Local filmmaker Tiffany Shlain presents a loving account of her final months with her father — surgeon and author Leonard Shlain (“The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess”) — and a brainy, breezy spin through tech-communications history in “Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death, and Technology.”
While loners and Luddites likely won’t relate to the technomania she demonstrates in this film, the cellphone-addicted, social-media-embracing Shlain makes an intelligent, original and engaging case for plugging in.
The founder of the Webby Awards and director and writer of several short films has made a crisp, tribute-filled documentary about interconnectedness. Nothing is quite profound in the archival footage, home movies and animation, but there’s lots to make viewers think and smile.
Shlain begins by expressing concern about her obsession with her cellphone and concludes that today’s Internet connectedness might help save the planet. In between, she surveys centuries of civilization and riffs on (sometimes seriously assessing) how people, over time, have communicated.
Sharing writing credits with three others, Shlain’s ideas include thoughts on how left-brain (or male-oriented) divide-and-conquer-style thinking — as opposed to right-brain (female) big-picture thinking — has dominated our way of operating. The Internet, and the connective dynamics that go with it, could reverse the destructive path, she suggests.
Shlain also details a trying personal year. Her father is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She goes through a high-risk pregnancy. She examines the role of technology in both situations.
As she puts forth ideas involving everything from the alphabet to Marie Curie to oxytocins to the Talmud to the plight of the honeybee to the toxins found in umbilical cords, Shlain comes off as a dynamo, but her rush of notions is a bit much to process. Statements that all living things are connected are hardly revelatory, and she includes no consideration of how Internet technologies might be abused in the future.
But the film is still a zippy joy — bright, electric and brimming with things to say. In these jaded times, Shlain’s optimism is refreshing. Her down-to-earth tone keeps the technology material accessible, her linking of seemingly incongruous subjects is clever and entertaining and her focus on meaningfully connecting with people you love gives the film a crucial human element.
Also deserving mention is animator Stefan Nadelman, whose amusing graphics include an image of the Statue of Liberty holding a cell phone in place of the torch. Actor Peter Coyote shares narrator duties with Shlain.
With Tiffany Shlain, Leonard Shlain
Written by Tiffany Shlain, Ken Goldberg, Carlton Evans, Sawyer Steele.
Directed by Tiffany Shlain
Running time 1 hour 20 minutes