No, it’s not a film about elderly cyborgs. So let’s just start there.
While some might admittedly groan at the idea of watching a bunch of senior citizens trying to fumble their way around how to use a computer, the charming and never derogatory documentary Cyber-Seniors doesn’t try to get too cute with its subject matter, leading to a satisfying feel good film with keen insight and a light tone that people of any age can jive with.
Toronto based filmmaker and actress Saffron Cassaday found inspiration in her siblings, Macaulle and Kascha, who lead a team of high school aged teenagers around to local assisted living centres to help teach seniors how to reconnect with loved ones and integrate into a society that came up so fast that many people in the 80s and 90s have been unable to adapt. As Cassaday’s own grandparents put it in the film, the internet came up so fast that those who move a bit slower weren’t able to keep up.
It’s an interesting point that doesn’t get thought of very often, and occasionally the relative infancy of the internet is something we all tend to take for granted, but thankfully Cassady doesn’t try to create a soapbox as to why people of all ages should learn how to use the internet. She’s equally and wisely not playing her potentially hilarious concept for obvious and cheap laughs that would belittle her subjects just because they’re unhip.
Sure, some of the things old people do when trying to figure out how to use a computer can be a little funny, but as evidenced by some of the film’s older subjects once they get a handle on things, they can creep Facebook profiles and mock people who are obviously lying on dating websites just like the rest of us! It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s undeniably endearing, and not in an “Oh, that’s so cute how granny learned how to use a keyboard sort of way.”
A lot of the credit for the film’s more humorous moments working as well as they do (including a climactic showdown of seniors vying for a prize for making the best YouTube video that’s priceless), is that young Cassaday shows her older subjects as people who have lived their lives to the fullest and have the same concerns and regrets and pleasant memories that everyone will have once they get older. She’s not prying too deeply because telling too much wouldn’t really be the point of her film, and likewise a shocking personal setback from Saffron as a person doesn’t take centre stage, either. The overall point is a love letter to learning, and how you’re never too old to try something new and potentially terrifying.
Maybe it’s not hard hitting journalism or something that has a slick polish to it, but Cyber-Seniors doesn’t need to be any of those things. It’s a slice of life that doesn’t ever feel like a newsmagazine or a training manual for old people. It never talks down to anyone and it gets by on the immense good will that it builds up over its course. It does precisely what it needs to, and I mean that in the best possible way.