Today’s first profile brings this year’s World Cinema Documentary Competition to an end: From Israel/USA, Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia’s WEB JUNKIE, a look inside an Internet addiction rehabilitation program in China.
Sundance Program Description:
China is one of the first countries in the world to label overuse of the Internet a clinical condition. To combat what authorities deem the greatest social crisis for youth today, the Chinese government has created treatment facilities to detox and cure teenagers of their addictions to online life.
But what starts out as an already-fascinating look at ways that technology may be destroying the lives of Chinese youth quickly becomes something more. As the unorthodox psychological sessions continue and the teenage boys begin to share with their parents the reasons why they feel more connected to disassociated voices in cyberspace than to their families, WEB JUNKIE chronicles the results of a nation going through one of most drastic transformations in human history. In honest and wrenching ways that transcend national borders, this film is a thoughtful examination of a society in flux and a technology-addled generation on the precipice of an unknown future.
This project marks former stage actress Shlam’s fourth film, and Emmy-nominated Medalia’s sixth as director. The latter’s most recent film, DANCING IN JAFFA, premiered at Tribeca last year and is participating as one of the titles in the Sundance Institute’s Film Forward international cultural touring program – and was produced, as was this film, with Neta Zwebner-Zaibert. Executive producers are playwright Eve Ensler, who served in the same capacity for past Sundance titles UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS (2004) and WHAT I WANT MY WORDS TO DO TO YOU (2003, special award winner); Warrior Poets’ Morgan Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick, whose Sundance credits include last year’s doc short YOU DON’T KNOW JACK, POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (2011), WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? (2008), and the Oscar-nominated SUPER SIZE ME (2004, directing award winner); Impact Partners’ Dan Cogan, whose several Sundance credits include this year’s WATCHERS OF THE SKY and last year’s AMERICAN PROMISE, THE CRASH REEL, PANDORA’S PROMISE, and WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?; and his colleague Jenny Raskin, a story consultant on past Sundance title MISS REPRESENTATION (2011). Editor Enat Sidi received the US Documentary Editing award for Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s DETROPIA (2012), edited the filmmaking duo’s 12TH & DELAWARE (2010), and served as a juror for the World Cinema Documentary Competition last year. Also a returnee to Park City is cinematographer Sun Shaoguang, who shot both FALLEN CITY (2013) and CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT (2012).
Why You Should Watch:
The second of two Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition titles exploring so-called Internet addiction (together with LOVE CHILD), Shlam and Medalia’s film offers surprisingly unfettered access to the Chinese response to the perceived epidemic, with candor from both upset teens often duped into going through rehab and from their desperate parents. Taking an observational approach, the directors reveal the shortcomings of a treatment predicated on military discipline when the supposed addicts fail to acknowledge that a problem even exists, as well as the unanticipated emotional catharsis resulting from intense counseling sessions forcing the generations to confront one another without the distractions of the virtual world.
For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page and website. As they become available, I’ll link to Shlam and Medalia’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to their Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.