Saturday, June 13, 2015

Web Junkie - Exploring Internet Addiction and Solutions

When the words “China” and “Internet” appear in the same sentence, the word “censorship” is usually close by. But in at least one aspect of the Internet revolution, China is establishing a precedent the rest of the world could soon follow.

China is the first country in the world to classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder, the cure for which is the subject of Web Junkie, an intimate and sometimes jarring documentary having its national broadcast premiere on POV (Point of View)
on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series and the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

The film follows the treatment of Chinese teenagers, obsessive gamers whose preference for the virtual world over the real one is summed up in one jarring statement: “Reality is too fake.” Bringing them back to earth is often a very bumpy ride.

Award-winning Israeli filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia were given incredibly open access to Daxing Boot Camp, a three-month military style anti-addiction program in Beijing designed for patients 13 to 18 years old. Web Junkie portrays the rehabilitation process and the evolving diagnosis behind it.

Some of the teens do not know exactly how they got there. One patient—or inmate—says he was told he was going on a family ski trip to Russia. He went to sleep at home and when he awoke he was at a “Chinese teenager mental growth” facility, one of more than 400 treatment centers created by the government.  

Patients are under constant surveillance—even as they sleep. Rigorous exercise programs are augmented by group therapy, brain scans and classroom instruction.

The filmmakers interview Tao Ran, the professor who established the world’s first Internet addiction clinic and who calls Internet addiction China’s most significant public health hazard, claiming, “It has surpassed any other problem.” Web junkies, he explains, are not using the Internet for research and homework. They are instead addicted to games. “They are the same as heroin addicts.”

Parents are often at their wits’ end and many must borrow money to pay for the program. They tell, sometimes through tears, of losing their children to the malady. “He changed into a different person,” one desperate mother says. Most young patients have withdrawn from family life. Some stop bathing.

“It is an abyss swallowing my son,” says one mother, though the film illustrates that young people also use the Internet as a tool of social interaction, including romance. While these connections may span the globe, they usually take place in an environment of solitude. “We are increasingly connected to each other but oddly more alone,” the filmmakers say. In one riveting scene, a young man describes how easy it is to profess love simply by repeatedly striking a programmed key.

One departing patient delivers a line echoed during exits from treatment centers everywhere, indicating that some positive behavior modification has taken place: “Dude, I don’t want to come here ever again.”

About Shosh Shlam, Director/Producer:
Award-winning filmmaker Shosh Shlam directed Good Garbage (2008), named best documentary at the Shanghai International Film Festival and winner of the best cinematography award at the Israeli Documentary Awards. Her previous films include Be Fruitful and Multiply (2005), which represented Israel on International Women’s Day in Asia, and Last Journey Into Silence (2003), winner of the best documentary award at the Lublin Film Festival, winner of the Columbine Award at the Moondance International Film Festival and a best documentary honorable mention at the Haifa International Film Festival. Shlam holds a master’s degree in comparative literature from Bar-Ilan University. She is also a graduate of the theater department at Tel Aviv University and studied at New York’s School of Visual Arts. 

About Hilla Medalia, Director/Producer:
Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Hilla Medalia has received three Emmy® nominations. Her recent film Dancing in Jaffa premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the editing award at the DocAviv Film Festival. Previously, Medalia made After the Storm (2009), To Die in Jerusalem (2007), Happy You’re Alive (2010) and Numbered (2012), which won best debut documentary at the Israeli Documentary Awards. She also holds a master of arts from Southern Illinois University and is a co-founder of New York-based kNow Productions.

About POV
Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. The series airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on PBS from June to September, with primetime specials during the year. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.

POV films have won 32 Emmy® Awards, 18 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, two IDA Awards for Best Continuing Series and the NALIP Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. More information is available at

Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding comes from Nancy Blachman and David desJardins, Bertha Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Marguerite Casey Foundation, Ettinger Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.

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