‘White on White’ Helmer Viera Cakanyova is Ready to Explore the ‘Brave New World’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Marta Balaga
·4 min read

Slovak director Viera Čákanyová, about to present her documentary “White on White” at Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival – which sees her conversing with A.I. during her stay at a Polish Antarctic station – will come back to the topic of artificial intelligence in “Brand New World.” This time opting for a broader social perspective, she will try to determine how new technologies, like blockchain for example, can transform society and the way we communicate. All the while giving a wink to one Aldous Huxley.

“Is it possible to use it as an infrastructure, also in politics for example? To be able to have a direct democracy?,” wonders Čákanyová, when talking to Variety. Promising to look at the problem from the futuristic perspective in the film, when “new rules” are already in place. Described by the director as “fiction with elements of a documentary or a documentary sci-fi,” the project already received support from the Slovak Audiovisual Fund.

“It comes from all these crypto-anarchist ideas,” she says, while also mentioning the so-called decentralized autonomous organization. “They can be equipped by artificial intelligence – I am talking about companies led, and even owned, by smart algorithms. If you have a fleet of taxis, they could actually manage themselves. You won’t need human management to take care of it at all. They could communicate between themselves and have principles that would govern the whole operation. Or even hire people to repair them,” she says, adding that in the future the concept of “a legal agent” could change for good. “We were used to the idea that it can only be a physical person, so it’s going to be interesting. I can see artificial intelligence forming unions,” she says.

Coming back to the subject Čákanyová has already touched on in her 2019 Berlinale Forum entry “FREM,” in “White on White” – her video diary that she kept while staying at the Antarctic station where she shot “FREM” – Čákanyová decided to show things from another, much more human perspective.

“It’s a complementary film. ‘FREM’ was told from artificial intelligence’s point of view, but when I finally went [to Antarctica] and I was occupied by that topic, it became absurd – to shoot a film about artificial intelligence when you are really struggling as a human being, with your body and mind. You just try to survive in these conditions,” she says.

She started to record diaries, at the time not knowing she would make a film out of them. But it was precisely the contrast between scientific and artistic perspective that captured her interest.

“This A.I. I am talking to [in the film] is using scientific knowledge without any imagination. But when you are there, you react to everything with emotion. You realize how fragile you are, not equipped at all to be in this place. It’s simple: you only care about your survival, which is actually quite refreshing. Back in civilization, we deal with a lot of noise, all this information and pictures. And suddenly, there is nothing. Just different shades of white and silence, and wind,” she says.

Mentioning in her film that this kind of landscape “works like a drug,” Čákanyová quickly grew protective of the place. Which, as she notices, might disappear sooner rather than later due to climate change.

“You start to deal with the things you have in your mind, because nature reflects your thoughts like a blank piece of paper. When you see how we appropriate this landscape, and how much we need in order to just be there, seeing all these tourists coming to take a picture of a penguin or an iceberg just makes you angry,” she says.

“We would always wear the same clothes because you don’t care how you look. When we came back, it felt weird being surrounded by people who are nicely dressed, going to restaurants or just riding a bike. You feel like a wild animal that got lost,” she says.

But, returning to the topic of A.I., Čákanyová points out that change is coming, and soon. “The Turing test is becoming a reality,” she says about a method of determining whether a machine is capable of thinking like a human being, originally called the imitation game by Alan Turing in 1950. “They can already simulate human speech very well, even though they don’t understand what they are saying. It’s scary.”

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