When Siok Siok Tan first joined Twitter in 2007, she was confused by the then-fledgling microblogging site.
“I remember in the first two weeks I was on Twitter, I had a tweet saying that Twitter is the weirdest application on the planet,” said Tan in a phone interview from Singapore. While working on a documentary about the 2008 Olympic Games, however, Tan was struck by the willingness of fellow Twitter users to help her promote the film.
“That planted the seed for the idea of making a film about Twitter, simply because I was surprised by the connections that can be made through Twitter and social media,” said Tan, whose Twitter handle is sioksiok. Her film Twittamentary screens Sunday night as the closing film of the Urban Nomad film festival.
Twitter has become an integral part of Internet culture since its launch in 2006 (users played a key role in enabling the Arab Spring uprisings, for example), but it still has plenty of detractors. Getting started on Twitter is not intuitive for many people, Tan noted, and once they do manage to decipher the various hashtags, acronyms and abbreviations on the site, they are put off by the stream-of-consciousness style of many Twitter feeds.
“What people struggle with is that they look at the text of what people tweet about and they think it is very trivial,” said Tan. “But what is powerful is not the text but the subtext of the connections that you build over time, and the hypertext linking you to all this information, all these windows to many worlds that you have never been granted entry to before.”
Twittamentary follows several users whose lives have been changed by Twitter. They include AnnMarie Walsh (whose Twitter handle is padschicago), a Chicago woman who used Twitter to help escape homelessness, and sex worker Mika Tan (mika_tan), who relied on followers for directions when she got lost while on her way to a strip club.
Directed by: Siok Siok Tan
Language: In English with Chinese subtitles
When: Will be screened on Sunday at 7pm as part of the Urban Nomad Film Festival
Details: The film will be shown at Building 3 East A (3東A ), Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914), 1, Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段1號). Tickets are NT$220, or NT$170 with a valid student ID
On the net: Visit urbannomad.tw for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets or learn more about the film at www.twittamentary.com
The documentary’s own filming process encapsulates the possibilities of Twitter to such an extent that it was written up as a case study by a professor at Singapore Management University. Tan found most of the people she interviewed on the site, as well as key members of her crew like executive producer and camera operator Geo Geller (geogeller) and producer StJohn Deakins (StJohnDeakins), who joined the project after catching an early screening in Singapore.
“I felt intuitively that for a film about Twitter to succeed, it can’t just be a good film, it has to mirror and celebrate the open culture on Twitter,” said Tan.
A key element of each Twittamentary showing is a screen that displays tweets marked with the twittamentary hashtag. Not only can viewers see what other audience members are posting, but they can also communicate with crew members like Tan and her interview subjects.
Mirroring the content of Twitter, the twittamentary hashtag can sometimes turn into a free for all. During a screening in Tel Aviv, one user wrote “I challenge Twitter to get me laid.” In Los Angeles, tweets about the film were upbeat and numerous (pushing Twittamentary up the list of the site’s trending topics for that day), but in London they were very cynical in tone.
“We got a good review in the Guardian, but if I had looked at the tweets only, I would have wanted to slash my own wrists,” said Tan.
Though Tan and Deakins debated whether or not they should moderate the content shown on Twitter screens during each viewing of the film, they ultimately decided to leave it as a representation of the site’s open and free-spirited culture.