By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The documentary Cyber-Seniors is getting special sneak previews at film festivals around the world, and at the Victoria Film Festival, it screened February 11th. An added show will also happen on the 15th. On May 2, it will be making its theatrical premiere.
For the young actress turned director, Saffron Cassaday, this film marks her debut. Many stories are intertwined here: from explaining the origins of what the film title is about — an education program that started in Toronto for showing seniors how to use a computer to effectively communicate — to what these people can do with it, there is even a personal note added to this film.
When Saffron’s sister, Macaulee, and grandfather were diagnosed with cancer during production, that did not bring making this film to halt. Their journey is also chronicled. Having started two years ago, the teaching program called Cyber-Seniors was well underway. When medical issues only showed how effective online communication works for two very close family members, the ties that bind are expressed online too. But that should not stop people from meeting for real.
“There are programs like this in place in almost every community in North America,” says Saffron, “Libraries, retirement residences and community centers offers these lessons to seniors and our goal is to let people know that there are options available.”
What makes this program unique is that it encourages youth to mentor someone older. Leadership is encouraged because anyone can download the manual from this movie’s main website and organize a group. The next step is to go to a community center to offer help. If all parties agree, that can be taken to a person’s home.
No matter what the tastes or age differences are, this film shows how people work together and create happiness. The main thing the older generation wanted to do is to talk to their family. “That was their main reason for wanting to get online,” reveals this filmmaker, “They’re not just consuming things on the internet, they were producing their own content which I thought was very cool.”
They can make their own rap video, teach youth how to golf, or cook. But they can also take interest in a game or two.
“I’m sure there are tons out there who are really into online gaming and are really good at it,” says Saffron. Her production team’s original idea was to see if anyone did, but after they filmed for six months, the crew realized that direction was not happening.
“Max, one of the mentors in this film, really likes Minecraft. He thought it was a really simple game and it helps express creativity,” says Saffron, “It’s kinda social but at the first lesson, the senior thought it was too difficult for her to comprehend.”
For audiences who saw this film, they no doubt laughed when she turned what she could understand about the game into a cocktail instead. Cassiday did say there were others who did get into games like Angry Birds. But traditional board games like chess or Scrabble on Facebook ended up being easier to play than any Playstation or Xbox game.
“Shura (one of the stars) preferred that over any other, since she could interact with family at the same time,” notes this director, “But it’s a little scary making a documentary while trying to find a three act story arc and making that out of real life.”
Eventually her film production crew, which consisted of a handful of people, found their tale. Nearly every senior citizen featured in this film was interested in the movie making process. That led to a competition to make the most watched Youtube video and that became the basis for this documentary.
Saffron revealed that this movie was two years in the making and to get a nice little button ending was certainly challenging. Even the editing process was long. There was only one team who shadowed the teachers as they were mentoring their students. Over 120 hours of footage was recorded for a 72 minute film.
Ultimately, what is more important is in what this film presents. This director revealed that what the students learned about themselves is actually enjoyable. By hanging out with these older people, they all gained this appreciation that was not there before.
“I think that’s a really important thing: a lot of these teenagers are going to be working in fields where they will have to work for and take care of our aging population,” says Saffron, “and that’s where a lot of jobs are headed. They better start to get comfortable now and realize they’re not scary. They’re normal people. You’ll even grow to like them.”