More Than 140 – PRTSCR Screening of Twittamentary @Mediatheque Holon

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Print Screen preview event at Holon Mediatheque/Photo:Ayelet Dekel

I’ve never been to a tweet-up, and I’m still stumbling along with the mechanics of tweeting from my phone. Yet there I was last night, at the Mediatheque in Holon for the screening of Twittamentary, a documentary film directed by Siok Siok Tan, not knowing quite what to expect.

Reader – I had so much fun!

More than I could adequately express in 140 characters, so bear with me as I plunge into a plethora of adjectives, verbs and a myriad of tiny connecting words between. The evening was a pre-event to Print Screen 2012, an offline festival that explores the dynamic relationship between the internet and film, which will take place at the Holon Mediatheque in late March 2012. Lior Zalmanson, founder and editor of Print Screen, presented this evening as a “social experiment.” Jeff Pulver, internet entrepreneur of 140 conf fame and executive producer of Twittamentary, opened the evening, with a radical admonition to the audience: “Keep your cell phones on!” If you know anything about Israeli culture, then you know that there were some very happy people in that theatre.

We had a #Twittamentary screening in Germany where very few people tweeted and now Tel Aviv where everyone seems to be tweeting. #PrtScr
@twittamentary

This is how it works: the screen was split, with Twittamentary on the right, and tweets from the audience, filmmakers and people who participated in the film were shown on the right (using visibletweets.com). The tweets were not selected or censored in any way, coming up onscreen in real time.

Twittamentary is a crowd-sourced film, which means that the material for the film was gathered from an open call asking people: “How has twitter affected your life and the lives of those around you?”  Twitter users responded, submitting their stories and videos to a website, merging high and low tech, the filmmaker went on a road trip through the USA, meeting and interviewing people for the film. The result is an eclectic mix of people and stories: funny, sexy, strange, poignant and inspiring.

ADHD is now everyday life, but nonetheless, where’s that Ritalin lady? #prtscr
@uriaviv

For those of us who enjoy listening to YouTube while checking email, scrolling through facebook, performing a low-intensity task and carrying on intermittent conversation (no, this is not an addiction, I can disconnect whenever I want to) – tweeting while watching a movie is a happy occasion.  Tweeting openly, as part of a community activity, is very different from privately, surreptitiously checking email.

Watching a movie in a theatre, sitting in the dark with a room full of strangers, the comments flashing on the screen create a connection, however fleeting or superficial. Someone tweets something funny, and laughter rises up from the crowd. People replied to one another’s tweets, developing a sort of conversation in parallel to the film, sometimes related to onscreen action and sometimes off on another tangent. Clearly, the tweets are at least in part motivated by the desire to entertain, and to that extent, do not necessarily reflect the inner thoughts and feelings of the audience. In other words: yes, it’s somewhat superficial; and yes, I was very much entertained.

Yet, it is a connection between people who otherwise might not connect at all, transforming the screening into a community experience. One of the most amazing aspects of this kind of screening and this film is the ability to correspond in real time with Siok Siok, the film’s director, and others who appear in the film. How does that work? Everyone who appears in the film has a twitter account which is shown onscreen. People at last night’s screening in Holon tweeted with @sioksiok, @jeffpulver, @zalmanson and others from the film – @padschicago, @hardlynormal, @shelisrael and @Ramon_DeLeon.

Twittamentary offers a look at the way that people’s lives are affected by this possibility of connecting on the internet, with stories and images that remain in my mind long after the laughter from the tweets has subsided. Mac Tonnie, an artist and writer who died young, someone who (as his twitter pal expressed it) did not connect to his geographic community, yet connected to a wider, internet community.  Mika Tan, a porn star and sex worker, who through twitter can communicate freely and openly on any subject, not bound by the preconceptions imposed by her work. Yet the story that touched me most profoundly was that of Anne Marie Walsh.

Walsh was homeless for several years. She became as a result of a configuration of circumstances, and like many others, once on the streets and moving from shelter to shelter, it is very hard, almost impossible to break out of that cycle and find a job or a place to live. Yet under those extreme conditions, and despite the severe constraints on what she could do about her situation, Walsh did what she could: she went to the public library, where she had access to the internet, opened a twitter account and communicated with the world.

Walsh’s initiative, optimism and courage are moving and impressive, and the impact of twitter and the filmmaking team on her life is undeniable, yet there is another element to this story that burns in my belly in this age of budget cuts. Without community resources like the public library or other community centers that offer everyone, regardless of financial or social standing, free and open access to resources like the internet, Walsh might still be homeless today. Her story is an important reminder of how crucial it is to keep these channels open to everyone.

What’s this thing on the right? #prtscr
@alonnir

Is this the way that I would choose to see all films? No. A loud, emphatic, resounding: NO! The reason is obvious, and it is the reason I usually turn off my phone when I watch a film: it’s distracting. I’m a great enthusiast of multi-tasking, yet at the same time, there is nothing I like better that to immerse myself completely in an experience, be it talking to a friend, enjoying the sunset on the beach, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie.

Would I want to watch a movie with live tweeting onscreen again? YES!!!! Because, as Jeff Pulver said at last night’s screening, it is “Distracting but fun.” A lot of fun! It’s a little bit like watching a movie at home on DVD with friends, only with a somewhat larger, random group of people and instead of snacks and drinks – lots of tweets about popcorn, pizza, beer and Ritalin.

If you missed last night’s happening, there will be coverage of the event on Channel 2, tonight, Thursday, December 15, 2011 between 20:15 and 21:00. If you want to follow a local crowd-sourced web series in process, follow @AlaShiban who gave energetic presentation of the project last night.  Most important – look forward to Print Screen 2012 in March!

To see some of the tweets from last night, look up #PrtScr and #twittamentary on www.twitter.com. To follow this writer: @teleya and @midnighteast.com (yes, I have two twitter accounts, I did say I was an enthusiast of multi-tasking).

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