Simbiotic

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and supply-chain disruption made it clear that robotisation was the way forward to prevent future disruptions for businesses. But hacker group Fragment decides to prevent multinationals from monopolising this ultimate control tool.

In the summer of 2020, Fragment hacks on every mayor player in the industry and compiles the Robot OS. They release it together with hundreds of blueprints so anyone can build a robot. The Great Hack, as it became known, paved the way to the robot era.

Fast-forward to 2025. The city of Berlin is flooded with human-looking robots. Jessica, an art director working for a top agency, is notified that her ex-husband Mark is challenging the custody of their children. He has married her best friend’s younger sister and claims he is in a better position to offer the children a more human upbringing. After all, Jessica has a hectic job and the kids spend a lot of time with their babysitter, a robot. Her quest is to keep custody of her children at all costs.

The backdrop for Jessica’s ordeal is a metro robot strike, led by a robot worker called Lennard. Implying robots have rights, the strike adds to the turmoil of high unemployment and inflation afflicting society. Resentment towards the elites and robots brews in the city. Leonard is oblivious to all this, he is just a railroad maintenance robot looking to improve the safety of passengers and robots alike.

The strike coincides with the launch of the All-Inclusive Plan, a Universal Basic Income scheme that also includes a housekeeper robot among other perks. The All-Inclusive Plan is the brainchild of Jasper van Percy, the eccentric CEO of a skyrocketing mobile ad company. His vision is to unleash robots as the next advertising delivery channel and thus create “human farms” of ad viewers.

Jessica’s custody case becomes politicised as anti-robot groups and the social networks, which regard the All-Inclusive Plan as an existential threat to their business model, join forces to lobby for a ban of robots for domestic use. Van Percy and the robot industry jump on Jessica’s defence, making her custody case a matter of public debate.

To complicate things more, a spokesman robot for a group of Artificial Intelligence servers and advanced robots issues a statement where they unilaterally decide to extend Human Rights to include robots. This entangles further the robot strike negotiations.

Symbiotic portrays the imminent moral dilemmas that we will have to face when robots enter society on a large scale. We will see different interest groups battling over this complex issue that will polarise society, and for which there will be no right answers.

  • Juan Vargas
    Director
  • Juan Vargas
    Writer
  • Juan Vargas
    Producer
  • Puki Bauer
    Producer
  • Puki Bauer
    Key Cast
    "Jessica"
  • Frey LeMaistre
    Key Cast
    "Lennard"
  • Walter de Winter
    Key Cast
    "Jasper van Percy"
  • Charmaine Gorman
    Key Cast
    "Vanessa"
    Five Moments of Infidelity
  • Rasmus Max Wirth
    Key Cast
    "The Editor"
  • Rich Millin
    Music
  • Takuro Sakamoto
    Sound
  • Trevor Lishka
    Sound
  • Project Type:
    Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 40 minutes 30 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 30, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    10,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    Germany
  • Country of Filming:
    Germany
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    2.35 : 1
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
Director Biography - Juan Vargas

Juan Vargas is a director, producer, writer and entrepreneur from Colombia. He has been involved in grassroots independent film for over a decade. He established the Shanghai Short Film Contest, a platform to train young filmmakers and launch their careers. He has directed several short and experimental films. He was the broadcast producer of China’s Formula Racing Championship and has produced concerts and all types of content for corporate clients. As an entrepreneur, he has launched start-ups in the areas of ecommerce and sustainable cities. He has written several novels as well as a book on sustainable development. He has lived in 10 countries and is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

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Director Statement

The spread of human-looking robots in society is just a matter of time. In recent years, three independent industries have entered a phase of exponential development. First, military applications research is mastering the autonomous movement of robots. Second, AI and machine learning enable computers to have real-time conversations that are undistinguishable from talking to a human. Finally, the sex industry is already selling sex robots with hyper realistic skin, hair, eyes and other features.

When these three industries converge, you will have a robot sitting on your sofa. If mobile phones and the Internet have disrupted society, we can expect robots to put it upside down. Is having sex with a robot cheating on your husband? Can you marry one? Do they have rights? When they manipulate your shopping behaviour, would that be considered different than an ad on YouTube? When they take over your job, what are you going to tell the robot handling your case at the unemployment office?

The moral implications of robots entering our homes and the workplace are vast. I want Symbiotic to be an appetiser for what is to come. I foresee a polarised world where conflicting moral views, personal circumstances and economic interests clash. There will be no right answers and no one will win this debate. I wanted the film to stay clear from the good guys vs bad guys format, and to show that we will be dealing with a complex issue. Reaching a compromise is only possible when all parties involved understand each other’s points of view, and if they leave behind their self-righteous attitude.

Shooting a sci-fi movie with a micro-budget meant we couldn’t afford any special effects or the fancy action sequences robot movies have us accustomed to. However, I decided to use that limitation into our advantage. Symbiotic is set in 2025, the movie has no special effects, there are no fancy set design and the actors don’t wear white spandex suits. The characters are ordinary humans, and robots, dealing clumsy with a new set of circumstances. This down-to-earth approach is likely to drive the point home that robots are really going to affect our lives, and that this is going to happen sooner rather than later.