I Am A Channel


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

I Am A Channel
"A sharper and more effective dissection of the influencer phenomenon than we have seen to date."

Over the past few years, influencers have become increasingly common as characters in film. With the notable exception of Kurtis David Harder’s 2022 hit, they have tended to be represented in a derogatory, even misogynistic manner. Christine Vrem-Ydstie does something very different here, showing us someone whom we may or may not like – someone who might possibly be dangerous, and is certainly capable of being inane – but who comes across as an ordinary person who is simply trying to build up a small business. Until, that is, she experiences a ‘vision’ and goes off the rails.

Largely a one-woman show (it was co-written and shot by Brian Wiebe, and Vrem-Ydstie’s real-life husband, Ryan Imhoff, co-stars), it’s a great acting showcase. Appearing in every scene, its star has to put across protagonist Joanna’s two different professional personalities and carry the real woman through the shift from small time grifter to spiritually inspired guru. It’s an interesting exploration of real and affected shallowness alongside descent into a kind of psychosis perhaps brought on by the strange landscape of parasocial interactions in which Joanna is enmeshed.

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Joanna. You won’t actually hear that name much during the course of the film. She styles herself as Heidi, describing herself as Norwegian – it’s not clear whether she means Norwegian American or the real thing, but her general ignorance of the world leads one to imagine that she has never been outside her own state, except perhaps to stay in resorts. Her lack of awareness is a hazard online. Tearfully apologising for cultural appropriation in one of her videos, she goes straight on to talking about driving out bad spirits.

Most of her work is simpler. The line between imitation and parody is hard to discern: there are plenty of places where one might laugh but the tragedy of it is how commonplace this cultivated emptiness is, and how soul-destroying. ‘Heidi’ plays for sympathy by talking about her struggles with rosacea (which, if it’s there at all, is impossible to see), entertains by sharing recipes (we watch her wrap up a banana in a lettuce leaf, decorating it with almond butter and dates and calling it the perfect breakfast). She hustles for money by selling crystals and herbs whose supposed powers she can barely remember, giving out horrendous health and diet advice in passing. She seems hopeless, damaging even, but sweet. Then, at night, she switches off that persona and, applying a different one, phones up vulnerable strangers to claim that distant relatives have left them money which she can wire to them if they just give her their bank details.

Does she feel remorse about any of this? We don’t see it, but it could be a contributing factor to her breakdown. We do see that what she is doing is work, taking a toll like any other job. It’s exhausting to be ‘on’ all day, perky and cheerful no matter what’s happening in her private life. The long hours and her obsession with her statistics are also damaging her relationship. Something has got to give, and when it does, it too becomes absorbed into the invented world that is consuming her.

A sharper and more effective dissection of the influencer phenomenon than we have seen to date, I Am A Channel captures a moment in history. Before long, human influencers may well be replaced by AIs. In the meantime, we see human beings striving to present themselves as online products according to a market-driven agenda in which self-abnegating cult religion sits alongside health, beauty and travel as just another branding tool.

Reviewed on: 07 Apr 2024
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I Am A Channel packshot
An aspiring YouTube influencer becomes convinced she's a channel to a high plane of existence when she receives an otherworldly visitation.

Director: Brian Wiebe

Writer: Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Brian Wiebe

Starring: Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Ryan Imhoff, Joette Waters, Chris Amos, Linnea Frye

Year: 2024

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US


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