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'Cyber-Seniors': Film Review

Cyber Seniors Film Still - H 2014

The Bottom Line

The technological divide between young and old is bridged in this sweetly moving documentary.

Saffron Cassaday's documentary concerns the efforts of teenage volunteers to teach elderly people how to navigate the Internet.

Anyone who’s ever patiently attempted to explain the intricacies of the Internet to their elderly parents or grandparents will find much to relate to in Saffron Cassaday’s documentary about a high-school program in which young volunteers undertake the task with patient good humor. A feel-good movie about bridging the technological divide between youngsters and oldsters, Cyber-Seniors demonstrates that computer literacy is but a few mouse clicks away.

The film chronicles a high school program started by the director’s younger sisters Macaulee and Kascha, the success of which eventually led to a YouTube channel devoted to the Cyber-Seniors community. Needless to say, there a few bumps along the way. The disparate seniors, living in two Toronto retirement communities, don’t immediately take to the new technology, having to learn such basics as how to turn on their computer. Many of them are interested in learning how to e-mail and joining Facebook, even while admitting that they have no idea what the latter actually is.

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We watch as, under the patient if occasionally eye-rolling encouragement of the teens, they gradually adapt to the technology, desirous of such goals as reconnecting with a long-ago boyfriend or communicating with their grandchildren via Skype. One disabled senior enjoys the wonders of Internet banking, while a cooking video starring an irrepressible 89-year-old woman goes viral, thanks to such helpful tips as how to make a grilled cheese sandwich using an iron.

As is all too inevitable with such endeavors, a competitive element is introduced in the form of a YouTube contest in which the seniors fight to garner the biggest number of hits. One woman, when told that her video has received 1200 views, explains that “maybe it’s because I’ve got all my teeth.” One of the more popular videos features a 93-year-old woman exuberantly rapping.

A personal element is introduced when, during the filming, both 18-year-old Macaulee and her grandfather are diagnosed with cancer. The scene of them commiserating with each other on Skype is one of the more moving moments.

Although more a labor of love rather than a finely polished documentary, Cyber-Seniors well succeeds in its goal of providing hope that even the most technologically challenged—one elderly woman confesses that she’s never used anything more sophisticated than a telephone—can discover the pleasures of the Internet.

Opens May 16 (Area23a)

Director: Saffron Cassaday

Producer: Brenda Rusnak

Director of photography: Kieran Heilbron

Editors: Saffron Cassaday, Petra Valier

Not rated, 75 min.