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Alone Together Film Festival – Review

Simon Fraser Surrey opened its doors this weekend to host the Alone Together mini film festival.  The free event was part of the SFU Community Summit, a 5-day set of programming that examined community within the city. The film festival specifically focused on issues of isolation we experience in urban spaces. Although short (programming for the festival lasted roughly 4 hours), the films were a cohesive look at our experience of disconnection and the struggle for community in our cities.

The festival kicked off with a selection of shorts from a handful of Canadian and American directors. Although the overarching themes were similar, the 6 films couldn’t be more different, starting from the animated Gains + Losses, the experimental Return which looked at a travelers feelings of isolation abroad and at home, and Aboard the Pater Noster, which was a series of dances in private and public spaces. One of my favourite films from that evening was A Hair on Your Heart. The film, made by SFU student Young Cho, was about an emotionally cautious young man who falls for a pretty girl in his building. When a scientific breakthrough devises a way to discover if you are truly in love, he gets tested and dives right in to the complicated world of human connection. The story was cute and at times quite funny, which made up for the flat acting. Another stand out film of the night was Damn, about one foul mouthed woman’s struggle to get back into her house after she inadvertently locks herself out while wearing nothing but a slip. In her struggle to get back inside she attempts to climb to an open window, and ultimately gets stuck.

I was hit by an eerie feeling of recognition when she looks out at the quiet and seemingly abandoned suburbs, crying for help. The film is hilarious, and also quite touching, as we see our protagonist get over her fears and insecurities in order to request the help of a stranger. The evening wrapped up with a fascinating documentary about Laura Nagle, an autistic adult. The film, Vectors of Autism, investigates her lifestyle and presents the challenges that she deals with daily.  The documentary is a little aimless at times, however, it was interesting learning about the life she has built herself. She speaks of the internal isolation many autistic people face as they learn to deal with the outside world.

The second day of the festival featured a screening of an American made documentary called This Space Available. The film took a close look at outdoor advertising and their impact upon communities and city life. It takes a hard anti-ad stance, and criticizes ads for transforming public space into something that is commercial and private. The film focused on the massive disconnect we experience with the land, nature and our community when every bit of free space is covered in advertisements. The argumentative structure of the documentary was compelling, and contained interviews from people on both sides of the fence including advertisers, marketers, community advocates and anti-advertising activists. This Space Available is brimming with facts and notes that people typically see 5000-6000 ad messages daily. It also points to the irony of street artists being arrested and charged as criminals, while the 4000 illegal ads that currently exist in L.A. are left untouched. What I found most interesting was the film’s coverage of cities, such as Sao Paulo or Houston, Texas who have had their outdoor advertising completely removed. The result: more creative marketing, increased revenue for newspapers, beautified streets, and happier citizens. It’s clear that achieving an ad free environment is possible, and at the end of the film, the creators provide a list of things audiences can do to help regain public space in their own communities.

In all, Alone Together presented many interesting ideas regarding disconnection and isolation. Although some films showed more polish than others, the themes rang clear, and the weekend overall was a great success.