Promised Land Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Director Joe Turner Lin gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s FUTURESTATES short, Promised Land, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

My parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 1960s and I was raised with the narrative – some might say “mythology” – that America truly was a Land of Opportunity: a place where many different colored threads are woven together to form a tapestry stronger and more vibrant than if those threads been all been spun from the same field of cotton.

Born and bred in New York City, this “melting-pot” cliché was further solidified by my multicultural friends and peers. It seemed obvious to me that America was a place that gathered its strength from its diversity, and that historically, all of the growth times came out of the waves of immigrants that lapped up onto our shores, looking for a better life: Italians, Irish, Chinese, Mexican….

But as I grew older, I began to see that not all of my fellow Americans shared this perspective. While in my youth, I clung to my righteousness, over time I began to realize that my own condemnation of such black-and-white opinions was a shallow simplification itself. I was left wrestling with both sides, struggling to find compassion for an intolerance that I did not understand.

When ITVS invited me to apply for FUTURESTATES, I was thrilled because I personally love the science-fiction genre, in whatever form it takes – whether it is a narrative that asks the big existential questions or simply entertains. I was truly excited because of the mandate to use the genre as a vehicle for social allegory. As I began thinking about potential concepts, my mind kept wandering back to a story session I’d had a few months before with one of my closest friends from film school, Justin Marshall.

Justin had been working, on and off, for the better part of a year, on a treatment for a feature film. It was a bigger budget film with some action set pieces, some smart twists and reveals, and of course, this great high-concept idea: time-travel immigrants who came from a destitute future looking for a better life in the past. It was something that resonated with me immediately for a host of reasons. But I suddenly realized that there was a perfect confluence of events, and if Justin were generous enough to lend me his idea, we could build a much more intimate story on his foundation. A father and son in a green but fading near future began to emerge. The son’s first “border patrol.” A loving sister. A woman from the future. A brutal choice.

We applied, and we made it through the first round, and then the second. Draft after draft, major plot changes, characters coming and going, scenes lost to the depths of our hard drives. Eventually we were fortunate enough to get to tell a story that I hope has a clear point of view, but does not vilify. It is a story that says something about family, about compassion, and just possibly, about hope in our shared Land of Opportunity.

—Joe Turner Lin, Director