Mike Mills: Kids' Wisdom

The Director Meets Children from Apple's Hometown to Ask About the Future of Planet Earth

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.


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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Valley Guy

    Alec Soth Captures a Rare Glimpse of Los Altos’ Invisible Gold Rush

    From Google to Hewlett Packard, photographer Alec Soth sets his sights on Silicon Valley and the businesses synonymous with it—right down to a local computer repair store. Throughout his time in the global technology center, the photographer acted upon the same enquiring impulse: “It’s mythical, but what is it? What’s the silicon? What’s the boundary of it? It’s like a fantasy place in some ways.” Yet what he found was decidedly less unusual than he expected. “It felt like a normal American place,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I had somehow crossed some line to Silicon Valley, with robots moving around.” The pictures form part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's offsite exhibition Project Los Altos, that also includes artists Mike Mills, Spencer Finch, Chris Johanson and Jessica Stockholder, and include the black-and-white photograph of the garage within which Google first started. Visiting the internet giant's headquarters made a particular impression on Soth. “It was like entering a nation within a nation—I felt like I should show my passport,” he adds. “To me, Google is both funny and scary. There is something innocent about it—the front page has this childlike quality—but it’s so incredibly powerful.”

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    Miranda July: The Future

    The Artist and Filmmaker Presents An Exclusive Vignette Inspired By Her Magical New Film

    Miranda July dreams up an idiosyncratic solution to the interruptions of modern life in "A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted." An offcut from July's latest film, The Future, the scene has been reconstituted by the actress, writer and filmmaker for NOWNESS, complete with a score by David Byrne collaborator Steven Reker. July drew on her performance art piece, “Things We Don't Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About” for her sophomore feature; it follows 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know, which won the Caméra d'Or prize at Cannes. The film's plot centers on LA couple Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), whose decision to adopt the sickly stray cat Paw Paw sees them grapple with the impending responsibility of the pet's care. This being a July vehicle, things take a characteristically kooky turn, with Paw Paw stepping in as narrator, and the couple embarking on a quest to seize the day: Sophie strives to reach her artistic potential by creating a definitive dance number, and Jason hands his future over to fate, following "signs" from the universe. We spoke to the prolific July, who has also exhibited as a performance artist at the Guggenheim and the Whitney Biennale and written for publications including The Paris Review and The New Yorker

    Why didn't the scene above make the final cut of The Future?

    This scene was meant to make it clear that Sophie was struggling against distraction, after losing time on YouTube—we all know how alluring these distractions are, and here we are seeing her attempting to take charge. I had her rig up a grape juice booby trap. In the next scene, which is actually in the movie, you see her run past the table and her white dress is covered in grape juice, which seemed like a funny visual way of showing that she had sacrificed the dress for the internet. Except that nobody got the whole grape juice trap. I don't think a single person understood why she was doing any of it. It just seemed like a bizarre performance in the middle of the movie. So I cut it. It's nice to show it here, and hopefully with the cards it isn't too mystifying.

    What compelled you to tell a story so focused on temporality?

    It didn't start out being about time, but the longer it took to make, the older I got and the more pressure I felt.  It was made more acute by me being in my mid-thirties—a very particular time in any woman's life.

    Can you sum up what the movie is about for you?
    My work is never only about the story—it is always about what is inside the people who are in the story. But, in the most basic sense, it's about time: getting through it, minute by minute, stopping it, and the end of it, death.

    You’ve said that The Future is your version of a horror movie. Can you explain why?
    The character I play in the movie fails to make the dance she sets out to make, and then flees her life. She moves to a world where she will never have to try and fail again. No one cares if she's creative there. This is a sort of horror movie for a person like me, who has created her sense of self through making things. But it's also a fantasy: a fear-fantasy.


    
The Future will be released in the US on July 29, and in the UK on November 4

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