Tiffany Shlain is the only director with two films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: her short film, Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and her documentary Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death, and Technology. The documentary begins as an exploration of the increasing connectivity among humans from the advent of written language to the rise of the internet, but takes a hard turn when her father, the inspiration for and collaborator on the film, is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. To find out more about the film and our response, and see footage of our interview with Ms. Shlain, check out the rest of the article after the jump…
Connected feels like a personal story from its beginning. Director Tiffany Shlain puts herself at the center of the film immediately by addressing the camera and explaining her story and intentions to the audience. She presents her thesis and dives right into the material. It starts by taking a rather academic tone, asserting the history of human communication and technology, how it has progressed over time, and what that has meant for the evolution of the human brain. She explores right and left brain theory, and how that relates to differences between male and female thought.
She introduces her father as an influence over her interest in the study of technology and its relationship with the human brain. She also opens up and explains that in spite of five miscarriages, she and her husband are continuing to try and build a family. But just as she manages to get pregnant, her father is diagnosed with brain cancer. She then decides to use the film to as a vehicle document her father’s final thoughts and opinions, many of which are related to his life’s work at the center of this film. But he also ruminates on life and relationships. These emotional topics replace the original crux of the film’s subject, and it becomes more about their relationship than anything else.
Though the genuine emotion conveyed in the latter part of the film is compelling, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that the fascinating exploration of the implications of technology and human interaction fall by the wayside. One could certainly assert that actual human interaction will always be more important than artificial or manufactured connections, but with the way the world is moving, and the unique perspective of founder of the Webby awards, awareness of the consequences of these trends ought not to be ignored.
The film is crafted well enough, relying on a great deal of stock or found footage from different areas of pop culture, á la Michael Moore, to serve as stimulus while the lecturing monologues on history are delivered. The studio footage of Shlain addressing the camera is well lit and vivid, but a lot of the home movies seem to have been shot on consumer grade cameras, and the inconsistency in the footage of her father with the high quality the rest of the film is a bit distracting at times. But such is the nature of documentary: one uses what they can of what they have available to capture a specific moment in time.
By the end of the film, Connected feels more like an exercise in a filmmaker’s use of their medium as a means of personal catharsis than to explore a particular subject or character in great depth. That is not to say that it utterly fails, but if you are looking for a scientific discussion on the matter of neuroscience and technology, you may be better off searching TED.com. However, if you are looking for the chance to see an artist present a stream of consciousness rumination on love, life, death, and family, then there is a lot of material in this film to connect with.
Also, check out our interview with director Tiffany Shlain, in which she talks about her filmmaking techniques, the involvement of her family in the doc, and her desire to connect with audiences. And you can learn more about the film at its site, www.ConnectedTheFilm.com