Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

"Under the scrutiny of this intimate cinematic eye, the interviewees unpack their posts and retain responsibility for their footage." | Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC

Whether they're shocking, endearing or captivating, internet videos allow social media users to bottle spontaneity and share it with the world. This anthology documentary investigates the life of six viral clips, from recording to reactions, which always leave their mark in real life. The collected slice-of-life fragments are connected by a visceral need to document their engrossing subjects, which range from entertaining to outright shocking.

Accompanying the raw style of the internet clips, directors Yasmine Mathurin, Carol Nguyen and Amar Wala conduct candid interviews, tightly framing the faces of the viral posters. Under the scrutiny of this intimate cinematic eye, the interviewees unpack their posts and retain responsibility for their footage.

Waseem struggles to explain his video to his children. It involves the unprompted tasing of a man by the police, an image which conjures years of oppression in the father's mind. Disgusted at the scene, he uses the video to seek justice and motivate his community. Crossing the threshold into public discourse, his footage becomes a statement, charged with the political and cultural environment which pushed him to film in the first place.

Similar to Waseem, Martin, a Toronto architect, first took out his phone as a framing device or a means to understand the appalling event he was witnessing. But the shooting of an 18-year-old still haunts him, even years after filming it. His and Waseem's stories bookend the documentary and paint a multilayered image of police violence and community upheaval.

The collection of stories explores how viral videos impact the lives of their creators. But the internet's unpredictable nature can also mean the effect of a popular clip isn’t lasting. This is the case of Gurpreet and his friends, all Sikh migrants in Canada. After filming how they saved two people in a national park, using their turbans as rope, they’re seen as heroes. Celebrated by the community, the group becomes an unlikely image of ingenuity in times of need. And yet, their uncertain migrant status outweighs their fame, Gurpreet reflecting on his future in Canada. While the clip lives on as a feel-good moment on the canvas of the internet, he returns to a marginalised social standing where he could use a helping hand.

Seeking to paint a larger portrait of social media positivity, the filmmakers explore the separate stories of a dancing group and a midwife. The Basement Gang is a trio of young men who film themselves performing to various songs. Their videos form a narrative of expressivity and confidence and also touch on the random nature of the internet. Once their clips gain popularity the course of their young lives changes significantly. Lisa Marie's journey as a midwife shows how social media can be used for support and sets the scene for a complex discussion about shared trauma. Her unfiltered home birth footage successfully tackles taboos and builds community around a sensitive subject. By interviewing her clients, the filmmakers add emotional layers to the viral clips and create a compelling record of motherhood that surpasses the impact of any single video.

Witness recognises the internet's potential to generate social change. From charming dance snippets to records of infrastructure failure and shocking tragedies, even the shortest vertical video can leave an impact. But these moments are not meaningful on their own. Fighting the worst inclinations of the internet, the filmmakers carefully examine the stories behind the posts to appropriately investigate what drives us toward the hectic nature of online discourse.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2023
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Anthology documentary dissects viral media and its offline aftermath.

Director: Yasmine Mathurin, Carol Nguyen, Amar Wala

Year: 2023

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Canada


DOC NYC 2023

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