You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Welcome to the Machine

In the zeitgeist-examining docu-essay "Welcome to the Machine," director Avi Zev Weider ponders the degree to which man's present and future are dominated by his inventions.

With: Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Rodney Brooks, Sherry Turkle, David Skrbina, David Gelernter, Erik Davis, Dean Lloyd.

Every generation uses the technology of its time as a metaphor to better understand itself, and in the zeitgeist-examining docu-essay “Welcome to the Machine,” director Avi Zev Weider ponders the degree to which man’s present and future are dominated by his inventions. Philosophically speaking, it’s fascinating stuff, though film hardly seems the most conducive way for Weider to present his arguments, with an overreliance on baby photos and the failure to deliver a key interview making the whole inquiry feel smaller than it is. After touring nonfiction fests, pic will depend on DVD and VOD-delivery machines to connect with auds.

Weider was inspired to consider the relationship between man and technology after the premature birth of his triplets, who were conceived via in vitro fertilization. Boy, are they cute in all their big-eyed, raisin-skinned fragility, and the writer-director-narrator knows it. His three kids’ survival, as well as their very creation, could only be possible thanks to the current state of medical science, Weider reasons, and yet, it seems right to question whether people have become too complacent about the expanding role of technology in their lives.

Unfortunately, technology has expanded so much that no 85-minute film could possibly wrap its head around the enormity of the subject, so Weider tries something else. He goes to some of the key thinkers on the subject — everyone from futurist Ray Kurzweil to dreadlocked virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier — and shapes their talking-head insights around two subplots.

In the first of these threads, 68-year-old Dean Lloyd is learning to see again thanks to a revolutionary retinal implant called the Argus II, which suggests a way in which machines may be able to communicate directly with our brains in the future. Meanwhile, in a more ambiguous advance, Army pilots learn to remote-control unmanned aerial vehicles, which have not only revolutionized combat, but also suggest a world in which autonomous weapons make some citizens feel less safe.

To articulate the downsides, Weider seeks comment from jailed Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, which would have made for a far more sensational film had the manifesto-driven Luddite granted his request. Instead, the director is limited to quoting hand-scrawled responses, forcing him to settle for a dry U. of Michigan expert studying Kaczynski’s writings and a Yale computer science prof who received one of his mail bombs. More salient than anti-technology paranoia is the question of how human relationships are changing as a result. MIT social-studies thinker Sherry Turkle has interesting ideas on the subject, but then, so do other, more focused documentaries, such as Tiffany Shlain’s recent “Connected.”

“Welcome to the Machine” belongs to the broad tradition of “ignore the trees, consider the forest” exercises, most commonly presented in book form, and one can imagine it taking far more enlightening shape on the page. Here, Weider is limited by the footage available, using stills when more conventional B-roll eludes him. For instance, to illustrate a tangent in which he examines what the Bible says about technology, he playfully appropriates what looks to be an old Mormon slideshow.

Too superficial a survey of the topic to deeply satisfy, the docu nonetheless suggests avenues for further independent exploration, the most fascinating being a snapshot of the field’s founding father, Alan Turing, a mathematician and codebreaker whose concept of artificial intelligence reflected a dissatisfaction with his own identity, defined in part by his repressed homosexuality, along with the possibility of achieving immortality in virtual form.

Considering the forward-thinking topic, technical specs are just adequate.

Popular on Variety

Welcome to the Machine

Production: A Loop Filmworks production in association with Scorpio Entertainment. (International sales: Submarine, New York.) Produced by Avi Zev Weider. Co-producers, Ken Osborne, Michael Sean Anderson. Directed by Avi Zev Weider. Written by Weider, Ann Husaini.

Crew: Camera (color, HD/DV/VHS), Derek Wisehan; editors, Husaini, Weider; music, Michael Montes; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Tom Paul; associate producer, Lisa Gray. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 10, 2012. (Also in Sarasota, Hot Docs film festivals.) Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Rodney Brooks, Sherry Turkle, David Skrbina, David Gelernter, Erik Davis, Dean Lloyd.

More Film

  • David Goodman

    WGA West's David Goodman on Agency Strategy: 'We'll Start Meeting as Soon as Possible'

    David Goodman, who was resoundingly re-elected president of the Writers Guild of America West on Monday, said the guild plans to meet with several talent agencies soon in an effort to ease the impasse over packaging fees and affiliated production. “Many agencies had indicated that they wanted to wait to see the results of the [...]

  • Australian Outback

    Legend Media Seeks Trio of West Australia-China Co-Productions (EXCLUSIVE)

    Perth, Australia-based production company Legend Media is preparing a slate of three feature films to be produced with partners in China. The company styles itself as one that recognizes the opportunities for Asian engagement that have fallen to Australia, through geography, trade and culture. The company aims to make use of the bilateral film co-production [...]

  • David Goodman

    David Goodman Re-Elected President of Writers Guild of America West

    David Goodman has been convincingly re-elected to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America West, beating Phyllis Nagy in a bitter contest that became a referendum on the guild’s ongoing battle with talent agents. Goodman received 4,395 votes to Nagy’s 1,282 in an election that yielded record turnout among the WGA [...]

  • Issa Rae Portrait

    Issa Rae Developing Re-Imagining of Crime Thriller 'Set It Off'

    “Insecure” star and co-creator Issa Rae is in early development on a re-imagining of New Line’s crime thriller “Set If Off,” which starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox and Kimberly Elise. Rae will produce with plans to star in the project. Syreeta Singleton and Nina Gloster have been hired to pen the script. [...]

  • Thomas Golubic8th Annual Guild of Music

    Guild of Music Supervisors President: 'The Economics of the Job Don't Work Anymore'

    The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and [...]

  • Gay Chorus Deep South

    Film News Roundup: Documentary 'Gay Chorus Deep South' Bought for Awards Season Release

    In today’s film news roundup, the documentaries “Gay Chorus Deep South” and “Tread” find homes, Tobin Bell’s latest horror film completes production and Emilio Insolera joins “355.” ACQUISITIONS MTV Documentary Films has acquired “Gay Chorus Deep South” for release during the fall for awards season consideration. Directed by David Charles Rodrigues, the film world premiered [...]

  • Bad Education

    What 'Bad Education' Taught Us About the Slow Toronto Film Festival Market

    “Bad Education,” a dramedy starring Hugh Jackman as the embezzling superintendent of district of schools in Long Island, N.Y., was set to be this year’s “I, Tonya.” The movie has the same biting tone, shifting between comedy and tragedy. It received strong reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival. And like “I, Tonya,” it even [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content