I caught up with director, film-maker and documentarian Susan Kucera to chat film, the art of story-telling, film-making, influences, and her ground-breaking way of presenting the problems of climate change in her latest documentary – Living in Future’s Past.

Living in Future's Past is not your typical documentary vision of doom and gloom on the environment – it does not try to preach. That being said, it is also the furthest thing from a fluff piece on its subject.

Living in Future’s Past has managed to find that ever-elusive happy medium on a polarizing subject while retaining intellectual honesty. Kucera's approach to explaining the problem of environmental degradation is one of the most expansive I've ever seen in a film like this – she employs interviews with experts in fields as diverse as neuroscience, anthropology, agriculture, many branches of physics, economics, natural resource studies and even evolutionary psychology and biology – all in a fruitful attempt to understand human nature and ask meaningful questions about who we are as people.

Integrating this dizzying amount and variety of expertise is a truly leviathan task that Kucera manages to pull off very well – all the while being narrated in the soothing, easygoing, inquisitive and wise tones of The Dude himself, the great Jeff Bridges.

Bridges, alongside prominent scientists and authors (like Leonard Mlodinow and Daniel Goleman), weaves evolution, emergence, entropy, dark ecology, and what some are calling the end of nature, into a story that helps us understand our place among the species of Earth's household. The film upends our way of thinking and provides original insights into our subconscious motivations, their unintended consequences, what to do about our fossil slaves, and how our fundamental animal nature influences our future as Humankind.

In the process of all of this happening, Kucera manages to keep Living in Future's Past well-paced and highly thought-provoking throughout – the ultimate result being a film that accomplishes its goal of educating the viewer – and compelling to action – without a pretense of sanctimony or preaching. This approach does so much more than the typical polemical piece that has a tendency to see people scurrying to their ideological corners when they feel they are being preached to as opposed to attempting conversation.

Living in Future's Past will spark a much more fruitful discussion – indeed, more fruitful thought as a whole – on a vitally important problem which affects us all. I implore you to catch it on the Festival Circuit – you won't be disappointed. Also, check out the film's web site here and Facebook page here for more information.

Hello Susan and welcome to The 405! I'd like to start – if I may – by inquiring a bit about your history, what got you into film-making?

I started at age 9 behind the 16 mm Bolex film camera on the Athabasca Glacier helping my dad, a glaciologist and professor making science films for Britannica. This was my initiation to a love of seeing life through a lens.  I do the cinematography for all my documentaries working now with the Red Weapon.


Very cool. Favorite films and directors? Which would you consider most pivotal on you as a story-teller?

One of my favourite films is The White Sheik directed by Fellini – I have no recollection whether it's politically correct or not – I grew up in the 70's BUT I absolutely remember the takeaway:  LOVE in a time of insanity is so important.  Also, March of the Penguins directed by Luc Jacquet, after which I cried for two days. Being a mother, witnessing the sheer vulnerability of all life was so affecting for me at that time.

 Knowing Fellini, it likely wasn't – 8 ½ is a favorite of mine. What makes a great film? A great documentary?

There isn't one thing that would define a great documentary or film for me because this is where each viewer brings their own set of emotions and cultural understanding to what is on screen.  The camera has the seemingly magical ability to make what is common and familiar strange again. I think most great documentaries all share a certain intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness. They document rather than preach and they are willing to follow the story wherever it leads.  Some are emotional and some are cerebral, but they all share an intellectual curiosity.

Getting into Living in The Future's Past – a film I think that hit what you mentioned there about a great documentary – I found the neuropsychological, evolutionary, and anthropological way that the film examines the problem to be fascinating – and a definite departure from the usual “ecological documentary” – what inspired you to take that very expansive approach to looking at the problem of climate change? It seemed to me your approach was also one of the more intellectually honest I've seen in looking at the problem precisely because of that expansive nature.

Jim Swift our executive producer wanted to explore why we do what we do in the face of environmental problems. Jeff Bridges and I began a visioning process to build a film that answered what we felt was lacking in the common cultural dialogue surrounding the environment. A large number of environmental films to date have pushed an apocalyptic environmental trauma narrative that has alienated many and entrenched people into ideological positions of assigning blame rather than uniting them and inspiring them to work together towards a more ecologically balanced future.

I completely agree – I also found your take on the problem very fresh because of that lack of preaching and more inquiry-based look at the problem. I'm curious about the difficulty of coherently integrating such a wide expanse of knowledge (with so many experts from extremely varied fields) into the very well-presented film that resulted. What were the challenges like in doing that?

I approach documentary film with an open mind as possible. I allow the thread to evolve and I feel, when I am filming the visuals, and editing the story more as an artist might when they are painting a picture. The picture is a representation of reality and everyone's reality is different except for those things in physics – that is a reality everyone shares. The challenge and the joy in this documentary was incorporating the philosophical ideas of object-oriented ontology to blur the lines between all things whether they are human, non-human, climate, timescales and the built environment. While refusing to apply the common demand for a tidy conclusion, Living in the Future's Past gives us the mental keys we need to get friendly with our natural ability to reason.

Areas covered by LIVING IN THE FUTURE'S PAST : evolution and neuroscience.

Indeed."Teach a man to fish" as they say…

Jeff and I and were so lucky to work with such interesting interviewees, too many to name here.  We also were able to step back and let the piece simmer here and there which also helped.  (I think Jeff made 3 films while this one was cooking!)

Additionally my daughter, Ms. Anna Kirsch – with a degree in English specialising in environmental ethics and morality in literature – was also instrumental in keeping the coherent thread on track. 

Cool. The examination of the film's huge scope leads me to another question – what do you hope audiences will take with them most from the film?

Because of the varied nature of the film, nobody is or should be, walking away with the same thing.

Emergence, energy, entropy and a re-thinking of the porous boundaries of nature are several important messages.  We wanted people to take the information and apply it to their lives in different and creative ways.  Desire takes on new meaning the more we understand our subconscious motivations.

Absolutely. I found the parts focusing on economics to be fascinating as well because you looked at it for what I believe it is: a behavioral science, not an art.

One major section in the film is about our relationship to energy. Energy is more than oil or solar panels. It is a constant flow around us and through us.

The film allows one to tune in to what is already here giving us a greater understanding of both the physical and the unconscious mechanisms at play in our inner and outer world.

It is precisely for that reason that I encourage people to see the film – regardless of political affiliation or thoughts on climate change – Living in the Future's Past will spark thought. Last, what is next for you?

I have a couple of projects in the pipeline. One is called Range Riders about ranchers, wolves, grizzlies, 'cowboys' (and women) and our managed Wildscapes.  Is co-existense possible in our modern industrial society? We explore the stories of those who are making it possible.