by Mark Elijah Rosenberg
January 27th, 2010

A Guide to Paradise, From an Esperanto Version of Mao’s Little Red Book

UPDATE 9/25/10 – Utopia Comes to NYC
Thu-Sat October 7-9  –  8pm

The Kitchen Theater
512 West 19th St, New York, NY 10011
with Sam Green and Dave Cerf in person
live music by The Quavers
with Brendan Canty (Fugazi) on Oct 7-8

* * *

Rooftop alum Sam Green and Dave Cerf’s philosophical film essay Utopia in Four Movements–performed with live narration (by Green) and live music (by more Rooftop alums The Quavers) swirls brilliantly and casually through cultural history and detritus, through fantasy and forgotten fact.

There is an ad hoc air to the piece, highlighted by the fluidity of the montage, constantly recalibrated by Green’s remote control, and elevated by the shifting interplay between the spoken words and the audience reactions. This breezy style not only keeps the piece from being an intellectually pretentious harangue: Utopia in Four Movements is a lot of fun, full of laughs and wonders.

Daringly original, piercingly insightful, the journey of ideas traces links from Sir Thomas More to Fidel Castro, from the nearly-forgotten language of Esperanto to the nearly-abandoned “World’s Largest Shopping Mall” in an unheard-of Chinese industrial city (as seen in Green’s short film of the same title). The links are sometimes whimsical, sometimes tragic, as Green discusses spectacular utopian failures and odd utopian near-misses. It is perhaps telling that in today’s world, some of the few states that claim the mantle of utopia are Cuba and North Korea.

But for all the melancholy and despair of examining our imperfect world, Green’s investigations left me (and him) with an unexpected feeling: hopefulness. Instead of proving the futility of grandiose attempts to eradicate suffering and injustice, Utopia in Four Movements illuminates how many magnificent ideas are available to us, and though true paradise may be out of our reach, we can always have a little piece of utopia in our pockets and in our souls. It would be fantastic to bring this project and that feeling to the roof, our own little utopia above the city.


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One Response to “Sundance Review: Utopia in Four Movements”

  1. Neil Blonstein says:

    Great film, particulary the Esperanto section. Esperanto is doing better than most people think. Three pieces of news. Esperanto has been nominated fro the Nobel Peace Prize the last three years by three legislatures (England, Switzerland, Poland). Brazil is in the process of encouraging the instruction of Esperanto is its public schools. And last: while previous la 17th largest language on Wikipedia, Esperanto will soon be the largest language on Wikipedia, partially due to an automated program, partially due to hundreds of active translators.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.


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