"Truly, I live in dark times!" Bertolt Brecht
"This world He created is of moral design." George W. Bush

We have created a world from which we imagine only a god can save us.

"To Those Born After" presents an image of a world fallen into darkness but populated by prophets who declare that the world is full of light, that it is possessed of a moral design bestowed upon it by a divine creator. It is a film about a world possessed, however, of no real moral design other than that of rapacious greed and indifference toward the future. It is about a time which has produced a crisis so great that it seems only a god can save us. "To Those Born After" reveals a present torn by a fundamental conflict between a vision of history in which human beings stand firmly at the center as its creators and a vision of the world in which humans are the mere products of a divine hand. "To Those Born After" is a secular film that challenges contemporary attempts to resacralize the world. It is a film which believes beauty, grace and hope can be found in the infinite richness which dwells within the power of humanity. It is a film which believes that our salvation as a species and as a civilization lies in our own hands -- and only in our hands.

"To Those Born After" takes its inspiration from a poem by the same title by the German writer Bertolt Brecht. Brecht wrote his poem in the late 1930s, a period he referred to repeatedly as "the dark times." From the perspective of this time of desperation and despair Brecht imagined in his poem a different future, a time when "man would be a helper to man" and therewith he imagined a future public -- and purpose -- for his writings.

This film is also made in dark times--of global war, environmental collapse, the unchallenged reign of capitalism, absolute decadence in public politics, and more--and also attempts to imagine a better future and with it a transformed audience to whom the film is directed. It is a film about times so dark that only a very attentive observer can detect traces of hope.

Despite the somber times in which "To Those Born After" is made, the film is still a stunningly beautiful montage of a wide array of documentary images, sounds and texts. Deceptively simple in its construction, "To Those Born After" presents a complex portrait of our contemporary moment. The film transports us across the globe several times with minimal means.

"To Those Born After" begins with the image of a ghost which haunts the contemporary night of the world -- a highly processed image taken from a gun-camera on an Apache helicopter as it slaughters defenseless Iraqis during the current war in Iraq. The ghostly figure slowly moves across the screen as the narrator recites a text composed by the art historian John Berger. It begins: "I write in a night of shame." As the image continues, one hears Haydn's "Missa in tempore belli" ("Mass in a time of war"), which was written in protest against nationalist fervor in Austria after the Napoleonic invasions. The soloist pleads: "who shall take away the sins of the world?"

From here the film poses the simple question: just when did things change? The question is posed through a subtle and graceful decomposition of a famous image by Rene Magritte, "The Empire of Lights." The theme of night is continued in a sequence that examines briefly uncanny parallels between our current moment and the moment at which Brecht was writing. Here George W. Bush figures prominently and this sequence ushers in a complex montage of texts and speeches by the American president which presents the political program of the current U.S. regime as nothing short of a cultural revolution in which a "culture of life" figures prominently.

The film continues with the question of temporality: not only is it hard to say "when this all began", but the question of how one might imagine the future is raised. The unrestrained power of American might is based on two contradictory commands: on the one hand, the absolute power to take life, as seen in the images from the Apache helicopter which now play over the screen, again in highly processed form. On the other hand, the regime claims for itself the right to demand that we live, as was shown in the prominent right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo, whose images play across the screen, as well as in the repeated attempts to ban abortion. The power of the regime oscillates between two seemingly contradictory commands: Thou shalt die! and Thou shalt live!

The final section of the film turns toward the future with the appearance of a gorgeous sunrise, caught at the moment when the sun breaks the horizon over the sea. Some of the final lines of Brecht's poem appear in intertitles: "You who will emerge from this flood, think of the dark times. You, however, when it has come to pass that humankind has saved itself, think of us with forbearance." These lines are juxtaposed with the images of a small child who turns to the camera to answer this appeal and then turns away in a highly ambiguous gesture of muted refusal.

The art historian Paul Jaskot (Chair, Dept. of Art and Art History, Depaul University) has described the film as "shocking in its beauty" and "remarkable for its ability to function powerfully at conceptual and emotional levels, a rare feat in cinema and video art. Despite its apparent pessimism, the sheer grace of its imagery and editing, as well as the overwhelming and lateintentionally ambiguous ending, lend the film a utopian element that suggests that there may still be some hope for the future after all."

To Those Born After is the second part of a trilogy of short films by the same title. The first film, "The One and All" (2002; rt: 6 mins) explored the terrain of American ideology in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11. It screened at numerous international festivals including the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and the Festival noveau cinéma Montreal, amongst others. The third installment, currently in production, is entitled "Joy." It will counter the apparent pessimism of the first two sections with an exploration of the possibility of happiness in our current world.