December 27th, 2068
Thank you for your note. I would wager you already know all this, but I’ll do my best to remember how it all happened since I’ve never been one to miss an opportunity to flap my jaws.
Do I remember when the film revolution began?
It was before The Great Pandemic, probably early 2020. I saw a YouTube video of the comedian Bill Hader. He was doing celebrity impressions, but an AI developer had used machine learning to map the faces of real actors onto Bill’s face. At the time it was pure magic.
Within a few years this stuff was everywhere. Movie studios were starting to put out zombie cinema – dead stars reignited by AI. Amazon got James Dean. Netflix got Marilyn Monroe. Google got Brando. And these companies make out like bandits. They could pay motion capture actors pocket change compared to celebrities. By the 2030’s they were rendering out whole films in CGI, running them through AI realism passes and slapping the faces of social media influencers onto flawless digital bodies. 8K. HDR. 60 frames a second. SAG-AFTRA made a fuss for a couple years, but there was really nothing they could do when there was no demand for talent. Sure there was an occasional indie film done the old-fashioned way, but they rarely made it into the mainstream, there just wasn’t enough funding available for risky projects.
AI was also a win for good old Zuckerburg. He merged Facebook’s library of user data with machine learning video tools. He could conjure up video ads in real-time, targeted to users’ specific emotional state, fantasies, and physiological needs.
But then it happened. July 4th, 2043. Everything changed. Senator Logan Paul was announcing his plans to run as a Republican Presidential Candidate in the upcoming election. His speech was being broadcasted live to both YouTube, and TrumpTV. That’s when a Reddit user discovered that the two live feeds were different. Logan Paul was simultaneously giving two speeches. It was apparent that one of them, or both, was a real-time deep fake. Live TV had been hacked. China was suspected at the time, but after a four month investigation it turned out to be the work of cyber-satirist Axitron.
If the public had any remaining trust in the value of the image as a source of truth, this event broke it. And it would have remained broken if it wasn’t for Raheem.
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Raheem Rene’ Jackson, who, at the time was known as The Analog Journalist, had been pedaling around this fringe idea (that’s how most people saw it at the time). He claimed that the only trustworthy image was one that was part of our physical reality, not one that lived on a server. He made the case that the photographic negative, the light-sensitive strip born of silver and plastic, was the only trustworthy image source for political and cultural life. The negative was not numbers and code, but atoms and molecules. It could not be copied without a change to its molecular structure. And in an ironic twist, Raheem had found a way to verify the authenticity of photographic negatives with an AI-assisted electron microscope scanner connected to the blockchain. You probably now know this as MAT or Molecular Array Tokens.
Raheem’s work and theory was soon put to the test. The Chicago police department had been accused of using excessive force during the 2045 protests. The police department’s lawyer had been pushing the (ubiquitous) deep fake defense, claiming relevant iPhone video evidence had been altered with AI. But this time things were different. Raheem had been at the protests. He had filmed parts of it on a 1954 Bolex 8mm cinema camera. The prosecutor was able to run Raheem’s original negatives through a projector in the courtroom, verify them with MAT technology, and corroborate that the iPhone footage was in fact accurate.
After the ruling against the Chicago PD came out Raheem made the rounds on late night shows and podcasts. He captured the public’s attention with a call to reclaim the analog arts as a haven from political and psychological totalitarianism.
It would be unfair to say that a majority of the public even cared about his impractical ideas, but his call did not fall on deaf ears. It planted the seeds for a new analog resurgence among the high-school and college aged demographic.
In 2057, the truly unexpected happened. A wholly analog-produced film won an Oscar for best picture. Ex-TikTok star Anastasia Guerrera shot it on expired Kodak stock and cut it by hand in her abuela’s basement. After the Oscars, her film toured around the country projected in pop-up cinemas at libraries, concert halls, breweries, and Episcopal churches. The experience shook audiences to the core. There was something real and yet indescribable about it – the wrinkled skin, crooked teeth, sagging breasts, the blurry shots, the flickering grain, it was all so imperfect, but so powerful. People were coming out of libraries with glowing faces, looking like they’d seen God.
That was over a decade ago. That’s when I saw Kodak and Fuji rolls pop up in grocery aisles – something I hadn’t seen since I was your age. And that’s when MAT technology brought film back to journalism like we see today.
But do you know what convinced me that film had truly come back for good? You did. I remember that time last year you came over here with your high school friends. You gathered us all in the living room, made your parents turn off their phones. And you guys set up your slide projector. You showed us the slides of that trip you took to the Olympic Peninsula — your smiling young faces, shot through with color, burnt on my living room wall. That was too much for me Josiah. You didn’t know it, but I was struggling to keep my face dry. It reminded me of when I was a boy, before the internet, before Instagram and PicNic. We would watch my grandpa’s slide show, all together with my cousins and aunts and uncles. And everyone one was laughing. I never thought I would have that experience again. I thought it was gone forever. But you Josiah, you brought it back to life.
Long live the film revolution, may truth prevail in the land, may our photographs bring people together instead of drive them apart.
With much love,
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