Sundance’s ‘The Pod Generation’: Director Sophie Barthes on A.I., the Future of Motherhood, Our Relationship to Technology and Nature

In Sophie Barthes’ third feature, sci-fi satire “The Pod Generation,” which plays in the Premieres strand at the Sundance Film Festival, the French-born director explores A.I., commodification, motherhood and our relationship to both technology and nature, as well as critiquing progress, consumerism and our way of life.

“The Pod Generation,” which Barthes also wrote and exec produced is the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize Winner, and follows Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a New York couple who are ready to take their relationship to the next level and start a family, embarking on a pregnancy journey via detachable artificial wombs.

“Although we conceived the technology, it should be here to help us, but I actually think it’s making us disconnect from our instincts” Barthes tells Variety. “We tend to put so much faith now in the fact that technology can do so many things for us. But then every time we give up something, for convenience sake, we lose a part of ourselves as human beings.”

The idea for “The Pod Generation” came to Barthes in “surreal dreams” when she was pregnant with her first child around 13 years ago, “Going through giving birth in New York was very surreal. It’s also almost seen as a disease; that you have to get rid of the pregnancy as if it were an inconvenience or something, instead of celebrating motherhood and the fact that being pregnant is a powerful thing that brings you an incredible experience,” she says.

She adds: “I was like: ‘Okay, maybe it would be super convenient not to be pregnant for nine months and just be like men, externalize the thing and pay for it, and it’s all taken care of.’ But what are we losing in the process as women? I’m not saying women should be pregnant if they don’t want to, but you’re going to lose the fact that it is an immense power to give birth, and I think men actually have a sort of envy [of that].”

The technology in the pic is all VFX, created by Brussels-based VFX company Benuts. Driven by her love for “hand-made” sci-fi as seen in the films of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, all of whom she admires, the pods in the film were made with “little technological input” and a lot done in camera. In terms of esthetic, Barthes opted for a feminine approach, stating that “a lot of science fiction is very male. It’s usually very rectangular and it’s all white or it’s all black and I wanted to make sci-fi that had pastel colors and where the shapes were round,” she says, adding she found inspiration in late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid’s curvy designs as well as French cubist painter Marie Laurencin and American modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe “because I love her palette of colors and a lot of the flowers she painted are I think allegories of the uterus and the womb.”

The various generations – millennials, X, Z, etc. – as well as the New York City pods during the pandemic when people “podded” sparked the idea for the pic’s title, which the director recalls was “Eggs” in the development stage. “What about this next generation? Because everything in the film is in pods – the nature is in a pod, the babies are in pods…,” she inquires.

Barthes says she has researched A.I. a lot and is “quite obsessed with it and our relationship to it,” which is why her next project is also about A.I. She also has a “surreal biopic” about American realist painter Edward Hopper and his wife Josephine Hopper in the pipeline.

The producers are Nadia Kamlichi, Geneviève Lemal, Yann Zenou and Martin Metz for Quad Films and Scope Pictures. MK2 handles international sales with CAA Media Finance co-representing U.S. sales.

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