Short Film Tells Teenager’s Story Through His Computer Screen Shots

Noah's virtual hell

What we've got in Noah, a 17-minute film that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, is a riveting take on our failure to communicate despite Facebook, Skype and all manner of digital engagement.

Suspecting that his girlfriend Amy plans to break up with him and start dating a swim-team friend named Dylan, the short film's eponymous high-school-age anti-hero sifts through her private Facebook messages for clues to what's really going on. Alas, the displays of data that dazzle his retinas do him no favors, and his deftly dancing fingers, so skilled and swift at making pixels pop, fail to find the key. Adrift like his Biblical namesake, Noah can't make the right connections. He misinterprets the information, and his hasty decision to dump Amy has sad consequences.

Made by Ryerson University film students Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, the mildly NSFW story takes place mostly on computer and smartphone screens. But this technique, while visually dynamic in and of itself, is no mere gimmick. It provides an intense, insightful window into the dense, multimedia world that teens—and all of us, truth be told—increasingly choose to inhabit.

Like Noah, we create multilayered online identities through photos, videos, playlists, friend directories and address books. Our cyber-lives are formed from selected bits and pieces of ourselves. We pick and choose what to show and share, hide the darker parts, and often invent details, obfuscate and lie to suit our purposes. We create sophisticated noise—music, memes, IMs, Google and Wikipedia searches—to add "meaning" (and the film weaves in such activity to dizzying, devastating effect).

These shadow worlds, rich in imagery, sound and interactivity, provide the illusion of connection and control. Yet many of us are simply lost. That's a lesson Noah learns the hard way. He winds up on Chatroulette, the Web's last refuge for sorry souls, where a random gal tells him, "The only place you can really have a conversation with anyone—like, an honest conversation with anyone—is just with a stranger in the middle of the night."

It's a line that plumbs the depths to which our psyches can plunge, online or off. What's most disturbing to consider about Noah, perhaps, is the extent to which technology can help us deceive ourselves and perpetuate misunderstandings. Digital media extends Noah's immaturity, walling him off from nurturing contact in a realm of sensory overload.

By spending so much time creating online identities and spheres to inhabit, do we begin to lose sight of who we really are? Perhaps Noah's biggest problem is his failure to communicate with himself. His online excursions lead nowhere because the honest conversation he needs to have is with the stranger reflected in the dark screen, in the middle of the night, after he's finally powered down.

Via Co.Create.

Below, we chat with Woodman and Cederberg about some of the themes in Noah and how they made the movie.

Can you tell me about the genesis of the project? Was it inspired by anything from real life?

We were film students at Ryerson University and graduated this April. Noah was our thesis film. … Noah was a combination of different habits we had on the Internet as teens. We were talking about growing up with MSN messenger, ICQ and MySpace, and how our psyches were affected by living with and without all of those things. The film was a genesis of those talks, and an interest in using the computer as a new kind of body language.

How long did it take you to make the film, how much did it cost and what was the toughest part about making it?