The first images seen on screen in Shosh Shalan and Milla Mandalia’s look inside the world’s first ever “internet addiction treatment facility” looks nothing like any sort of treatment facility I’ve ever seen. Run by a professor who calls himself an “addiction specialist” and funded in part by the military, it looks like a prison camp: decaying walls, high barbed wire fences, and intense physical training. The Chinese Teenager Mental Health Growth Centre outside of Beijing doesn’t look conducive to getting better. It just looks to breed more frustration and misery.
In this fascinating, if at times rambling and heavy handed film (it could really do without the guitar driven rock score), Shalan and Mandalia take a balanced look at something that credibly could be an addiction, but is handled in a radically different fashion by a country that still takes old school, brutalist solutions to new school problems. Looking at daily life at the camp through three of the kids (some of whom were tricked or drugged by their parents into being there), Web Junkie acknowledges that maybe these kids play too many video games (which are seen as the largest culprit of online addiction according to “the research”) while giving enough unbiased evidence to suggest that maybe this isn’t the best way for these kids to get better.
By the centre’s own numbers, 80% of the Chinese population would by definition be addicted to the internet. So how then is this a problem for the younger generation and no one else? Sure, there’s some therapy and families are actually encouraged to live on the militaristic compound under reduced guard for the sake of their kids, but is this really the way to solve the problem, by turning “wayward” teens into half assed soldiers? By the end, it’s not an easy question to answer, believe it or not, but I’m still leaning towards a giant “no.”
Director Shosh Shlam will participate in Q&As on Friday, May 30, at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 31, at 6:00 p.m.
The Missing Picture
Nominated this past year for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (but strangely not for Best Documentary, where it also could have been a contender) and winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes last year, Rithy Panh’s multimedia look at the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge during the Kampuchea Revolution in 1975 and the subsequent “democratic dictatorship” under Pol Pot that ensued is a wholly original and heartbreakingly personal look at the Cambodian experience during one of their darkest times.
Blending narration, sometimes stomach churning archival footage, and delicate, intricately constructed clay dioramas, sets, and figures, Panh traces a country’s uncomfortable and tragic loss of personality, hope, and general well being with a heavy heart and a respectful artistic eye. The topic of genocide is hard to convey without ever feeling like a part of the story is missing, but despite losing a wealth of voices that could have told the story from their perspective, Panh looks back with the eye of a world weary survivor that wants to ensure that something like this could never happen again. Let’s hope this film helps to succeed in that.
Also at The Bloor this week:
The photography documentary Finding Vivian Maier finds its way to The Bloor for a pair of shows over the weekend on Saturday at 12:30pm and Sunday at 1:00pm.
The Ryerson University MFA program for Documentary Media will be showcasing some of their best works on Wednesday and Thursday at 6:30pm and 9:00pm each night for their DOC NOW showcase. Tickets are free, and more information can be found here.
But if you guys feel like rockin’ out, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has its monthly shadowcast on Friday at 11:30, or you can catch Martin Scorsese’s look at The Band in The Last Waltz on Saturday at 9:30pm, the latter of which comes with a DJ set starting when the doors open at 8:00pm.