LICHTERS ANNUAL THEME 2024: FUTURE
HISTORY, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF THE FUTURE
A text by Kenneth Hujer
“TOMORROW IS ALREADY PRESENT IN TODAY, BUT IT STILL MASKS ITSELF AS HARMLESS, IT CAMOUFLAGES AND EXPOSES ITSELF BEHIND THE FAMILIAR. THE FUTURE IS NOT A UTOPIA CLEANLY SEPARATED FROM THE RESPECTIVE PRESENT: THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEGUN. BUT IT CAN, IF RECOGNIZED IN TIME, BE CHANGED.” – Robert Jungk, publicist and futurologist.
The present state of the future is far from ideal. It is often associated with crises and disasters, particularly in the context of climate, warfare, and hyper-capitalism. Even artificial intelligence, seen as a technology of the future, appears more as a foreboding scenario for many rather than an exciting promise, fuelling the fear of human obsolescence.
It wasn't always like this. The view on the future has been more optimistic in the past. While cultural pessimists have always harboured concerns about the future, seeing it as the unravelling of cherished values and meaningful connections throughout history, progressives used to associate the future with salvation, albeit more politically in terms of social liberation rather than in a religious or messianic sense. Yet, the times of categorizing people as conservative or progressive seem to be behind us. Today, nearly everyone in Western societies harbours apprehensions about the future. The term of the hour is “fear of the future."
In 2013, according to a survey by the Foundation for Future Studies in Hamburg, 70 percent of those aged 18 to 34 preferred life in the future. However, in the same survey conducted in 2023, the majority of respondents now long for a life in the past.
This shows that the future has a history. In the words of Augustine: there's a past future, a present future, and a future future. We can trace the recent history of the future in a specific location in Frankfurt: the area between its Cathedral and the Römer (Frankfurt’s historic city hall), largely destroyed during World War II. After using the area as a parking lot, the Technisches Rathaus (technical city hall), a brutalist concrete building pointing boldly toward the future, was completed in 1974, contrasting sharply with its surroundings. History was a bother, the future of the building mattered: to construct it, several buildings had to be demolished, including a 16th-century half-timbered house and the intact baroque rear section of Goethe's aunt Melber's residence. In 2010, not even forty years later, the Technisches Rathaus was demolished to finally reconstruct parts of the destroyed old town, including Melber's house.
In 1970, we designed things that did not yet exist to create a new and different life, while our present seems to want to shape the future partially with the means of the past. What does this say about our society? Can we save ourselves from the future by looking to the past? Were older visions of the future better than more contemporary ones? Will the so-called "Neue Altstadt" be demolished in the future, and the Technisches Rathaus reconstructed?
Trends offer a glimpse of the future in the present. This is the essence of the trend-phenomenon: participating in something that will only exist in the future. However, as soon as the prophecy is fulfilled it will already have vanished once more due to the ubiquity of trends – it is accessible to the masses. A trend is no longer trendy. Clothing is a prime example of trends. Today, its trends appear to be mainly a form of revisiting past fashion styles. Is this because all possible future styles have already been created? Or does the search for the future in the past also manifest itself in fashion?
Our relationship with the future is shaped by our understanding of time. The prevailing perspective is linear consciousness: time is experienced as a stream flowing from the past toward the future. The present is one single point on the line. Once it exists, it is no more. According to philosopher Vilém Flusser, this is an "existential impossibility, because wherever we are, there is the present". Flusser argues that, on the contrary, it's the future that "arrives with us in our present". That's what the word "future" means: something is approaching us. Instead of losing the present, we should see it as reality, as the place where the future arrives to be realized.
“No future!” – Sex Pistols
We don't experience the world because we enter it, but because it concerns us. "We are always here and now, and the future enters into this here and now from all sides". For Flusser, this is self-evident, but the ideology of progress has blinded us to it.
What can we deduce from Flusser's phenomenological thoughts about the future? "A few among us are ready to open up to the future and commit to experiences. Flexibility in this decision means a willingness not to take predetermined positions in any incoming experiences, but to explore all possible perspectives". In this sense, every film is also a glimpse into the future. Furthermore, the art of film can act as a "mosquito that stings people in order to open them up to experiences and motivate their bodies and thoughts to change their viewpoints without prejudice."
The 17th LICHTER Filmfest aims to explore and diversify the theme of "Future" with 20 international feature films. Ultimately, it also seeks to inquire about its own future, the future of the festival. In this sense, the 17th LICHTER Film Fest will be a grand workshop for the future.