What Can a 5-Year-Old Teach Us About the Future?

Inside Ari Kuschnir's new film with his daughter

Between politics, the pandemic and renewed geopolitical strife, it can sometimes be hard to feel hopeful about the future. The Super Bowl ads were a perfect example—for all the sunny, hopeful visions of tomorrow, there was still an undercurrent of anxiety, a sense that there's as much to be feared as excited about when it comes to what's next.

This is nothing new. Books and movies have reveled in dystopian visions for decades; more optimistic visions have always had a harder time gripping the imagination. What results is a gloomy outlook and a surprisingly uniform—and unimaginative—vision of tomorrow. This despite some pretty smart people feeling pretty good, actually, about our prospects.

All of which brings us to Ari Kuschnir's new project. The founder and managing partner of production company m ss ng p eces has begun a new film series featuring his 5-year-old daughter Luna. And the first installment is all about the future—how she envisions it, how it's different from the default imagery we've become so used to.

Check out the film here:

More films with Luna, focused on other topics, are coming soon. Below, we chat with Ari about this first one.

Muse: Why is our culture/industry so unimaginative when thinking about better futures?

Ari Kuschnir: This is the question I've been asking myself for the last couple of years. I think we are in a crisis of imagination that stems from a crisis of meaning. When visualizing the future, we seem to default to dystopia instead of imagining protopian futures where we solve some of our problems without creating new ones. If you look around pop culture, we mostly see worse versions of the future, and I'm often told it's because there's more drama in dystopia or it's a reflection of our current state of affairs. But I don't entirely buy it. Maybe it's just a comfortable default position. Thinking about how much stories and our imagination influence our actual reality and, therefore, our future, we should be envisioning as many protopian futures as dystopian ones.

Why are kids so much better at it?

They are in touch with a kind of magic, and they can sense things more profoundly. For example, Luna said, "I don't want to live in a computer world," when I showed her that robot video that came up first when I searched for "future." Then I shared protopian worlds and solarpunk art I've collated and she instantly gravitated towards that. I also think having a kid gives you an opportunity to get in touch with your inner child and heal that part of you, which opens you up to imagine better futures. 

What's your vision for these "little movies"? 

Primarily to have fun and make little time capsules with and for her. And embracing my artistic and creative gifts. I'm not a director for hire, and it's not something to get clients or gain further influence. It's coming from a pure place of following what's most alive, and I want to honor that. And it's OK if the side effect is that it brings in more people or kick-starts conversations about better futures. I've already noticed that our community is ready to have these conversations just by sharing the little movie with friends and directors in the last week.

What's your general process?

This all started because Luna saw the project I was working on and wanted to see other movies I had made. I realized I didn't have any other "movies" to show her so she inspired me to make something. I discovered a sweet spot between 9 and 11 p.m. where I get into a creative flow state, and I'm able to riff on a particular idea that's alive, so I record on my mic first and start building it from there. Then I interview her to see what lights a spark and start editing. I love editing, and I'm very good at it, so that's where it all starts to come together. I set up some constraints for this project like no scriptwriting, only working at night and shooting on weekends, doing it all by myself, and always being open to where the piece wants to go. 

I also shared early edits with documentary director friends who gave me great feedback, particularly Bianca Giaever, who reinvented the "kids have wild imaginations" movie with The Scared Is Scared and has worked in this genre since then. Monika Bielskyte was also key in helping curtate the images and the stock footage to reflect the protopian sensibilities she and others have been developing. And Julio Monterrey, aka Youthfaire, is a friend and musical maestro I've known for over 20 years, so we have a way of collaborating that's effortless. I'm working on a little movie about love now, and it's going to be very different than this one. Looking for a tunnel location for this weekend!

What do you hope people take away from this?

Spark a conversation about what these better futures look like and feel like. Can we generate as many hopeful visions of the future as dystopian ones? Can we start populating that new category I propose in the little movie? Just search for "What does the future look like?" and see if you like what you find. Read Monika's Protopia Futures framework, listen to Sand Talk by Tyson Yungaporta, or read Ari Wallach's new Longpath book if you want a deeper dive. I also can't wait for what Hannah Beachler will create for Black Panther 2; Wakanda is the most protopian vision featured in a blockbuster in the last decade.

Lastly, as I was writing these answers, I came across this new study by astrobiologists that suggest the Earth itself may be an intelligent entity. That's a new/old story that indigenous cultures have known for centuries and a great setting for the next protopian vision.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. He is the former creative editor of Adweek.

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