Saturday, October 03, 2009

VIFF highlights so far...

Well, I've seen a few very good films, one good, and one that hit the ball right out of the park:  We Live in Public.

Here is the synopsis from the film's website:
Ten years in the making and culled from 5000 hours of footage,  WE LIVE IN PUBLIC reveals the effect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”, artist, futurist and visionary Josh Harris. Award-winning director  Ondi Timoner (DIG! – which also won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2004 – making Timoner the only director to win that prestigious award twice) documented his tumultuous life for more than a decade to create a riveting, cautionary tale of what to expect as the virtual world inevitably takes control of our lives.
Harris, often called the “Warhol of the Web”, founded, the first Internet television network during the infamous dot-com boom of the 1990s. He also curated and funded the ground breaking project “Quiet” in an underground bunker in NYC where over 100 people lived together on camera for 30 days at the turn of the millennium. With Quiet, Harris proved how we willingly trade our privacy for the connection and recognition we all deeply desire, but with every technological advancement such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, becomes more elusive. Through his experiments, including a six-month stint living with his girlfriend under 24-hour electronic surveillance which led to his mental collapse, Harris demonstrated the price we pay for living in public.
This one really keyed into some of my own fears about the new technological world.  I could talk more about the film specifically, but I really think it better you watch it yourself.
What made this screening so great for me is that the director Ondi Timoner was there and did a really extensive Q&A afterwards.   I love this woman's work - DIG! is one of my all time favorite films - and I have to say DIG! ranks higher than this one as a personal fave, but that is only because I have a particular love for stories of crazed musical genius.  Josh Harris, on the other hand, is not a likeable guy.   Timoner has no great love for Harris - she was hired by Harris to film the "Quiet" project over a decade ago (for which he stiffed her financially), referred to him during the Q&A as a charlatan, and admitted that for a long time she had no interest in stringing this footage together.  Thankfully, that changed - as she said in the Q&A, despite her conflicted feelings about Harris, she felt that this was a film that needed to be made - the time was right, and Harris gave her complete access to the footage, letting her tell the story she wanted to tell.

And oh what a story it is.  Harris truly believes that entertainment in the future will involve everyone having cameras in their house, the job of "producers" being to pull this footage into something that is engaging to watch.  Oh the horror - and I like to think (or hope) he is wrong, though the volume of "reality" tv shows is already testing those boundaries.  I get scared by things like the changing meaning of the word "friend"; that the self-worth of today's youngsters is starting to hinge on the number of online "friends" or "followers" they have, and that despite these fears I too have online conversations with people who I really don't know (name? location? age? family? schooling? job? no idea...and those are just the basics).  Are they my "friends"? No.  But how hard is it going to be to hold on to that distinction?  What role do these online connections play in how socially involved we feel?

Uncomfortable questions to be sure, but important ones.

(And I will say a big thanks to Timoner for keeing the "toilet bowl cam" footage to a minimum.)

(and for those of you that read this earlier - I've gone back and corrected some pretty whacky sentences - that's what I get for trying to blog before my coffee has kicked in)

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