In “Disconnected – available in its entirety at the bottom of this page courtesy of SnagFilms – director Melody Gilbert follows three college students who go computer-less for three weeks.
Director: Melody Gilbert
Producers: Tom Schmidt, Caitlin Magnusson, Chel Lundin
Editor: Andrew Tatge
[Disclosure: SnagFilms is the parent company of Indiewire]
The doc, “Disconnected” is available free on SnagFilms (and at the end of this article). This interview with Melody Gilbert is part of an ongoing series of SnagFilm filmmaker profiles that will be featured weekly on Indiewire. SnagFilms is the parent company of Indiewire.
Give us the 140 character description of your film.
Three college students try to give up their computers for a month. Follow Carleton College students as they go through “digital detox.”
Alright, now elaborate.
Three students. Three weeks. No computers. Could you do it?
Three college students take on the challenge of giving up their computers to see how their academic, social, and work lives are affected. No Facebook. No YouTube. No e-mail. How will they get their work done? Will they cheat? Who will survive the longest? This documentary follows Carleton College students Andrew, Caitlin, and Chel as they go through “digital detox” and learn to interact with themselves and with others in ways we have largely forgotten.
What lead you to filmmaking?
I’m an independent documentary filmmaker who has made directed 6 feature-length documentaries (working on my 7th) since 2002 (www.frozenfeetfilms.com). All films have screened all around the world in film festivals and on TV. “Disconnected” was made as part of a documentary production class that I taught at Carleton College in Minnesota. Currently I am teaching budding filmmakers and journalists at the American University in Bulgaria (moved here in August 2011). I still make documentaries. Why do I make them? Reality is way more interesting than anything anyone could make up. There are so many fascinating stories to be told and I feel honored that some very interesting people trust me to tell their stories. I can’t NOT make movies. I’d go crazy if I didn’t.
What prompted you to make this movie?
The approach used by the my class to make “Disconnected” was untraditional to say the least. I took eight dedicated Carleton College students and made them my production team. As a group, they conceived, filmed, and edited the movie in this documentary production class in about six months. Making the film meant that the students had to commit to each other in a fashion that is rarely, if ever, required by college classes.
After taking them to the IFP Market in NY (now Independent Film Week), my students came back and pitched ideas. Once the idea was selected, three students in the class volunteered to give up their “digital crutch” — computers. The rest of the students were assigned to shadow and film the “computerless three” to capture on video how they adapted and coped with their schoolwork, recreation and relationships. When the camera crews weren’t available, the three main characters were equipped with hand-held “video diary” cameras. All the filming occurred during one term (September-November).
After winter break, the students came back and faced the massive task of logging and transcribing 73 hours of footage, editing it and re-editing, trying to make a feature-length film. Several rough cuts later, they made it. Miraculously, all three of the main characters passed their classes and all of the students in the class learned something about their generation: they need their computers. But at least now they know how to use a typewriter.
Talk about challenges making this film…
Getting the students to transcribe all the footage. They didn’t believe me that it was important to do. But in the end, they learned the value of transcribing, oh yes they did!
How do you think audiences will react to the film?
The idea of giving up your computer for a day seems impossible. Imagine doing this for a month!
What other projects do you have in the works?
I am executive producing a new documentary called NUMB (www.numbdocumentary.com) about a man who quits taking antidepressants after 10 years and films himself and his family as he goes through withdrawal. I’m also working on a sequel to my 2005 documentary “A Life Without Pain” (www.alifewithoutpain.com) and another documentary about a controversial religious commune in Minnesota.