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Ayoub Qanir Finds Meaning

Jul 08, 2013 | Updated Sep 07, 2013

One hundred years of technology was encoded in the science film Metropolis in 1927. Almost 90 years of it have become "scientific fact," leaving the rest as "sci-fi." Today, filmmaker Ayoub Qanir is proposing a new future with his indie flim, Koyakatsi: Enter the Civilization of Light.

The assignment of fiction to any technology we don't understand is splintering off rapidly. So far we're on schedule with Metropolis, and confident we have the capacity to invent the rest of it, and our own futures.

From a quickie trailer of Koyakatsi, a whiff of love attraction is in the air, that's enough to leave us frustrated, and we're curious where it will go. Is this just another "sci-fi film du jour," or are technology futures lurking in the backstory?

Qanir likes tropes, and transmutes "koyaanisqatsi," a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance" into "koyakatsi" his meaning for "life in balance." Marshall McLuhan got creative too, with "The Medium is the Mes-sage" in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1967). He didn't stop there, predicting an electronic "web" of a future, where a hyper-connected global village would "hive mind" through a Collective Self.

Qanir secretly plans to push us to the door marked "The Meaning is You," and if we open it, we're compelled to decide who we really are, and what we really mean. Can we hang with the new Collective Mind? Before we agree to the push Koyakatsi has planned for us, our time machine backups of technology before the digital revolution can refresh enough data to promise us a good trip.

The meaning architecture has been pushed everywhere. A Greek word, Vitruvius, gave it meaning in 1 AD: the construction of human habitats. Then the Internet Revolution scrambled architecture with a new meaning, of constructing code and technology to transmit digital data. "I'm an Architect" was no longer a clear identity. Neurologists confused it some more by mapping the architecture of the brain. How did this word become the meaning of anything we do to be inventive?

Leonard Shlain's Art and Physics (2007), was equal parts "Space, Time, and Light." His research revealed timelines that clearly indicated unction followed form, as art fueled discoveries in physics. The Bauhaus and Modern architecture didn't buy into this, declaring form followed function. Qanir describes his film as "equal parts science and art," where form follows function and science fuels creativity.

Our collective technological past gets entertaining when, as Ed Regis duly noted in Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition (1990), science goes "slightly over the edge." McLuhan, Nicola Tesla, and others didn't get respect from academia or the neighbors. Tesla almost blew up the town of Colorado Springs in 1917. Colin Wilson identified anyone in this group of misfits in The Outsider (1956), followed by his sci-fi classic The Mind Parasites (1967), a mesmerizing speed trip on insider-brain-hacking.

Alvin Toffler's Future Shock (1970) says it all. The meaning of his "Third Wave" was a rip-tide-undertow that would sweep maladaptive "societies and cultures aside." Toffler soothed the anxiety somewhat with "Society needs people who take care of the elderly, know how to be honest, compassionate, work in hospitals, and all kinds of skills that aren't just cognitive, they're emotional and affectional. You can't run a society on data and computers alone."

John Brockman picked up a thread from C.P. Snow's classic, The Two Cultures (1959) with his book The Third Culture (1996), giving meaning to a new generation of artists and scientists, who collectively sprinted off the blocks, carrying the Internet Revolution with them.

Stanley Kubric's A Space Odyssey (1968) changed the rules of engagement for probable futures. He co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur C. Clarke, who is best known for his visionary milestone Profiles of the Future (1962), which contributors to Wikipedia embarrassingly forgot to include in his writing career. The Knowing-Doing Gap (Pfeffer, Sutton), was released two weeks into the new century. Companies promptly traded in top down management for socially-interactive Master Mind groups, a trend Dan Pink drove further home in Drive (2009).

This chicken/egg conundrum is making us crazy. Is it knowing and doing, or doing and knowing? Does form follow function, or function follow form? Does love follow marriage, or marriage follow love?

Human love is primarily alien to sci-fi, but not to Qanir in Koyakatsi. Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain gives meaning to love as a strong attractor with a potent chemical attached, currently in our possession. In her Sundance short-listed documentary Connected, the Film (2011), she suggests we trade in texts for hugs, where each squeeze dispenses a shot of oxytocin, au naturel. We can only hope hugs will stay off the list of banned substances, because we'll need them in our future.

Kōkaku Kidōtai's manga The Ghost in the Shell (1991-1996), is given meaning by Qanir as "two computers having a love affair." Well, maybe in Wall-E (2008), but I'm a fan of H.R. Giger, and the anime of Ghost in a Shell looks like a tranny machine tryst to me.

In Bollywood, all films rate PG, but romantic love has no functional use in the daily life of arranged marriage. Still, romance refuses to vacate the mind. To lubricate this craving, filmmakers invest in flashy productions with camel races, seductive singing, and The Big Kiss at the end. The unpleasant result of suppressing clandestine desire in dark film theaters may be spilling out in the streets however, as disturbing sexual violence in India jolts the country into an ethics review of what it means to be human.

Clearly, its time for a little light and fresh air in the room, and what better venue than one that's manifested so well for so long? Sci-fi. We can't stuff our smashed-up closet attraction to human love much longer, as we run out the door, leaving significant others alone in bed so we can get in line at 4 a.m. for the next brain-sedating "smart" phone.

With Koyakatsi, we brace for scary sci-fi, but similar to The Abyss (1989), love rules survival. The closest we've come to love as a pure play is James Cameron's Avatar (2009). Qanir's done his due-diligence, is on to all of this, and proves yet again, as in Dan Pink's best-seller A Whole New Mind (2009), age doesn't matter, and doesn't need academia or wisdom as property rights of the Elders to be a visionary.

Qanir's not giving much away in his film trailer, but why should he? Either we've been paying attention to our culture waves, or we haven't. If we're caught unprepared again, we'll be swept away in the receding last-century tide. Koyakatsi will pull us through in this survival race, and Qanir has rotated onto the front of the filmmaking paceline, working more than his share.