We’ve been told over and over that social media platforms cause depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. But what does it mean when we quantify our worth through likes?
The documentary The Realists, directed by Elena Rossini, explores just that. The film travels across 4 continents to show how these tools impact people of all ages. It explores how social media create unattainable standards, impact childhood development, and how it can also be used positively.
I recently sat down with filmmaker Elena Rossini and North America Tour Manager Serena Shapero to discuss The Realists, and I was able to ask some questions I’d been dying to know.
The two first met when Elena was on tour for her previous documentary, The Illusionists, a look into the globalization of beauty advertising. In the past, Serena recalled constantly feeling a lack of self-worth and blamed herself. But after seeing the film, she realized she was simply a target of an industry designed to make consumers believe buying products would make themselves feel better.
At the end of the screening, she was so inspired that she came up to Elena to ask how she could to help. Three years later, the two have continued to collaborate while touring for The Illusionists and now for the second documentary.
The idea for The Realists came about while on tour.
Every time, they traveled to another screening of The Illusionists, they continued to run into these questions of how social media and technology affect people’s self-esteem and mental health. Though The Illusionists does delve into social media, it was released when these platforms were just becoming popular.
The Realists seemed like a natural progression to Elena – a part two.
Working on the documentary has affected the way both women personally use social media. Elena first experimented with limiting her time and has since left Facebook altogether.
Serena noticed how Facebook and Instagram had an addictive quality, checking it every 15 minutes or whenever she felt anxiety at work. She explained that we receive dopamine from notifications, but we also acquire the stress attached to it. This pattern of checking and rechecking becomes a constant loop, one we get addicted to.
Since working on the film, she’s used an app called Moment, which shows her social media consumption habits and has helped her majorly decrease them.
Despite its drawback, social media can also affect change positively.
We’ve seen the part it has played in cases like The Arab Spring and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Realists will take a look at inspiring individuals and organizations using technology as a tool for positive change.
Since making the film, Serena has seen on a smaller scale how it was being used for authenticity. “Whenever I see someone choosing to be vulnerable and honest online, I am reminded that no-one’s life is perfect. [Former MTV star] Whitney Port is a celebrity that I admire online because she shares her honest struggle with post-partum depression and the challenges of raising her son. That is brave to me.”
Both Serena and Elena see this project going on long past film production.
Elena hopes it will become an education project for students or even senior citizens in community centers.
Serena sees how social media affects people of all ages. She told me how her nephew who’s 11 recently talked to his mother about classmates posting naked photos of themselves online. While it’s great he felt he could talk to a parent, she notes, it’s obviously troubling and an unwelcome side-effect of social media’s presence in our lives.
As a former health educator and now the Director of Development and Volunteer Engagement for Girls on the Run, Serena is happy to support Elena. She’s excited for people to learn more and is looking forward to helping create a community of strong, empowered women.
Elena is excited “to tackle this subject as a female filmmaker: most of the leading experts on this topic are men and as brilliant as their points are, they often tend to forget the point of view of women – young women especially. I’m honored to be able to give them a voice.”