Earlier this spring I attended the OUTshine LGBT film festival in Miami, and throughout the 10-day indie-flick extravaganza I caught a number of powerful, relatable and touching movies from across the globe.
I particularly enjoyed The Lavender Scare, a documentary about the U.S. government’s mid-century crusade to expose and expunge homosexuals from its ranks; Handsome Devil (now available on VOD), an Irish coming-of-age high-school drama about homophobia in sports; and Heartstone, a beautifully shot and performed Icelandic film steeped in the confusion of blossoming adolescent sexuality.
The one screening that really captivated me during the festival, however, was French-Canadian film 1:54, from director Yan England. I barely made it through the first act before the ugly-sobs started (and they continued throughout the film), and if you have any emotions at all, I doubt you will either. You may find it difficult to track down 1:54 for home viewing – it wasn’t released theatrically in the United States – but it’s worth the search.
Here are four reasons why.
1. 1:54 is the debut long-feature film of Academy Award-nominated director Yan England
England’s French-language short film Henry, released in 2012, was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013 (you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube), and the accolades continued (despite not winning the golden statuette for Henry) for his debut long-feature film 1:54 on the festival circuit last year. The film took home the prize for Best Student Film at the Québec City Film Festival last year (the film’s star Antoine-Olivier Pilon also won the award for Best Actor at QCFF), as well as the Public Prix – a viewers’ choice award – at the 19th Prix Iris, which recognizes the talent and achievement in Québec cinema.
2. It’s not just a gay film – it’s a psychological cyber-bullying narrative that’ll leave you in shambles
At the heart of the story is how two best friends come to terms with their sexual orientation, one of whom has accepted that he’s gay while the other is still very early in the process. It doesn’t help matters, of course, that there are bullies at school with mobile cameras that are itching to catch them in compromising positions so they can blackmail them into submission. While there’s an overarching LGBT element to 1:54, the elephant-sized message that you’ll take away from it is that there are plenty of bad people in the world who don’t care if you live or die, and the authority of technology is a powerful tool of oppression and persuasion that spins wildly out of control when in the wrong hands. The acting is so well delivered here that it’ll bring back memories of your own bullying (if you were unlucky enough to endure it), via social media or otherwise, and it’s likely you won’t be able to contain your emotions.
3. It paints an accurate picture of how social media affects adolescents, with sometimes-irreversible consequences
Kids do stupid things; always have, always will. But what 1:54 strives to impress upon you is that bullying isn’t what it used to be. It’s high-tech now, and it follows you wherever you go.
Before social media became popular in the early aughts, you got bullied at school, sometimes on the walk home, but once you were inside the comfort of your home, you were safe – at least until the next day. In hindsight, those were the good times.
For today’s children, even elementary-school-aged kids, there is no respite from the pain and torment if you have Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts. 1:54 captures this reality with such accuracy and heartache – for everyone involved in the situations; yes, even the bullies – that Canadian schools are considering the film as required viewing for students across the country.
4. Many viewers of a certain age just won’t ‘get it’ – and that’s a problem
Kids, particularly those in high school, shouldn’t have access to social media. You need to be of strong mind and body to navigate the often-malignant rhetoric and taunting that’s unleashed on social media, especially if it’s unrelentingly directed toward you, and I don’t believe anyone under age 25 has that capacity.
But that’s an argument for another day.
What I heard in the theater as I sat in my seat long after the credits rolled – to compose myself after all the bawling – was a rather blasé attitude toward the subject matter from most of the audience over age 40. They just didn’t get it, and that’s because they didn’t come of age in a world where social media ruled.
Having myself mourned the death of boyfriends and best friends who have taken their own lives because they couldn’t escape the bullying, I can understand how suicide seems like the only escape. I don’t advocate it, but I do understand how it can seem like the last resort in order to free oneself – and as a society we need to take this issue far more seriously.
Many of us, at this point in our lives, have endured the nasty underbelly of social media – though maybe not in a bullying capacity – and we know how damaging it can be. Which is why it’s high time that we have a proactive conversation on how to best protect ourselves and our children so their final act isn’t physically harming themselves or others.
Personally, I find little joy in social media anymore, though I’m still an avid (and likely addicted) user, and I certainly wouldn’t weep if the power is cut one day. Until then, I’ll reserve my tears for all the people who will continue to be driven to their graves by the broken souls hiding behind computer screens, committed to making other people’s lives more miserable than their own.