We caught up with Tiffany Shlain as she prepares to release her newest feature, CONNECTED “An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology.” A DIY pioneer, Tiffany is always at the forefront of utilizing interesting and innovative ways to reach and engage audiences. Starting next week CONNECTED makes its way to screens nation wide after a successful festival run.
What made you decide to make the film CONNECTED?
Fifteen years ago, I founded The Webby Awards because I was fascinated by how the Internet was connecting people all over the world in new and unexpected ways. And being so interested in the ways things are connected, I it always struck me how so many of the conversations about the problems of our day were discussed as separate challenges. Whether the environment, women’s rights, poverty or social justice, it became more apparent to me that that when you perceive everything as connected, it radically shapes your perspective. The concept of interdependence has been around since the dawn of humanity, but the relatively recent component of the internet has added this new layer that connects us in a fresh way, almost giving the world a new type of central nervous system.
I am a filmmaker and so decided to craft a film that would tell the story of being connected in the 21st century. I asked my father, Leonard Shlain, to be a co-writer on the project. My dad was a surgeon, but also a pioneer in writing about connections between science, consciousness, the human brain, art and civilization. His best-selling books included The Alphabet Versus the Goddess; Sex, Time, and Power; and Art & Physics. He was an incredible visionary, had a wonderful knowledge of history and I felt he would make an enormous contribution to the film. Just as we began production on CONNECTED, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. I quickly discovered that here I was writing about all these interrelationships and the one great connection I had overlooked was the emotional connection. That’s when I began the difficult process of rewriting the film to include my personal story of connection interwoven into the the bigger story of connection throughout history and where I think we are heading.
The subtitle of CONNECTED is “An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology.” What does the word “autoblogography” mean?
“Autoblogography” is a word we made up in order to convey that the film is autobiographical, but also has to do with technology. It also conveys the humor which is a major thread in the movie.
Is there a connection between CONNECTED and your last film THE TRIBE?
In my earlier film, THE TRIBE, I explored American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie Doll. I know, it sounds absurd. After all, what can the most successful doll on the planet show about being Jewish in American today? It turns out that Barbie was invented in 1959 by an American Jewish businesswoman named Ruth Handler. A Jewish woman created the ultimate shiksa. With THE TRIBE, I wove together archival footage, graphics, animation, humor, and even slam poetry that took audiences on a ride through the complex history of both Barbie and the Jewish people. By revealing all these unique connections, THE TRIBE explored the question of what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st century. CONNECTED employs much of the same collage visual style but explores what it means to be a human in 21st century.
Do you believe there are positives and negatives to technology?
My father loved quoting Sophocles, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” So, from the beginning of time, every new technology and advancement brought with them a complex mix of positive and negative repercussions as well as unintended consequences. CONNECTED addresses the potential of these new 21st century technologies, the importance of harnessing their powers, but also covers the ramifications when these new technologies take over and even overwhelm our personal lives.
I’ve started practicing what I call “technology Shabbats” with my family. Every Friday at sundown, our whole family disconnects until Saturday night. No cell phones, no internet, no television, no Ipads. No multi-tasking. We disconnect completely. Or maybe I should say we connect completely – with ourselves and each other.
I am learning that turning off technology is just as powerful as turning it on and that our society needs both. Technology can be so enticing and overwhelming, but we also need to remember how important it is to be fully present with the people you love and also be alone and quiet. The potential of technology globally and personally is exponential, but we need to know where the off switch is and when to shut it down.
So what is the ultimate goal of your film?
The goal of CONNECTED is to launch a global conversation about what it means to be connected in the 21st century. I hope that the film will be the catalyst for this global conversation. In an effort to expand the power of the film, we’ve created a robust website, facebook page where we constantly add new articles about this topic and have created an educator’s kit including conversation cards, a film guide a curriculum for educators.
In the film you say, “For centuries we have declared our independence, perhaps it’s time we finally declare our interdependence.” What does it mean to declare our interdependence?
It’s time to shift perspective. In many ways we as a species are mirroring the way we each develop as a human on this earth. We come into the world completely dependent on our mother’s and parents. As we grow up, we evolve into independent adults, live on our own and get our own jobs and provide for our own families. But this independence then brings us to a new realization of how we are connected with family, friends and community. I think we, as a species are evolving to the point where we are entering this understanding of our interdependence. Who knows if all these tools we are creating for collaborating in new ways through the internet are leading us to this understanding, or the understanding is driving us to create these tools. Technology is just an extension of ourselves. It is not separate. Regardless of what’s propelling it, these living and thinking interdependently will actually change our consciousness and help make real transformation in the world around us.
So you are optimistic about our future?
When I do Q&A’s after screening CONNECTED, I am frequently asked, “What makes you so optimistic?” I respond by saying that I believe in humans and humanity and in our innate ability to change for the better. Look at the end of slavery and apartheid, the women’s rights and civil rights movements, and other political and social transformative movements in the last few hundred years, and you can see how we are indeed evolving. There are two things that make me optimistic. We as humans are curious and we have a deep desire to connect. These two things will make us move us forward to a better place.
You are also spearheading a new project called “Let it Ripple.” What is this and how does this connect to CONNECTED?
The ‘Let it Ripple’ project will pick up where CONNECTED leaves off. We are creating a series of six short films, all tied together by the general theme of connectedness. The first film is A Declaration of Interdependence. My husband, Ken Goldberg, co-writer Sawyer Steele, and I wrote A Declaration of Interdependence, which is based on the American Declaration of Independence. Our new declaration was then posted online on July 4th and tweeted out via YouTube and we invited people from all over the world to submit video of themselves reading the declaration in their native language from their cell phone, laptop, whatever was handy. We also asked graphic designers and artists to interpret the words creatively and submit artwork. The submissions are blowing me away. It’s interdependence in action. The film will be made up entirely of these submissions, tied together by our animator, Stefan Nadelman, with music by one of my favorite sound artists Moby.
A Declaration of Interdependence will premiere on Interdependence Day which is September 12th at a special event near Ground Zero in New York. Every time we get an entry, I get chills watching the videos. It is thrilling to see people from all over the world declare their interdependence. We are going to edit it all down into an inspiring 3 minute movie that will be posted on the web and we are going to provide this film for free and allow different organizations and non-profits to use the film by putting their own call to action at the end. We are open-sourcing the creation of the film and hope to open source how it is used.
By sharing these messages of connectedness and interdependence, I believe there will be a positive ripple effect; sparks that help turn what we’re talking about into action. It’s all about connection.
CONNECTED opens in theaters in major cities beginning in mid-September.
*All dates below start one week runs
SF: Sept 16th SF Landmark Embarcadero
Berkeley Sept 16 Shattuck 10
Marin: Sept 16 Sequoia Theater
Santa Cruz: Sept 23 Nickelodeon
Portland: Sept 23rd Regal Fox Tower 10
LA: Sept 30 premieres at The Pacific Arclight Theater Hollywood
Seattle: Oct 7th Landmark Varsity 3
NYC: Oct 14th Angelika Theater
Denver: Oct 28th Landmark Chez Artiste
Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker, artist, founder of The Webby Awards and co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Tiffany’s films and work have received over 40 awards and distinctions. A celebrated thinker, she delivered the commencement address at University of California at Berkeley and is a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute. www.tiffanyshlain.comaudience distribution storytelling transmedia