Canopy: Where did it come from and why is it important?

Canopy: Where did it come from and why is it important?

by Elisabeth Rose Astwood

My favorite part of living in Vancouver, BC is most definitely the incredible nature that is both within and surrounding the city. Though a 'slightly' different climate, it has always reminded me in spirit of my time growing up in Eureka, Missouri enriched by the wonder of St. Louis’ famous Forest Park - running in the grass, climbing trees and witnessing incredible live musical theatre under the stars.

In my life, I have experienced many different types of environments while growing up on the cusp of the digital age - both natural and otherwise. Now it seems like all we hear about are kids being impossible to tear away from their xboxes and cellphones. It's almost as if they are tethered. Even the seven years that separate my littlest sister and I seems to have resulted in drastic differences in activities and social behaviours. Just a few days ago she called to ask about dating advice for a friend and I suggested all number of face-to-face options and ways to talk so that not all nonverbal communication is lost. She stops me and laughs…. 'Psshhh we never talk over the phone!' And frankly, I don’t really either.

My backyard in Eureka, MO, USA - 2006

I feel privileged to be able to say that my childhood was spent – not exclusively – but largely outside with the neighbours and friends (books are friends too right?). It seems to me that it helped me grow my social skills but even those of us that spent our time playing capture the flag and street hockey fall into digital habits today. I don’t know if there is a better or worse way of living. I don’t know what this digital age means for how we connect with each other on a human level over the long run. Maybe one is not better or worse, only different.

But I do see a difference.

When I moved to Vancouver and spent my first years living on the UBC campus, I became surrounded by ancient trees and an ecosystem that revitalized my spirit. I felt like all I wanted to do was sit with them and, yes, hug them. I needed to soak in their wisdom and they helped me realize that I had gotten lost in my laptop and phone – writing essays, working on projects, researching, talking with friends far away, talking with friends in the other room... so many of my dorm mates wanted to video skype me from down the hall instead of standing up and talking with me in person. We were virtual friends.

The inspirational magazine ad. (if anyone knows who to give credit to, please share!)

The inspirational magazine ad. (if anyone knows who to give credit to, please share!)

It wasn't until later in my degree - during an entirely unrelated production meeting for a play I was marketing - that I stumbled across a fashion magazine ad featuring a selection of emaciated models, each slumped at the base of a few trees. Their faces were blank and their attitude lifeless. This contrast of breathing nature and lifeless people struck me.  And, though not directly correlated to technology, it reminded me that our focus has been drawn away from the little natural pleasures of life.

I wrote the first draft of this script for one of my screenplay classes. We started by pitching our short scripts - great! They love the concept. By the time I had written a first draft, I felt less confident. My professor and fellow writers wanted more answers. What is the lesson? What world are they on? How did these people get there? What is the backstory? The context? They wanted to know about the whole scifi world but - to me - that wasn’t the point. This film isn’t science fiction; nor is it reality. Besides their objections, I didn’t yet feel like the script addressed the themes of nature, technology, society, love and self that seemed to be so integral to my purpose in writing it. So, discouraged, I left it percolating in the back of my mind – and my hard drive – for a few years.

Concept image for the film

Concept image for the film

What I have since realized, is that the film that I want to create is not really a piece of science fiction - but transrealism. I had been trying to fit something much more abstract into the realm of “genre film” at the behest of writers that I respect immensely. However, after watching Black Mirror - “a British television anthology series created by Charlie Brooker that features speculative fiction with dark and sometimes satirical themes which examine modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies” - I curiously re-examined the different genres within the realm of speculative fiction - scifi, alternative history, magic realism, etc - and happened to stumble upon an article called “Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century?”.

So, ok. What the heck is transrealism? I invite you to read Rudy Rucker’s essay “A Transrealist Manifesto” but to answer simply - it’s not science fiction, neither is it reality but it’s intent is to hover in the unsettling zone in between. Rucker says at the start of his essay that transrealism “is not so much a type of scifi as it is a type of avant-garde storytelling. One that discusses immediate perceptions in a fantastic way. Where the familiar tools of scifi — time travel, antigravity, alternate worlds, telepathy, etc. — are in fact symbolic of archetypal modes of perception. Time travel is memory, flight is enlightenment, alternate worlds symbolize the great variety of individual world-views, and telepathy stands for the ability to communicate fully. This is the 'Trans' aspect. The 'realism' aspect has to do with the fact that a valid work of art should deal with the world the way it actually is. Transrealism tries to treat not only immediate reality, but also the higher reality in which life is embedded.”

This is exactly my intention behind bringing Canopy to the big screen. I want to insight thought and conversation around the importance of human connection and how we use technology - both to our benefit and detriment - to fill those needs in a fantastical future environment.

I hope you will join me.


Elisabeth Rose Astwood

Writer / Director / Producer

Elisabeth currently lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and adorable cats while running The Purple Stapler Arts Society – a small non-profit organization - in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her mandate is to facilitate the creative activism of emerging artists by providing opportunities to further careers through education, hands on experience, interdisciplinary exhibitions and networking events. In May 2014, she graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BFA in Creative Writing and is now looking forward to continuing her education at Seattle U. As a writer and director, she has seen a number of her works put on stage and screen including: The Retirement Party, Porcelain and Pink, Divided Allegiance, Midnight Visit, In Need of Caffeine, Yes, Obviously, LGBT Youth Voices and more. She has produced artist events including: The Annual Back Alley Artists Night, Punctuation Saves Lives and an ongoing professional writer’s workshop that occurs bi-weekly.

Photo by Sanara Creations - Title: Sun in the morning - License