Film Review: Cyber-Seniors

Charming Canadian documentary brings together some computer-savvy high-schoolers as mentors with computer-clueless seniors at a Toronto assisted-living facility to reveal a beautiful dynamic of both human and Internet connectivity.

Digital divides stretching from teenagers to nonagenarians and not much younger don’t get much wider, but Cyber-Seniors adroitly and movingly presents such a lovely and amusing bridge. It was filmmaker Saffron Cassaday’s sisters Macaulee and Kascha, whose high-school project to match students and the elderly, inspired this doc. Their objective, devised a few years ago when the sisters witnessed how the Internet enriched the lives of their grandparents, was (and continues) to educate seniors on how to use Facebook, Google, YouTube, Skype, whatever to keep them more active and less isolated. And what better teachers could be found for this program than the Cassadays and their digital-native classmates?

But the doc’s real stars are the seniors who, whether in their late 70s, late 80s or early 90s, are all Web beginners. But they’re still curious, even when the task of jumping into social media scares them. (Says one: “I think I’m too old to learn!” She isn’t.) Yes, such is their unfamiliarity with all things digital that lessons begin with something that could be called Mouse-clicking 101.

But the seniors eventually take to it all; they are often wise and downright funny and just darn good sports. Cyber-Seniors isn’t just a window on an unlikely alliance of polar generations but also a celebration of discovery. As the Net is more and more being taken for granted, here’s a delightful reminder on how amazing the technology and its consequences are.

Narrating and capturing this unusual and delightful interactivity between quite young and very old at several comfortable Toronto elderly facilities, Saffron Cassaday gives us a bunch of very likeable and patient high-school mentors. The students all give hope that future generations will be in some very capable hands. Ranging in age from 15 to 20, they are all a pleasure to watch as they display both expertise and understanding of their senior pupils. Among the many mentoring standouts are Henri Pelletier, Max Schellenberg, and certainly high-schooler Hannia Cheng, who adds some sizzle both to the doc and senior living by getting one of the cyber-seniors to do a rap-video for YouTube (no record deal yet).

Among the seniors who embrace the Web are Shura Eadie (88), who gets to Web-share her love of cooking and shows off her cool with a Mindcraft-inspired video; Ellard Yeo (89), who, using hiking poles, raps a video about what exercise means to him; and Marion Kiddell (93), who learns to Skype with her grandchildren and becomes a new kind of music sensation. And Annette Rapaport, at 77 the youngest of the seniors, who went into the cyber-senior program saying her telephone was her most advanced piece of equipment and who learns how to navigate a dating site (and ends up with a match!).

In addition to the doc’s several musical lifts, the filmmakers also show they understand the importance of good story structure. Cyber-Seniors builds to a contest and post-contest awards party that reveals the most popular of the seniors’ YouTube videos (a little suspense never hurt any film).

Beyond its inspirational punch, Cyber-Seniors suggests ways for features, theatres and advertisers/sponsors to join forces for events beneficial to all concerned. Already, the filmmakers have created a ticket giveaway promotion for AARP members and college students for the film’s opening.

But why not go broader and deeper to those deep pockets of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Samsung, etc. who are so integral to this initiative to bring everyone into the digital domain? Such an outreach to these giants might also punch their philanthropic/PR buttons in addition to selling their products and services. It’s interesting to think what the socially focused Participant Media might have come up with to raise awareness of Cyber-Seniors and bring both young and old to theatres.

Click here for cast and crew information.