In a commission for the SFMOMA, Mike Mills, creator of notable album artwork for Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys, and director of films including Thumbsucker and Beginners, has created a triptych of new work for the institution’s current off-site exhibition, Project Los Altos, inspired by the Northern Californian hub and birthplace of Apple computers. Today’s excerpt is from Mills’ 38-minute film A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone: Silicon Valley Project, created alongside the project's two other components, a broadsheet newspaper and an installation of costumes as documents of the town. “When you walk around Los Altos, you’ll notice it’s going through a change. It’s an old, sleepy California town and reminds me of Santa Barbara in the 1970s, where I grew up," remarks Mills, who says that Silicon Valley "struck me as a place of innovation and real economic and social power.” The director's interviewees are children whose parents work in the tech-industry—from high-level product managers to a chef at Google—discussing their depictions of the future. “To hear it from a cheery, happy ten-year-old, is somehow particularly icy, and really spooky," he adds. “There is this whole industry of adult futurists making these predictions, but what about the people who will actually be inhabiting the future, which is all these kids.”
When you were given this assignment on Silicon Valley, what was your first thought?
Mike Mills: I didn’t know anything about it, and I’m not really a techie person. While I’ve heard of Silicon Valley, I really haven’t focused on it. And so I started doing typical Google/Wikipedia research and thinking about it more. It really did just strike me as such a place of contemporary American power. I wanted to talk about the tech part of it but in a way that I could be good at and not cliché.
How was it to revisit this part of the world?
MM: Los Altos is like a little time capsule, and it’s changed mostly into a souped-up, new consumerist, social media-driven economy. That’s the biggest change since when I was a kid––Sort of the Facebook-ization of all these stores and this whole little community.
Do you have any ideas about developing this into another piece of work?
MM: I just really love interviewing people. When I’m done, I feel invigorated and refreshed and full. Sometimes when you direct filmmaking, you feel way to full of yourself by the end. With these things, I feel like I’m a listener. That’s all I really am.