“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will be as one.” — John Lennon
We can basically get to the root of most evil if we concentrate on how money changes us. So what would it be like to live in the distant future, in a world where money is no longer the currency, actually replaced by love and understanding?
In her upcoming feature ‘Tomorrow Ever After’ filmmaker Ela Thier gives the answer to that question. Well actually, kinda. Almost.
She sets up her leading character Shaina (played with touching insight and natural beauty by Thier herself) a historian, to come back to a world like ours, opportunistic and filled with hurt people who hurt people, thick with misunderstanding, from 600 years into the future. The future is ruled by a new world order of humanity, love, respect for one another and is perfectly devoid of any kind of financial currency. And that’s the window onto our dreams that Thier shows us, with uncanny foresight. In Thier’s film, we never visually experience Shaina’s world, it’s like a cinematic hologram at the very beginning in a scene that’s meant to show us, or rather tell us how Shaina slips back to 2015, through a time travel experiment gone wrong. But you’ll have to watch the film to know more about that...
As a personal note, any film that works into its soundtrack a Chopin sonata, within the first five minutes, has me at “Hello.” She follows that up with a great soundtrack by pianist Rob Schwimmer, featuring more Chopin and original work by Schwimmer himself. But Thier’s film also held up brilliantly its premise of this future woman fallen onto modern-day earth, or more precisely, present day NYC. The rudeness and disregard we hold for one another at this point in our communal existence in real life, Shaina singlehandedly destroys with her smile, her unsolicited hugs and the help of her “implement” — a flat white device that, when prompted acts as a phone, a tablet, a book, a debit card, and much much more. When she encounters Milton (played by the charismatically handsome Nabil Viñas) her positivity cannot even grasp that he’s trying to mug her. Their communication is lost in translation, but instead of language hindering their efforts, it is their contrasting viewpoint on humanity which creates this incomprehension.
Thier’s is a poetic premise, that if you believe in your fellow human beings you may just be capable of changing the world. Your world and their world. It’s a premise I like to believe, wholeheartedly, myself.
I sat down with Ela Thier for a short interview, inside the eerily deserted bar of the midtown Hilton hotel in NYC, on a dark spring afternoon. We faced the corner of 53rd and Sixth Avenue, a crossroad of the city which served as location for a pivotal moment in Thier’s film. The result of this fateful meeting provided me with newfound hope and a new sense of wonder for my fellow humans. That’s the power of ‘Tomorrow Ever After’, a film Thier herself calls, most perfectly, “a contemporary fairy tale”.
You believe in humanity it’s apparent from your film. I find myself disbelieving in it on days like today, when strangers are huffing and puffing at me because I’m not walking in the way they wish me to walk for NYC. I’m sure you go through those days but how do you balance these views to create a hopeful outlook for us in your film?
Ela Thier: I don’t think it’s matter of balance here. I have a point of view that’s consistent. There is this beautiful quote by Anne Frank saying that despite everything she believes that people are good. And she had it a little rougher than I did. In fact, my Mom’s family survived WWII as a Jewish family in Romania. I think that we live in a society that is not built around human needs, it’s built around profits and greed. And that set up has a lot of manifestations. It’s a society that hurts people and all of the nastiness that we see I think is people showing their scars, how they’ve been hurt. I don’t think we are evil, I think we are hurt. This is why it was important for me in the film to show someone who is pulling a gun, a nasty guy with no integrity, and ultimately we see that he is vulnerable, his humanity underneath all that. That to me is interesting. I don’t think we are divided into good people and bad people. I think all of us have been nasty and we’d like to not be but we still are.
Shaina believes in her fellow humans almost to the point of being unaware. Do you think that’s a good way to survive this world?
Thier: It would certainly be an interesting exercise.
It would be like watching a whole month of great TV and uplifting films, we could be better people!
Thier: I wonder if there are enough uplifting films to fill a month? They’re hard to find. I think because none of us have come from a society that is rational and all of us do carry a lot of baggage we don’t really have that ability to know what it’s like. But at least theoretically it’s interesting to wonder, what would it be like if I assumed the best about everyone? I’m not able to do it. I certainly have my guard up. And we are so used to having our guard up, we can’t even conceive of what life would be like in the other way. The mistrust between us, to try and notice that would be like to ask a fish to notice water.
I imagine that if we did that we would find aspects of people that they wouldn’t show us otherwise.
Shaina is almost like a moderator in a hostage situation. She connects to people that way.
Thier: She assumes about every person that they want to connect with her. She doesn’t walk around with the insecurities that we all have, like are they going to like me, am I going to be a bother and all that.
How difficult was it for you to write her?
Thier: It was actually a bigger challenge to act than to write her! My DP’s job was to remind me at every scene to be smiling, because that is not my default mode. I’m a Jew with a worried look on my face.
Writing was fun, I wrote the script in a few days. I think she’s lived with me for years in some ways. It just wrote itself.
Do you feel a social responsibility when you make films?
Thier: I would say that’s the reason I make films. I think that artists and certainly filmmakers can play a really key role in transitioning our society from one that is built on greed to one that is built on humanity. What I figured out over the years is that I cannot work solo. But I needed to build a whole community of filmmakers who work on that. I feel like I’m part of this filmmaking village of people who are making maybe not so sexy but very meaningful films.
But that’s sexy!
Thier: I think so. It’s a different kind of sexy. And that’s who made the film, that community I’m talking about. The main obstacle artists face is that we work in isolation. In 2006 by accident I started teaching screenwriting because I had to make a living. I put the word out and eight people showed up. Eleven years later I’ve had thousands of students, it’s called the Independent Film School, I rent out classrooms. Most of the locations in my movie are from students, all the actors I’ve worked with in my workshops. This feature film and my last one, ‘Foreign Letters’ are made with people I met through my workshop.
I couldn’t have made the film without them and that’s where Shaina comes from. When I couldn’t get any financing for my films, my students showed up and made it possible.
How would you describe yourself in three words to someone who doesn’t know you?
Thier: I’m trying to not be self-deprecating and be honest. I’ll go out on a limb here and the three words I would choose are gutsy, persistent and generous