”
While we may not have transporters, phasers, or dilithium crystal-powered warp drives, we do have space stations, women in key political positions, videophones, and the Internet—all ideas that science fiction writers came up with long before their time, according to Cohen and Alexander. Cities in the Sky tells the story of the writers that came up with these ideas, along with many others technologies that are still being pursued today.
In much of today’s science fiction, the future of humanity is bleak and filled with constant wars and the Earth has been stripped bare from overuse and climate change. While these themes of humanity’s dark and violent future might be a trend now, that has not always been the case. Cohen says, “one of the things I love about this project is that it brings to light science fiction writers who were writing about more uplifting themes. They were using their writing (often during dark times in history) to envision how the world could actually be better in the future. I hope the average person who watches the documentary sees the history of sci-fi in a different light. There were many contributors (including some women!) who don’t get discussed much.”
Cohen and Alexander have a history of looking out for talented, yet underappreciated artists. HDFEST has featured many independent film makers who lack the big budgets of major studios. These underdogs in the film-making business are often overlooked, and Cohen sees similarities between them and the writers featured in Cities in the Sky. “There are so many talented people who produce amazing works of art that get overlooked. During my work with the film festival, I have worked tirelessly to try to promote artists and filmmakers who have done groundbreaking things and not gotten a lot of credit. Today’s movie industry is massive and a bit overpowering. As a result, most audiences don’t get much exposure to the filmmakers who are trying to get noticed with small budgets.”
With Cities in the Sky in development, Cohen now finds herself as one of those independent filmmakers trying to make a great project on limited funds. She doesn’t want to make just a typical documentary, and that is where the extra animation, art, and computer-generated effects come in. “We really want people to get engrossed in the stories, so we want to have far more than just ‘talking heads.’” While some of the overlooked visionaries have successfully predicted facets of life today, not every idea featured in Cities in the Sky has happened. Evil killer robots, weather control, truly evil aliens, and space battles require special effects and animation in order to be properly represented in the documentary. These effects aren’t cheap, and Cohen says, “this is one of the reasons we launched the Kickstarter campaign to uplevel the film with art, animation, music and [special effects]. We are hoping we can get our backers excited to really take this film to the next level!”
Cohen and Alexander recognize the vision of science fiction writers in the past, and they celebrate how these creative geniuses have dared to glimpse into the future. Their goal with Cities in the Sky is to make sure these writers are not forgotten. The documentary covers one visionary that actually predicted the Internet, and Cohen sees now as the perfect time for these writers to get credit for their ideas. Cohen said, “after all, if they don’t get their due in the Internet Era, then when it is going to happen?”