In the movie he co-wrote, directed and stars in, Benjamin Dickinson is navigating an augmented reality scenario set "five minutes in the future."
"Creative Control," which anchors the first-ever Arts Tech Film Fest at the Normal Theater (Tuesday through April 24), posits that "glorious technological advances and communications devices of the near future" will be there to supplement romantic fantasies at the expense of a grasp on reality.
Dickinson plays an "overworked, tech-addled" ad exec developing a high-profile marketing campaign starring real-life vocalist-comedian Reggie Watts (who plays himself).
At stake: a new generation of Augmented Reality glasses that resemble sleek designer specs.
Behind the lenses, though, they are hard at work, as the name implies, supplementing David's field of vision with non-stop, enhanced data infusions.
Fine and dandy ... until David, stuck in a stalled relationship with his yoga teacher ("Brick's" Nora Zehetner), becomes smitten with Sophie ("California Solo's" Alexia Rasmussen), the partner of his much-envied best friend ("The Wedding Ringer's" Dan Gill).
Talk about your augmented reality: David taps the eyewear's tech's appeal for sex appeal by creating a life-like avatar of Sophie, abetted by "fast-acting vaporized drugs."
All of which leads him into blurred realities, misguided passions and a head-on collision between public/private/imaginary lives.
That premise ("did I mention it's a comedy?") makes it a perfect fit for the climax of the ISU-sponsored fest (see accompanying story), which opens in the Eisenhower '50s with a plus-size computer threatening job security in reassuring Tracy-Hepburn rom-com terms ("Desk Set").
The fest then hangs 10 on the French New Wave into a dystopian future lorded over by a pre-HAL bad-boy computer named Alpha 60 (Jean-Luc Godard's enigma-bound "Alphaville").
It's followed 24 hours and two movie decades later by Hollywood's first hacker-hero computer scenario (the Reagan-era, popcorn-friendly "WarGames").
The Arts Tech Fest's path has been paved, then, for "Creative Control" in its downstate premiere via a three-night, fest-climaxing stand, featuring Dickinson in a live Skype-enabled post-screening discussion on April 22 only.
Speaking of creative control: the Wheaton native, who left Illinois for New York at 17 and has never looked back, "raised all the money myself by convincing investors this was a good idea ... as a result, I didn't have a studio or anybody making demands."
Hence, his starring/directing/co-writing credits, which allowed him to follow through on what he says was the most important reason for making "Creative Control": "That it would not be just a black-and-white film about technology, but rather one that would have many colors and shades."
To emphasize that point, he chose, in fact, to shoot the film in widescreen black-and-white, with cinematographer Adam Newport-Barra achieving a full spectrum of chiaroscuro shadings within what might be considered a limited palette.
"That was a visceral way to make the audience feel the sexiness of the technology, and the fact that the movies' themes are sort of classical, even though they're set in the future ... which, in fact, is very close to being an alternate present more than anything else."
All of which makes "Creative Control" a good fit with Godard's similarly alt-'60s universe for "Alphaville," likewise shot in black-and-white, and occupying the Normal Theater screen two nights prior.
Dickinson suspects the reality-augmenting eyewear depicted in his film is, in fact, around five years from altering our waking, day-to-day perceptions forever ... for better or worse.
He's not saying which, though he has his cautious concerns.
"I see this movie as a very universal way to show how much more real our technology can feel to us than our real life, when someone liking your photo on Instagram can be more interesting than the person sitting across the table from you.
"Or how the relationships we negotiate online seem far more real than the relationships we are actually have living in our homes and workplaces."
The precise way the coming world of augmented reality will insinuate itself into that framework "is, I think, unpredictable, at least in terms of how the social mores will change."
If "Creative Control" embodies any of Dickinson's reservations about the coming revolution, "I guess I see myself disturbed by the fact that I don't see enough efforts being made toward self-determination ... if feels like we're not letting technology shape us, we're letting capitalism shape us through technology."
Whatever may pass, Dickinson is certain of one thing regarding his meditation on augmented reality and disheveled romance: "My film will remain relevant ... until that time when the next technology comes out."