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Matthew Tonduer: Shanghai Sci-Fi

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2016-07-24 10:14

Sentient was inspired by 1980s and 1990s sci-fi movies with a “noir” element to them, as well as violence and realism. Director Mattieu Tondeur compares it to movies like Blade Runner, Dark City or even Robocop, which he feels are gritty compared to today’s standards: “I particularly like it when (in sci-fi movies) the mood is heavy and the protagonist is lost. Sentient is more inspired from some more down-to-earth sci-fi flicks such as The Forbin Project.” With his messy hair and his rich sense of expression and body language, Matthieu Tondeur tells a completely immersive story. “The movie that really blew my mind when I started to really thinking as a filmmaker was Alien 3. I didn’t like it at all as a teenager, but now it's maybe my number one movie.” Tondeur even goes on to express his dislike for the direction mainstream films have taken since the 2000s, “It gives me motivation to bring in more of the style I like. Hopefully we will still have movies such Ex_Machina, Source Code, or Enemy.” 

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VANTAGE: Your movies might be a bit confusing for people who are new to the sci-fi genre, can you explain to them what the stories are that you are trying to tell in these movies? 

Tondeur: 3 Men is a Moebius story. It means that it's a loop but every time you play it the meaning is different. You can begin to understand 3 Men after two or three viewings. Every viewing will bring new information to you, the story has many levels. Also I suggest the viewer to freeze the video when you have a close up of the TV monitor, as there are additional tips! 3 Men for me is very "noir", the protagonist is stuck in place with no possible escape. Especially since they are not even conscious they are locked in a loop. To me it's a metaphor of someone stuck in coma or limbo, looking into themselves forever. Sentient is more light-hearted. I'm tired of killer robots, so I was looking to do something more realistic. I don't think the first A.I. will be a killer genius, but more like a baby or teenager, with a very basic mind. I believe that what will turn an A.I. good or bad isn’t its programming or soul, just its parents; if they educated it well or not.

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VANTAGE: I’ve heard that you faced lots of difficulties during shooting Sentient and you’ve made two short films already, can you tell us some behind the scene stories? 

Tondeur: Shooting short films with no budget is always a challenge for every filmmaker. It's a very difficult experience, and now I understand why talented/well known directors won't ever go back to no-budget projects. It can fail at any moment. Some shooting days everything goes wrong and you really ask yourself how you will do it, and if what you will choose to do will be good or terrible. One of the scenes in Sentient is the outdoor facility shot. I absolutely want some big shots of the facility in order to give credibility to the story. We went near Pudong Airport at 4am with all our crew and actors. We found our makeup artist the day before, willing to participate without a fee as well as the rest of the crew, but I never met her before so I was really worried. Everyone was on time and it was great, but when we arrived we couldn’t access the location anymore... So I had to sit down and redo all the story boards and change the script and create a new scene to avoid plot holes. Then when we begin to shoot (it was close to the sea in December, so very cold) it started to rain and we really had to shoot quickly.

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VANTAGE: Why did you decide to film in Shanghai?

Tondeur: Shanghai is similar to New York in the early 20th century. There are a lot of things going on at the same time, many new projects, interesting architecture, and population expansion. I believe Shanghai will be one of the major cities of the future. I don't like reading in movies, but I could have opened Sentient with “Shanghai, year 2059", it sounds like the cyberpunk future already.

VANTAGE: AI is a big topic right now, from Black Mirror to last year’s Ex_Machina, there are more and more people becoming concerned about the consequences of having those “helpers”, even Elon Musk started Open AI to make rules for it, what’s your opinion on the future of AI?

Tondeur: I really like Black Mirror because to me it’s really the future. I remember that interview with Buzz Aldrin (from the Apollo 11 Mission) that said: "They promised us Mars, we got Facebook". Unfortunately I think the future will be bleaker than in Black Mirror. Our perverted minds will corrupt any A.I., like Dr. Robert in Sentient. Give us unlimited communication tools and people just spend their time on Instagram and Snapchat, or read memes. The Spielberg movie A.I. also explores our perverted side regarding technology. Recently I'm a bit worried about virtual reality. I think it's amazing but I can already foresee all the abuse that may come of it after it becomes totally immersive. People are already addicted - especially in China - to games like World of Warcraft. Instead of improving our reality, if we stick ourselves into the virtual world it’s going to be worse than an A.I. taking over.

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VANTAGE: What do you imagine life will be like 10 years from now? What about 20 years? What kind of life will our generation live in in the future?

Tondeur: I hope we will find our way. Maybe we will unify against a greater enemy, such as an omnipotent A.I., (see The Forbin Project or Terminator series). This will force people to stop wars and petty disputes. If we achieve singularity (A.I. becomes self-aware and self-replicating) it will force mankind to evolve and unify itself, or simply disappear forever. In the movie The Forbin Project, the A.I. takes control of all the nuclear missiles on Earth and force humanity to give up violence and selfishness, bad for the rich countries, good for the weak ones, depending on where you live.

VANTAGE: So, will we see the third movie from you?

Tondeur: I have several scenarios I'm working on. We are in the pitching process. We can't pretend to have a big budget so I try to keep the idea focused on few characters in a hostile and futuristic environment, a young girl in a glass prison, or a Chinese space mining vessel that has a terrible encounter. 

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