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Interview with Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado directors The Immortalists

The Immortalists
Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

I recently received an advance copy of The Immortalist a fantastic documentary concerning the quest two men have to achieve immortality and defeat death in humanity. As someone who does not ever want to die, I consider this to be a very noble and incomprehensibly important task. After previewing the film a few times I asked Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado if I could send them some interview questions and the obliged. Below is that exchange.

To see the film at Hot Docs 2014 click here

What was the most difficult part of the documentary for you?

The hardest part was trying to balance the fascinating science with the wildly interesting scientists who are trying to achieve the goal of living forever. The story that we found was a mixture of explaining that science, but delving into their lives and discovering what makes them tick, what in their lives reflects the themes of longer lived humans, and so much more…

What did you take away from the process of making The Immortalists?

Science documentary can be creative, emotional, and personal. You wouldn’t think so watching traditional science docs, but this one shows, we hope, that there is a diversity of science media and it doesn’t all have to be dry “info-tainment." On the science side, there is a lot of interest, intellectual firepower and money being thrown at aging. Shortly after we finished the film, Google announced Calico, which a project that Google describes as their "moon shot" at curing death; and Craig Vetner (of the Human Genome Project fame) just launched a company called Human Longevity, which is a genome company focused on aging. If Aubrey or Bill don't cure aging, we could still see a dramatic increase in human lifespan from these or similar projects.

What was the inspiration for showing the love making scene between Aubrey and Adelaide?

We called the scene the "Adam and Eve" (or John and Yoko?) scene during post-production. They were definitely loving, but there wasn’t actually any sex going on. They like to spend time together naked in the woods-- They’re nudists. We included that in the film because it shows that they are very much in love, they are a little odd in a funny way, and that they plan to spend their whole lives together. That was Adelaide's 68th birthday and going to that spot is a ritual for them... Interesting side note: they're not totally naked. You can see Adelaide's and Aubrey's cryonics bracelets if you look closely!

What was your favorite part of making The Immortalists?

That moment in post-production when we thought our film was working! We realized we had two parallel stories that feed off each other and inform one another. We were successful in showing the similarities and differences in Bill and Aubrey's science, relationships and how they deal with loss and death.

Also, long philosophical, theoretical debates with people about the merits of living forever.

Have you met anyone with extreme objection to the idea of human immortality?

Yes, all the time. A lot of people are rightfully concerned about the class implications (rich people getting the technology at the exclusion of poor, middle class folks) and environmental concerns (overpopulation, food/water supply, carbon footprint). The two arguments against living forever fall into two categories: desirability (why, wouldn't you get bored, etc.) and plausibility (that's not possible, it's snake oil, biology is very complex and not well understood, etc.).

What do you hope the film will accomplish?

We want the film to increase science literacy, ask really big questions, re-think the ultimate end (death) and explore fascinating characters. Also, we want people to be entertained and see the scientists as people: flawed, fascinating and human, like everyone else.

What is your favorite type of food to eat?

We both *love* Mexican food. Also, anything with hot sauce. We ate a burrito in every country we filmed in for this doc, including the U.K., Tanzania, Kenya, China, and Denmark. The worst burritos are in Kenya, if you wanted to know.

What’s next for you as a filmmaker?

We have a few projects in the works, but nothing concrete. We're considering doing a film about de-extinction or bitcoin. So we're exploring new topics, trying to find interesting human stories that intersect with science.

Star Wars or Star Trek? / Are you excited JJ Abrams is directing Episode VII?

We disagree about this.

David: when I was younger I was never exposed to Star Trek so Star Wars was the obvious hero. But as an adult, I realized that Star Trek had found a more mature philosophy and displays a profoundly broader scope of the human experience. Not to mention, the recent episodes are essentially children's programs.

Jason: Definitely Star Wars, no doubt. Couldn't be happier about JJ Abrams taking the helm.

The Film is Currently at Hot Docs 2014 for ticketing information click here