SXSW 2018 Review/Interview: SOCIAL ANIMALS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

This year’s festival can definitely boast a fantastic lineup, including their slate of documentaries.  This particular doc was one I was able to see prior to the festival via a screener.  Regardless of the format, I was quite intrigued, captivated and moved by this film which deals with the highly relevant subject of social media–particularly Instagram.  Director Jonathan Ignatius Green has put together an outstanding documentary about the pros and cons of social media and the impact it has on the youth of America through three specific examples.

Kaylin Slevin is a teenager from a wealthy household who aspires to become a successful swimsuit model.  She uses her Instagram to promote herself in hopes of eventually being discovered by the modeling world.  Humza Deas’s passion is urban photography.  He has spent a tremendous amount of time photographing his beloved city, but also has risked life and limb and jail time to capture difficult shots from the tops of buildings, bridges and other dangerous locales.  His Instagram account reflects his wonderful talents behind the lens. Emma Crockett is the girl-next-door who has used her Instagram account to capture the great times spent in high school.  However, not all of her high school experiences have been enjoyable, as Emma has been ridiculed, bullied and tormented by some of her very cruel classmates.  Each of these people represents three different types of Instagram teens and each has had some ups, downs, and interesting experiences through social media.

I very much fell in love with this film upon watching it and was impressed, entertained and alarmed by what Jonathan Green has captured and put together.  Every subject, or rather person in this film has an intriguing story, though I would have to say that Emma’s and Humza’s experiences moved me the most.  The film offers some valid statements and commentaries regarding the ugly side of Instagram, a media intended for self-expression and shared joy in the world.  It is a film I must strongly recommend for the youth of the world as it offers some valid warnings and lessons of which teens, older children, and their parents should be aware.  It is an educational tool that schools should use to make their students more aware of how social media and their behavior through it can negatively affect their lives and the lives of others.

At the film festival, it was an honor to sit with director Jonathan Ignatius Green, Emma Crockett and Humza Deas for an interview to discuss the making of this film and how the film and the experiences captured in it have impacted their lives.

Mark Saldana: Jonathan, what was it about Instagram that made you choose it as the sole social media for your film?

Jonathan I. Green: Instagram distills down the most powerful forms of social media, whereas with Facebook, you have a lot of other stuff, like people posting articles.  It is a lot less personal, where as Instagram is so personal because it is mostly photos related to your own life.  Because it is distilled to that one thing, it connects to this idea of self identity more clearly, more directly that I think other social media because people express their own selves on Instagram in a very specific way.

Mark: Talk about the selection process of your three main subjects.  How did you decide on them for your film?

Jonathan: We were originally making more of a photography documentary and then, once we pivoted and made more of a documentary about teenagers and Instagram as a platform, then we had already learned about Humza and Demid (Lebewski, a former friend of Humza’s), so we kept them as part of the film.  We figured out from a thematic point of view what we wanted to include in the film and came up with these characters or thematic buckets–somebody who had a really challenging episode in their life that played out in social media, and obviously Emma became that character and then, the very affluent and almost in the making of a Kardashian type of character, and obviously Kaylin became that character to a tee.

Mark: Humza, I was absolutely impressed with your photography and think you are tremendously talented.  How has the career been going?

Humza Deas: Things are going well, but things could be better .  There’s always room for improvement.  Being in New York City, you walk the same streets photographing it.  It’s weird to walk down the same streets over and over.  You lose inspiration.  I have documented most of New York City from the same vantage point.  So, if I was to go onto a roof tomorrow, I would be documenting the same perspective because I was on that roof two blocks over and it is the same point of view.  How many times can you document the Empire State Building from the same angle?  Now, I shoot mostly from helicopters and with drones.  I also jumped into filmmaking as well.

Jonathan: All of the New York City shots (in the film) is Humza’s drone footage.

Emma: Did you actually shoot the photo for Social Animals poster?

Humza: That was actually an interesting story.  We were in San Francisco and my style at the time was urban exploration.  So, I shot a lot of bridges and tunnels.  We used a military smoke grenade and it fogs up the tunnel to where you can barely see what’s in front of you.  There’s regular illuminating lights in the tunnel, but there was one light that was pretty low.  We thought, “Is that a train?!” and we slowly see the light getting bigger.  We were all like deer in the headlights.

(Everyone laughs.)

Mark: Emma, what are your current feelings regarding Instagram and social media, given your experiences?

Emma Crockett: I think there is a fine line.  It can be very destructive or can be very helpful.  You can promote things or share good aspects of your life, or you can spiral down to comparing and not being content.  My sister-in-law actually has this thing on her social media.  The bio says, “Remember.  This is the best ten percent of my life.  Don’t compare your life to mine.” That is so true because if you check social media to check others’ lives and compare your life to theirs or compare your bodies to their bodies. Make sure it is not affecting you in that way.  Keep a good balance of it–being an outlet to express yourself or your family and friends and things you enjoy.

Mark: How difficult was it to revisit the dark times while making this film?

Emma: Honestly, it was very difficult, but what my parents and I decided was that this was a good opportunity to share hope and my story with other girls.

 

 

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