Present.Perfect

When they imagined a future with jet-packs and airborne automobiles, speculative writers of yore never figured out the defining technological advance of the early 21st century: social media. Way back in the ’80s, William Gibson anticipated some aspects of the internet with his concept of cyberspace, but even then, the idea that millions of people would broadcast their daily lives to viewers around the globe seemed like the wildest science fiction. But that’s where we are today, and director Zhu Shengze’s found-footage documentary Present.Perfect, which compiles two hours from livestreaming feeds in China, offers an electronic reality that feels piped in from a terribly lonely future that happens to be the world today. There’s more than a little political commentary at work, especially in early footage of rural areas: “The wealthy like to experience farm life,” one subject tellingly observes as he delivers what he calls “simple agritainment.” A young mother livestreams from the clothing factory where her paycheck depends on the number of pieces of underwear she’s able to produce per hour. But the most haunting figures are even more on the fringes of society: a 30-year old man who, due to a genetic condition, looks and sounds like a young boy; the burn victim who has emerged from a fire deeming himself some kind of invincible god. The film is streaming as part of the Freer’s fascinating series Alternate Realities: Science Fiction from Across Asia, which runs through December 11. The film is available to stream  from Nov. 27 to Dec. 11. Director Zhu Shengze will participate in a panel discussion on Asian Futurisms on Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. Registration is available at asia.si.edu. Free.

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