DIFF Docs Explore Technology & Human Connection in the Digital Age
by Alex Garcia Topete
In our day and age, it seems that most of our experiences are mediated by advanced technology, from making breakfast in the morning in the microwave to commuting in fuel-efficient cars guided by GPS to documenting our lives through social media. That is the reality that several movies of DIFF 2016 explore and pose questions for us to reflect.
For cinematic reflective journeys, there’s no one like Werner Herzog, who in LO AND BEHOLD exposes the apparent omnipotence and omnipresence of the Internet and the ever-increasing web of devices and human activities that depend on that network—almost divine, and as powerful as nature. Nature, the opposite of human-made technology, stands out as the focus of Patrick Shen’s IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE. In a way, nature and the comforting solitude it can provide are epitomized by silence, which becomes the subject of study and meditation as a stark contrast to our tech-based, interconnected lives. The connections afforded by modern technology, that type that brings together two persons that would’ve never crossed paths otherwise, is the story in PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW. Director Ido Haar chronicles how an online performer and a new media artist became creative accomplices because of their mutual musical talents and predilection to share those online.
In the end, we may not be able to answer if technology is the root of all evils or the key to solve all of our problems, but we will be more aware than technology means more than just machines.
PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW
Dir. Ido Haar
Documentarian Ido Haar traces the internet-assisted, cross-continental collaboration between two very different musicians: Princess Shaw, a young black woman in the American South who posts her performances of her own songs on the web; and Israeli viral-video artist Kutiman, whose YouTube-sampling compositions have earned millions of online hits. Haar started on this film looking to chronicle Kutiman’s process. We observe Kutiman as he’s drawn to the postings of Princess—who uses YouTube like a diary, sharing songs and candid details of her life. He then shifts to filming Princess in New Orleans. She has an indomitable spirit despite a history of abuse and her ongoing struggle to get by on low wages. She channels her blues and joys into her songwriting, but can’t catch a break in the music business. Kutiman and Princess are fascinating talents on their own, but when their music comes together it’s pure magic.
LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
Dir. Werner Herzog
Society depends on the Internet for nearly everything but rarely do we step back and recognize its endless intricacies and unsettling omnipotence. From the brilliant mind of Werner Herzog comes his newest vehicle for exploration, a playful yet chilling examination of our rapidly interconnecting online lives. Herzog documents a treasure trove of interviews of strange and beguiling individuals—ranging from Internet pioneers to victims of wireless radiation, whose anecdotes and reflections weave together a complex portrait of our brave new world. Herzog describes the Internet as “one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing,” and yet he tempers this enthusiasm with horror stories from victims of online harassment and Internet addiction. For all of its detailed analysis, this documentary also wrestles with profound and intangible questions regarding the Internet’s future. Will it dream, as humans do, of its own existence? Can it discover the fundamentals of morality, or understand the meaning of love? Or will it soon cause us—if it hasn’t already—more harm than good?
IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE
Dir. Patrick Shen
When was the last time you sat outdoors and only heard the noise of the wind rustling through trees? These moments have become more and more rare in our busy, connected world. In this beautiful, meditative documentary, filmmaker Patrick Shen crafts exquisite footage with a delicate soundtrack, creating a comprehensive and thought-provoking discussion of how noise impacts our daily life. From the early religious aspects of solitude to John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4’33”, silence has always fascinated society and played an important role in our humanity. As our lives become modernized with technology, noise has taken a larger toll on our wellness and behavior. The starkness of quiet moments in this film is a welcome retreat for the senses in our often-hurried lives. Like a deep breath of fresh air, IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE challenges you to experience the world in a new, refreshing way.
DALLAS STAR AWARDOscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s selected credits as a cinematographer include the Emmy nominated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce and films including DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and the Academy Award nominated film, CAROL.
DALLAS MAVERICK AWARDOur inaugural honoree, director, editor and producer Monte Hellman, has a career that spans six decades. He has exemplified cutting-edge filmmaking across multiple genres, working with budgets, from high-to-low, and with casts featuring stars to complete unknowns.