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Social media takes centre stage at Reel 2 Real Film Festival for Youth | #socialmedia | #children | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


The German film MySELFie is a wonderful and soul-quenching look at a teen’s search for self.

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Reel 2 Real Film Festival for Youth

When: April 14-23

Where: Online

Tickets and info:r2rfestival.org 

More than ever kids are living out a version of their lives on their phones.

That relationship with social media is front-and-centre for this year’s Reel 2 Real Film Festival for Youth (R2R) online April 14-23.

“The idea was to inspire more conversations about this issue with families, peer groups and among educators so that we can have a healthier relationship to social media and our online lives,” said R2R director of programming Tammy Bannister in a recent phone interview.

The 23rd annual festival includes 18 feature films and 45 short films from 35 different countries.

“Parents, educators and the festival share the idea that we just want kids to have the tools to protect themselves from predatory behaviour online and we don’t want them to be the predator of other students,” said Bannister, expanding on the idea of the festival’s focus on social media.

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A way to insure against either of those situations is through education and the gaining of empathy through exposure to other people’s realities. Offering a look into other worlds is what film festivals like R2R do well.

In pre-COVID-19 times, the festival usually had anywhere from 500 to 800 students attending daily. This year, the kids will be in their bubbles watching movies and Bannister hopes that those in the bubble engage in what is being viewed.

“We encourage more parents and families to be included in the discussion,” said Bannister, when asked about the loss of the festival’s past kid-to-kid connection.

Co-director Matthew Embry watches Justin Preston and Carol Todd as they shoot the documentary Dark Cloud. The film looks at cyberbullying. The film is part of the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth online April 13-24.
Co-director Matthew Embry watches Justin Preston and Carol Todd as they shoot the documentary Dark Cloud. The film looks at cyberbullying. The film is part of the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth online April 13-24. Photo by Courtesy of Spotlight Production /PNG

One of the films worth unpacking is Dark Cloud: The High Cost of Cyberbullying. This 50-minute documentary focuses on cyberbullying through the eyes of a handful of people, including Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old that took her life in 2012 after being cyberbullied and blackmailed for two years. A Dutchman named Aydin Coban is in custody here and is accused of extortion, criminal harassment, child-luring and child pornography in connection with the Port Coquitlam teen’s death.

For Dark Cloud co-director Matthew Embry (Holly Dupej is the other co-director), making the film was educational and a real personal gut-check.

“For me as a parent it is a really important story to get out,” said Embry in a phone call from his Calgary home recently. “As a director I got to meet with people at the top of this field and it was so eye-opening what I learned and how prevalent it was and also some real-world strategies about how to combat it.”

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Strategies like being present and active in your kid’s activity online and on their phones can make all the difference in keeping your child safe and from hurting others.

In Dark Cloud we meet real young adults who as teens, not long ago, contemplated suicide after being the targets of bullying. We see how a decade after her daughter’s death Carol Todd is tirelessly working as a vocal warrior in the fight against online abuse. Sharing her story in a film like this is just one of the ways she not only helps victims, but also helps aggressors see the bigger picture of what their actions actually mean.

“I can see so many activities and discussions coming out of this one documentary,” said Todd, who heads-up the Amanda Todd Legacy Society. “It could go on for a long time.”

One of the discussions is the device itself. It’s a wonderful thing when used correctly, but it can also be something very dangerous. Todd confirms this and points out that technology has made the abuse easier to deliver.

“This happened to Amanda 10 years ago. If anything it has ramped-up,” said Todd about the smartphone era we live in. “Now we are carrying that desktop in our pockets, in our purses and in our backpacks. They are more powerful then we used to have. Parents need to think about that.”

In fact, everybody needs to think about that.

While Dark Cloud is the dark side of being connected, the festival’s programming doesn’t just focus on the nasty corners of the internet. A particularly bright spot is the German feature film MySELFie about Maya, a teenage girl who has Alopecia Areata.

The film came about after director Anne Scheschonk saw an old friend’s post saying how proud she was that her 12-year-old daughter let her mother take a picture of her without a wig on.

German teen Maya is at the centre of MySELFie, a wonderful documentary about self-acceptance and coming of age. The film is part of this year’s Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth online April 13-24.
German teen Maya is at the centre of MySELFie, a wonderful documentary about self-acceptance and coming of age. The film is part of this year’s Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth online April 13-24. Photo by Courtesy of In One Media /PNG

“This immediately caught my interest. I didn’t know anything about Alopecia. But I knew that this hair loss must have such a tremendous impact on the girl who was just about to become a teenager. A period of time where it is so important to most girls to be pretty (in our social, normative terms and standards) and belong to their peer group,” said Scheschonk via email from her home in Halle, Germany. “I could feel — as a filmmaker who wants to contribute relevant stories to an audience — that this is something I would like to work on.”

MySELFie is a personal, very reflective film that shows a kid (aged 13 to 14 during filming) trying to figure out who she is on the inside and who she is to the outside world.

A big part of the story of Maya is her relationship to the camera in her phone. While Scheschonk gets that, she also wants Maya, and us the viewers, to see something else when she places Maya in front of a row of mirrors and directs her to look at an unfiltered view of herself.

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“I was interested in her selfies, because they show how she wants to be seen on social media/in the public. They are her staged self-representations. The mirror images in the movie are our staged representations of Maya, how we saw her or wanted her to be seen,” said Scheschonk. “That was irritating for her, because she had no control over her picture like with taking her selfie. But that made these moments and gazes also very intense.”

It’s through Maya’s journey of self-acceptance that Scheschonk hopes the young viewers will see once again how girls and women are held to ridiculous female beauty standards, standards, that thanks to social media, are being imposed at an earlier and earlier age.

“I hope that they understand that we all are different and that diversity is what makes this world interesting and rich in experiences and stories,” said Scheschonk. “Therefore we should celebrate our diversity and proudly put it on display.”

MySELFie director Anne Scheschonk spent a year shooting a German teen as she tries to navigate her way to self-acceptance.
MySELFie director Anne Scheschonk spent a year shooting a German teen as she tries to navigate her way to self-acceptance. Photo by Courtesy of In One Media /PNG

dgee@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dana_gee





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