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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

So you think you know the future: FUTURESTATES

We live in a very “future” world. Many of the concepts and ideas that were once the domain of science fiction are part of our realities. Cars that drive themselves? Google’s got it. Handheld computers with the capability of accessing massive amounts of human information in our hands nearly all the time? Our Apple iPhones have that covered. Science has given us a wide range of fascinating solutions from technology to medical interventions that are making the here and now much better to live in. But what about tomorrow? What does the future look like in a world where the things that are new and shiny and amazing today are old hat? What does our civilization and society look like ten, twenty, fifty years forward?

In 2010 the Independent Television Service (ITVS) debuted a fictional short film series devoted to the exploration of visions of life in a future America, a program they called FUTURESTATES. With that idea in mind eleven films debuted to create the first season, exploring culture, medicine, and technology of a hypothetical future America. The films, which often addressed social issues such as poverty, immigration, and personal rights, encouraged viewers to think about not just the future but issues in our contemporary time as well. Each spring that followed a new season of FUTURESTATES debuted, with new explorations of our possible future delivering a total of thirty-five short visions of tomorrow by the end of the 2013 season (season four.)

Image Credit: ITVS

Image Credit: ITVS

The season planned for 2014, however, was different. Slated as the final season of the series ITVS and FUTURESTATES chose to go in a different direction. Instead of seven to eleven individual short films with wildly different views of the future, the fifth season of the series would share one common universe, offering views of life in a world about twenty years forward from our own. Along with the shared core universe the season would also have a premise of sorts. Viewers would follow the story of Dr. Evelyn Malik who, due to some personal experience, is on a one-woman mission to send information and images to our time from the “future” with the hope that we will change things now and prevent certain fates. In the months leading up to the debut of season five, the FUTURESTATES Twitter account and Tumblr page were devoted to that idea, that someone from the future had something to tell us.

This concept carried right in to how the final season was presented. Instead of getting a new episode each week as viewers had in the past, the entirety of the season was presented at once via an interactive site presented as the “Malik Temporal Interface.” Little snippets of personal interactions that made up the life of Dr. Malik are interspersed with the season’s films that address the issues brought up by the bits of Dr. Malik’s life. The season takes on issues of education, robotics, drones, cybernetics, and mental health and puts out some interesting ideas about equality, discrimination, and basic human experience, especially about what it means to be human and a hypertechnological world.

It’s an interesting presentation, the idea of the shared story world. It’s also an interesting story device, the idea of a message sent from the future to help the past make better choices. The presentation is definitely engaging, but it does have some major holes. In previous seasons, FUTURESTATES gave the viewer an opportunity to imagine the rest of the world the films came from. Previous seasons also gave the viewer positive views of tomorrow, such as in the season three film “Life Begins at Rewirement” that explores the idea of preserving consciousness in cloud-like storage. Season five does not give the viewers that option. We see only images of a dangerous and somewhat sad future strung together with vague references to larger events.

The vague references to larger events is also problematic. Drones and the dangerousness of robots are hinted at through some of the films and clips overall, but the episode “Happy Fun Room” appears to be in direct response to a catastrophic event said to have happened in a future Phoenix, Arizona where some sort of non-human technology went awry and killed a lot of people. The incident, an apparent drone strike gone wrong, is supposed to be the inspiration for Dr. Malik’s attempts to contact us in the past. That makes for an interesting concept, but the execution of it is lacking. Viewers are never told exactly what happened in Phoenix, how far in the past from the images we get it is (the series has a final “date” of 2035) or how much the world has changed even from then. This lack of insight is critical. Without knowing why things are so dangerous and dramatic viewers have no real investment in the idea of changing the world. Hinting that a lot of people got hurt doesn’t have the same weight as making us feel for those who lost by giving us a face and a name to pair with the grief.

That big gap in the story notwithstanding there are some fantastic short films in this final season. “Ant” by Tina Mabry is a beautiful and deeply thought-provoking film about the importance of the human element in dealing with mental illness while Tanuj Chopra’s “Teacher in a Box” explores the human connection in learning and achievement. In fact, the human impact and importance is the quiet theme of the whole season (and if you want a good cry, I suggest watching the episode “Excarceration”.) It’s just too bad that the pieces that should have brought it all together instead closes out a great experiment in provocative thought with more questions than inspiration.

For more information regarding FUTURESTATES visit their official website. Watch the series on YouTube and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

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