Fans of Israel’s burgeoning documentary industry who couldn’t make it to Sundance can get a special peek at one of the festival’s most-hyped Israeli-made films, thanks to a special feature on The New York Times’ website.
That’s because Web Junkie by directors Shosh Shlam (Good Garbage) and Hilla Medalia (Dancing in Jaffa) — a stirring look at the world’s first-ever rehab center for Internet addiction — has been compressed into a seven-minute Op-Doc for the paper’s online opinion page. The film was made with funds from Israel’s New Council for Film and Television, which also supported Nadav Schirman’s Sundance mega-hyped doc Green Prince.
Web Junkies was filmed on a military base outside of Beijing, China, where the Internet Addiction Treatment Center was established in 2004. Its director, Tao Ran, insists that teens’ modern-day obsession with World of Warcraft mirrors that of heroin and other drug addictions, and puts his young inductees through a boot-camp-styled treatment that includes solitary confinement and daily marching orders.
Shlam lived at the center, earning the trust of both its patients and instructors, and says that even though she was an outsider, the phenomenon she was filming can be seen across the world.
“It’s hard to work not in your own language, and to recognize the cultural and social codes,” she said in a phone interview just before departing for Park City. “But on the other hand, to come in as an outsider, it’s like putting up a mirror… and this problem is universal.”
And writing together in The New York Times, Shlam and Medalia added, “What is clear is that this issue is not confined to China. With millions (if not billions) glued to screens and electronic devices, the overuse of technology is becoming a universal, transnational concern.”
Web Junkie, which was snapped up by distributor Dogwoof in December 2013, premiered at Sundance on Sunday and has been getting positive reviews. And when asked if it was strange for an Israeli to travel so far from the camera-ready conflicts at home, Shlam laughed. “Most Israelis don’t work outside of the country,” she admitted. “They make their documentaries here. But… I think the world is so tired of this conflict. And filmmakers all over the world are making their films in countries other than their own, and they’re never asked why they don’t do a documentary in their own country.”