Beeban Kidron Talks Tech

Screen

Director Beeban Kidron is best known for directing Bridget Jones’s Diary: The Edge of Reason.  But Kidron’s new documentary, InRealLife, sees her graduate from granny pants and supermarket wine to provide an incisive analysis of technology in the modern world and the negative consequences of growing up surrounded by technology.

Picturehouse celebrated the release with a Q&A hosted by Jon Snow, held at the Brixton Ritzy and broadcast live around the country. At the launch Kidron was keen to convey that she is not ‘anti-technology’, though she is concerned about issues including the obfuscation of data collection by sites such as Facebook, and the addictive nature of many devices.

I chatted with Beeban later, and she explained that she first started having reservations about technology after observing that ‘people were behaving like zombies a bit…in buses, the street, even in my kitchen they were head down and wholly occupied elsewhere…I wondered what that meant for relationships’. Indeed, one young woman in InRealLife seems to have a stronger bond to her phone than to the individuals it enables her to communicate with, suggesting that Kidron has not found her worries unfounded.

InRealLife

 

Yet her continuing enthusiasm for technology is evident, especially when she relates her pleasure at first owning a webcam: ‘the excitement was massive, only to discover that there were only three people we knew…who also had one so its use was limited!’ Of course, such tools were vital in making InRealLife, as evidenced by the fact that one of the film’s experts appears in a Skype frame. This demonstrates how bound up our lives are with technology; it is too late to go back, but as Kidron advocates we must go forward with a more challenging and critical attitude.

The film’s most positive story is that of Tom, a closeted gay teen conducting a secret relationship via instant messaging and video chat services. For Tom the capabilities of the internet provided a place where he could be honest about his identity, and enabled him to find companionship. His story brings balance to a film which largely illuminates the ways in which extensive internet use can be detrimental to a person’s life.

One young man explains how a fixation with online pornography has rendered him unable to make emotional connections with women he knows. Throughout, the teenagers and adults featured are remarkably frank, and their stories can be both desperately sad and shocking.

A breadth of coverage was one of Kidron’s aims, and a desire to ‘show a range of technologies, people, geographies and class[es]’ motivated her decisions concerning who to include in the film, having met hundreds of young adults during its gestation. She’s not afraid to criticise the final product, lamenting ‘my great sadness is that because I had to drop a young woman for personal reasons (her’s not mine)…issues specifically faced by young woman are underrepresented’.

A less warranted criticism came from Empire magazine. In the meagre 50 words of InRealLife coverage, the reviewer trivialised the issues Kidron addresses, and claimed ‘this feels more like a pitch for a series than a coherent thesis’. It’s true that the film raises as many questions as it answers, but the relative newness of the internet and its growing prevalence in our daily lives means that our relationship to it is still developing. Kidron has provoked awareness to worthwhile concerns, but as yet these are not finite, so there is no conclusion for the film to document.

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Speaking from Brixton, Kidron stated that with InRealLife she wished to ‘start a conversation’ challenging modern relationships to the digital world. One Oxford viewer tweeted ‘so what needs to happen?’, and Kidron responded by advocating self-regulation of our behaviours concerning the use of the internet and internet-enabled devices. She also has demands to make of corporations such as Google and Apple, who are among a group of influential companies who declined to be interviewed for the film: ‘I think [the values of the internet] should be no different from the collective values we have designed for off line life, and that there should be absolute transparency about data and how it is gathered and disseminated’.

InRealLife is an eye-opening educational experience for those using the internet in an ignorant manner, and is encouraging for anyone already questioning their online behaviour. John Carr’s suggestion that InRealLife be ‘compulsory viewing’ for parents and teens may seem drastic, but Kidron’s film gives us some of the knowledge we need to make informed decisions about how we live in the modern world.

Despite her successful background in TV and film drama, Beeban has almost exclusively directed documentaries during the last ten years. When I asked her what will come next she professed a love of both mediums: ‘[I] intend to do both, but as I get older I get more radical and want to ask more immediate questions. Having said that I plan to do a drama next year’. But it won’t be the recently announced adaptation of Helen Fielding’s new Bridget Jones’ novel, Mad About the Boy, as although Kidron ‘loved’ working with the Bridget cast, she wants to do ‘something more personal’ next. Watch this space.

 

PHOTOS// theguardian, realscreen, bfi