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Documentary ''Synthetic Pleasures'' tours Earth's stranger scenes

NYU film grad Iara Lee takes a look at artificial transformation

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From indoor beaches and plastic-snow ski resorts in Japan to corpse-freezing labs and Internet sex servers, the documentary Synthetic Pleasures, opening this month in 10 cities, takes a tour of some of the weirder scenes on the planet, many of them computer generated or enhanced. The first feature from NYU film grad Iara Lee, 30, the movie questions culture’s appetite for artificial transformation. In interviews with the late cyberguru Timothy Leary, Cryonics Institute chief Robert Ettinger, performance artist Orlan (who has had plastic surgeries to more closely resemble the Mona Lisa), and others, Lee explores society’s growing desire to replicate — and control — nature. The film ”is critical but not heavy-handed,” says Lee, a Brazilian of South Korean descent. ”Technology is an empowering tool, but it can alienate people.”

Lee, who made Pleasures for less than $1 million (raised with help from her husband, San Jose Sharks owner George Gund), has incubated a website, a techno soundtrack, even a line of clothing made of synthetics. She hopes the film’s content and eye-searing computer graphics will appeal to both the plugged and unplugged. ”I’m not telling people what to think,” Lee says. ”A wired person might watch the film and think it’s cool, but a critical person may find it frightening.”