SUNDANCE REVIEW: Energetic 'Connected: An Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology' Upbeat About Internet Age

Creatively inventive speculation about our interconnected future.


PARK CITY -- (U.S. Documentary Competition) A personal yet universal story about the Internet Age, Tiffany Shlain's Connected: An Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology is a highly energized romp through a myriad of ideas about where the human race is headed. At a time when news is depressing and most films are grim, Shlain presents an upbeat and playful vision of the world based on what she sees as the interconnectedness of things. Using animation, archival footage, and bold graphics, this is a fast paced ride that will sweep up some members of the audience while leaving others in the dust. It's a film that should work on a thoughtful cable outlet, but the web is probably its natural home.

Constructed as a kind of valentine to Shlain's dying father Leonard, a neurologist and best-selling author of such speculative inquiries as Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light, she continues with his methodology of juxtaposing unrelated facts, and presents them with such virtuosity that a magical causality seems to appear. Her great accomplishment is making brilliant transitions and sweeping associations between seemingly disparate elements. Thanks to Stefan Nadelman's creative animation, it's a brightly colored vision and it's fun to watch where she takes it. But the film ranges over so much material in just under 90 minutes that it's impossible to tell if her points hold water. Best to just go with the flow.

This is how it works. She starts out with a small personal observation about her addiction to texting, extrapolates it to the world at large and pretty soon comes up with a cool image of the Statue of Liberty holding a blackberry instead of a torch. She wonders what she has become, and what it means to be connected in the 21st century.

These are valid questions and to arrive at the answer she launches into a timetable of life through the ages, suggesting that part of the problem with our civilization is that over time the male-oriented left brain has taken dominance over the female-oriented right brain. To make her point she shows us a vintage image of a see-saw going up and down, teetering between here and there.

Then it's back to the story of her five miscarriages, her fertility treatments, and race to give birth before her father's passing. And this leads to a consideration of ecological issues such as the cancer-causing effects of cell phones and how toxic chemicals in the environment find their way into the umbilical cord. And from there, how great a tool the Internet is for working pregnant women who can't get around so easily.

What's on display here is the work of a nimble mind, a keen imagination, and a lively sense of humor leading to the not terribly earth-shattering conclusion that every decision we make affects everyone around us in the world. So how, she asks, do we make the next big leap in evolution, where do we want to go as a civilization? For her, the answer is social media, Twitter, the Internet and interconnected forms of communication not yet invented. Though she admits she and her husband try to unplug one day a week, she seems infinitely more optimistic than troubled by the abundance of information coming our way.

As Marshall McLuhan, whom she salutes, noted over 40 years ago, the medium is the message. So what she is saying may not be nearly as important as how she says it as long as the pieces all fit together. And in our dark, ironic times, any sincere messages are welcome. So simple slogans such as "live life to the fullest," and "if you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up too much room," may take on renewed meaning and have you leaving the theater (or wherever one sees movies nowadays), feeling better than you went in. And that's no mean feat in this day and age.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, U.S. Documentary Competition
Production company: Moxie Institute Production, Impact Partners
Director: Tiffany Shlain
Screenwriter: Tiffany Shlain, Ken Goldberg, Carlton Evans, Sawyer Steele
Producer: Tiffany Shlain, Carlton Evans
Executive producer: Geralyn Dreyfous, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Pam Boll
Production designer: Stefan Nadelman
Music: Gunnard Duboze
Editor: Tiffany Shlain, Dalan McNabola
No rating, 82 minutes