Monday, August 4, 2014

Addicted! In WEB JUNKIE, Hilla Medalia & Shosh Shlam explore China's solution to the problem....

China, bless its hypocritical little heart, is the first country to classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder. (Next they'll list governmental corruption!) To learn the what, how and why of all this, a couple of Israeli filmmakers -- Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia -- trekked off to that highly populated country to learn more. Their new documentary is titled WEB JUNKIE, and it is indeed fascinating, since no one who uses the web to any large extent can for long remain unaware of its addictive power.

And yet the documentary that Ms Shlam (above, left) and Ms Medalia (at right) have made comes as close to a non-starter as any I've seen in some time. I rather expect the reason for this has more to do with China and its strict regulations than it does with the filmmaking skills of these documentarians. Wisely, perhaps, the two women simply shot whatever footage they were allowed and left it at that. Not asking too many (or maybe any) questions of authorities is the safest bet to get your film finished, I suspect.

The addicts here are, from what I could see, all teenage boys, most of whom are addicted to those video games, playing them for hours, sometimes days, at a throw -- and finding them more real and important than their actual life. Given the parents we see here and what life in China may offer (and given my own addiction to movies and cable entertainment), it is not difficult to understand the kids' viewpoint.

We're told that China has opened some 400 of these rehabilitation camps (we tour only one of them), to which the boys are taken, either by force (I'd include their being put to sleep with drugs in this category) or trickery. Few, if any, have enrolled on their own. The rules are strict, but we see no physical punishment or harm occurring to the boys.

We observe these kids mostly in groups (above and further above). As individuals, only two are allowed to stand out (and then, barely): one boy named Hope and another called Hacker. We see them alone, together, chatting, and later in group therapy, as well as in sessions with their parents and the staff. But nothing here goes anywhere near what you might call "deep."

Clearly, many of the boys have problems with their parents (dads in particular), and we see how a couple of these sessions work out: tears, hugs, and the lot. Chinese sentiment would seem not to be that much different from what we get via Oprah and Dr. Phil. Almost no questions are asked. The filmmakers -- and we -- simply observe. We also get no statistics on recidivism (or anything else), but perhaps these centers are simply too new to have such statistics, as yet.

As I say, the film fascinates -- for awhile, at least -- because of its timely subject matter. But I do wish it could have probed more deeply, and that some of the 79 minutes we spend observing might have been put to better use. Web Junkie -- from Kino Lorber, open this Wednesday, August 6, for a two-week run at Film Forum in New York City. Right now, New York City seems the only venue scheduled, but you can click here and scroll down in the weeks to come to learn if any further screenings appear on the horizon.

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