SXSW Review: Social Animals


A documentary about teenagers using Instagram is probably not at the top of your must-see films list, even if you yourself are a teenager. Disclaimer: I am not a teenager. However, I do use Instagram. Almost entirely to take pictures of what I’m about to eat or annoyingly repetitive selfies (what can I say, my selfie game is strong). But, Social Animals, the documentary from director Jonathan Ignatius Green is cleverer than casual glance may suggest. Built off strong filmmaking (especially its graphics and editing), Social Animals follows three teenagers through their serious and not-so-serious attempts at being isntafamous. Who are they? How’d they get there? How much thought do they put into it? In reverse order: a lot, watch to find out, and like I said: teenagers. 

Social Animals Official Trailer from Conscious Minds on Vimeo.

Social Animals
Directors: Jonathan Ignatius Green
Rated: NR
Release Date: March 9, 2018

This movie is put together with wonderful cleverness [yasssssss!]. Carried by three main narrative stories, your typical ‘hot girl,’ an ‘urban exploration’ photographer and an every day midwest ‘girl next door’ (whose story takes a dark and startling turn), there’s plenty more here than how did Kaylyn get nearly half a million followers, or how did Hunza get a quarter million, or why doesn’t Emma even have an Instagram account if this is about teens using Instagram!

Green uses intercut interview footage of other even more average teenagers (I know, I’m selling you hard right now) talking about their personal experience with Instagram to move the narrative forward with humor and insight when it might stall otherwise. It’s always cut in such a way that it makes perfect sense. It’s also done in such a way that you’re probably going to gain some real perspective as to what people actually think when they’re using Instagram–what are their motivations and fears; how many young women have sketchy old men hitting on them (answer: all of them, sadly, and of course). Even if you yourself are just another average teenager, you might understand the emotional response you’re incurring when you start shaming a classmate through DMs. You probably shouldn’t, it turns out.

But most fascinating of all, are the stories of Kaylyn and Humza, one seeking fame, one seeking approval for his work (and probably enjoying the perks that come with the fame all the same). At one point, Humza, learning the game quite quickly, confides to a friend that he’s slept with a celebrity, but he won’t name names. Touché. Humza uses photography as an outlet from his upbringing and neighborhood. It’s a way to literally push boundaries, both socioeconomically, and physically, and he does so with gusto. The next time you see one of these photographers on Instagram whose feed is filled with hip photos from the tops of tall buildings or in subway tunnels and wonder who these people are, look no further.

Kaylyn seems to be doing this just to do it, indicating that with 400K followers, she “must be doing something right.” But to what end? It’s not clear, but she might mention being a professional swimsuit model, model, or actress in passing fancy. Her father, some sort of rich and seemingly successful type who talks with more conviction than wisdom, eggs her on, admonishing that followers equals fame equals success. There’s less goal than journey here.

Either way, their journeys are fascinating. What’s the real payoff to someone who has 250,000 or 450,000 followers on social media? What’s the real tragedy for someone who faces harassment and shaming through social media? Watch and learn, sit back and enjoy the ride, I dare say, it’s even more enjoyable than actually using Instagram–though your attention span might not be long enough for it. Is social media bad? Is it good? The film is ambiguous in its conclusions showing good and bad cases. There are obviously pros and cons.

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