Barry Ptolemy Gets Personal

Question: Have you always wanted to live forever?

Barry Ptolemy: It wasn’t that I’ve always had the desire although I guess you could not say that I did not. But really I think that having been around computers all my life—my father had brought home personal computers at a very early age in the ‘70s—so being around computers from a very early age perhaps I had even subconsciously seen the exponential progression of what was happening with computers. But then later on with the Commodore 64, VIC-20 Commodore 64, and then the Apple and then the PC and on upward. And so you internalize what’s happening and you can see pretty clearly that technology is increasing and I thought that I could get to a point where technology would be so great it would extend my life longer and then I would get to another bridge where I would be able to extend it longer and so on and that’s what I revealed when I was about 14.

Question: What do you like about Stanley Kubrick?

Barry Ptolemy:  Well, I think one of the thing that makes a Kubrick film a great experience is the fact that he bends reality to his will and is so confident that he ends up creating something that is the island in the stream of pop culture and he takes a stand that’s so firm and so confident and unyielding that it can’t be ignored and I appreciate that. I don’t know why. I can’t exactly explain it except that I’m mesmerized by it like a lot of people are and I just adore his work and enjoy watching his movies over and over again and I usually always take something else from them.

Question: Were you influenced by Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

Barry Ptolemy: Well “2001”, I have a great experience for “2001” because I was in 7th grade at Lorner Bern Middle School and I remember my art teacher, Karen Jones, had created the screening of “2001” and everyday she was going to play every 20 minutes of it in the library and she had set up all these chairs and she had set up the VCR which was going to play it and we had to give 10 cents everyday. And I went in there and I was the only person in the school that went to go see it and that’s how I saw “2001” and even seeing it disrupted day after day like that for the week, it was still the single most profound experience up to that point in my life and I just was really moved by it. 

I think “2001” was so powerful because it was a departure from science fiction that came before that. If you look at science fiction previously, just even to the previous decade, you would have seen spaceships that looked smooth and archaic and for the first time someone was really taking space travel and making it realistic and he was also doing something else, he was taking a look at what the future of artificial intelligence was for the first time in the personification of Hal and that really rocked my world. I thought that that was pretty cool but also just the human journey overall starting with these early Homo sapiens and fashioning the first tool which was again what Ray’s ideas come back to is that we’ve always leveraged our self with technology from the very beginning and these early Simians took a tool, extended their reach and we do the biggest jump cut in cinematic history from this bone being thrown into the air to a spacecraft. It jump cuts to a spacecraft if you recall in the film and I think that kind of metaphor speaks for itself and I think that it’s a wonderful metaphor for all of human history.

Question: What future technologies do you look forward to?

Barry Ptolemy: I think that people talk about radical life extensions as if it is just one linear kind of journey, when actually what’s going to happen is we’re going to radically expand our lives billions and billions of times in every way, in every dimension and so I’m looking forward to things I can’t even imagine yet. This conversation becomes so moot because how can we entertain these technologies that haven’t even come about yet but we’re confident will come about. I’d love to live nonbiologically and move about at the speed of light and be in communication with a million people at once and create works of art that are grand and sophisticated and very human at the same time so all these types of things.

Question: Which documentary filmmakers do you look up to?

Barry Ptolemy:  Well, obviously Errol Morris is someone that we look to and has shaped really probably more than anyone else the style of our film, “Transcendent Man.” And there’s so many, even Ken Burns. The way he goes about detail, his research is very impressive. But also, I really look to narrative filmmakers to help guide us because our film is a documentary at core but is also very much a narrative film in the sense that it does tell a story. So once again, we did look to storytellers to help guide us. 

Question: What are you favorite documentaries?

Barry Ptolemy:  Sure. Again, Errol Morris, all of his titles, “Fog of War” is particularly brilliant I think.  There is a film called—that also actually had the hero’s journey involved in it—it was called “Dot Com” that came out, I think in about 2001, just after the “Boom and Bust,” the “Dot Com”, “Boom and Bust” and that was quite extraordinary.  “Hearts of Darkness” was a film about the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola that honors what Coppola had made and I thought that that was extraordinary. Of course, I’m forgetting so many wonderful documentaries that I just watched recently, they escape me now but they’re just such a contribution to our society. Some of them just tell things or talk about things that we don’t often, sometimes want to hear but they should be heard.

Recorded on: April 27, 2009

The filmmaker talks about his future, his desires and his favorite films.

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