My two oldest children started kindergarten a few weeks back. New school, new friends (one hopes), new experiences. It’s been an adjustment — maybe more for me than for them, I sometimes think — and it has had me thinking a lot of how much has changed in the 40 years since I walked through those schoolhouse doors.
Certainly, most of it seems familiar, but the ubiquity of the smartphone, and all it contains in its little rectangle of metal, plastic, and glass, really gets driven home when you encounter any group of slightly older kids. Waiting for a bus, strapped into a car idling outside of school, walking down the sidewalk: they’re everywhere. Maybe that isn’t much of a surprise. But it’s a sea change from my own childhood, and as my kids begin to wade into the waters of the public school system, I find myself thinking more and more about how that unprecedented, interconnected digital history will come to affect their lives, for better and for worse.
This week, Amherst Cinema brings in a film that explores part of the worst: Netizens is director Cynthia Lowen’s 2018 look at the modern phenomenon of online harassment. Concerning itself with how the online world has changed the effect of harassment — and the how the amorphous idea of “digital abuse” has changed the behavior of those doing the harassing — Netizens is a chilling look at the long-reaching harm that can be caused with just a few keystrokes.
Lowen uses three histories to help make her point. Carrie Goldberg is a New York City attorney who now leads a practice that focuses on cases of online abuse and sexual privacy claims — a firm she started after one of her own exes threatened to send her intimate photos to her colleagues at a Manhattan nonprofit. When she went to the police, they told Goldberg it was “not a criminal issue.” After slapping the ex with a restraining order, Goldberg — whose high-style but no-bullshit approach has network television interested in making a series based on her life — decided to make it an issue. Lowen also features Tina Reine, a Florida businesswoman whose ex-boyfriend attempted to ruin her by creating over a dozen websites dedicated to shaming and humiliating her. And she profiles Anita Sarkeesian, creator of popular web-series Feminist Frequency, which critiques and analyzes the ways in which women are portrayed in popular culture. Of particular interest is her Tropes vs Women in Video Games, which sparked a hate campaign by a mob using threats of rape and death to try to silence Sarkeesian.
Yet for all the nastiness Lowen (who was also producer/writer of the documentary Bully, about a similar national crisis) shows us, one holds out hope that the very thing that makes so much of this film’s horror so easy is also something that holds a good part of the solution. We are more interconnected than ever before, and while it makes it terrifyingly simple to reach into someone’s life to do harm, it also means that, in ways we haven’t yet fully explored, we can be there for each other, too.
Netizens is a free event for Amherst Cinema members, but tickets are available to the wider public. Lowen will attend the screening to discuss the film and the issues it explores.
Netizens, September 22, 11 a.m., Amherst Cinema, 28 Amity St., Amherst.
Also this week: Two film festivals come to the area over the weekend. The annual Ashfield FilmFest returns on Friday with a screening of Sembene!, a biography of the African film industry’s groundbreaking director. The screening will be followed by a discussion with co-director Samba Gadjigo about his adventures with Ousman Sembene. And on Saturday evening, the festival’s signature event hits the Town Hall screen: under-five-minute films made by amateur filmmakers from across the Hilltowns. A true community event, the festival celebrates not only the beauty of life in and around Ashfield, but also that of the creative spirits that dwell there.
Also on Saturday, the Out! For Reel LGBTQ Film Fest comes to Northampton to showcase eight films that range from rom-com shorts to the hour-long The Archivettes, director Megan Rossman’s history of the women of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, who have dedicated themselves to preserving the artifacts and ephemera — diaries, buttons, love letters, and photos — of lesbian identity. As part of the presenters’ support for the next generation of LGBTQ people, all high school students will be admitted free of charge.
Ashfield FilmFest, September 20 & 21, visit ashfieldfilmfest.org for details.
Out! For Reel LGBTQ Film Fest, September 21, 7 p.m. (social hour at 6 p.m.), Academy of Music, 274 Main St., Northampton.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.