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9th April 2022

MANIFF 2022: I am Gen Z

MANIFF 2022: Examining a generation raised on social media, this documentary takes a dive into some of the most troubling aspects of Gen Z’s technological addictions.
MANIFF 2022: I am Gen Z

I am Gen Z is an unusual documentary which dives into the social media and internet obsessions that have come to define our generation. It casts a scathing light on the “industrial sized” companies and products that have made our experiences of the internet so addictive.

The film is structured around interviews with leading tech innovators, psychologists, and social media stars.  This is interspersed with the viral videos, trends and irritating personalities currently making the rounds on TikTok. For the most part, it’s very good. Stylish design, creative use of viral videos and constant Aldous Huxley quotes prophesising our doom make this an aesthetically engaging project. Insightful (if at times obvious) points develop various theories surrounding the future of our media-addicted generation. Concerning analyses of psychological phenomena related to the amount of time we spend on these apps is both shocking and convincing.

When we chatted, director Liz Smith described the film as “comforting and disturbing in equal measure”. An apt assessment. Rather foreboding commentaries are interspersed with what Smith calls the “dark humour” of our generation – a self-conscious, self-deprecating satire.

Yet this does feel like a film not made by Gen Z themselves but rather by people trying to get in touch with that generation. The “Gen Z language” is something both producer Chantelle De Carvalho and composer Kim Halliday struggled to acclimatise to. The need to “constantly curate your online brand” on these apps is a new experience for the Boomer generation making this. But even for me, their discoveries were shocking.  At the click of a button, you can access TikTok videos promoting eating disorders, videos on how to self-harm, and communities encouraging these negative patterns of behaviour. We are “the first generation who haven’t not been fed on the internet” and it’s a really scary prospect.

As such the film does at times take on the quality of a secondary school PSHE video; the ‘adults’ tell us ‘what’s what’ and how to stay safe on a media machine that is now so advanced it can’t be stopped. It also sags midway through as the interviews come to dominate its content. And whilst mostly interesting, the sheer amount of information it asks audiences to take in may have been overly ambitious.

Nevertheless, this is an important film to see. Crucially, it doesn’t simply demonise Gen Z. We can be self-destructive, and obnoxiously irritating to the extreme. We’ve been affected by the emergence of the internet in ways previous generations could not have imagined. Body image, mental health, basic survival instincts, privacy, social interactions… the list is endless. But coming out of this film, you do feel there is a sliver of hope for a better future for our tech-reliant generation. How we get there and break out of the enslaving mechanisms of social media? God knows. The film certainly doesn’t offer any answers. But what I can say after thinking about this film is…get off your damn phones.


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