Living in the most connected country in the world, it's easy for Americans to forget that portions of this planet are still living without the most basic technological advances. When President Bill Clinton spoke at his college graduation about interdependence, "Web" director Michael Kleiman was inspired to learn more about the importance of bringing connectivity to those who desperately need it. Kleiman discovered the One Laptop per Child program created by Nicholas Negroponte, which brings affordable laptops to young students in developing countries. To see how the program is changing the lives of those the program reaches out to, Kleiman packed his bags and traveled to the Purus Region of Peru.
"Web" offers a firsthand look into the lives of Peruvian villagers that are making the best of their less-than-luxurious conditions. Accepting the "gringo" Kleiman as part of their family, these Peruvians are delighted to have a link to flourishing America. Their children are eager to learn, and are ecstatic to receive their laptops and internet connections. The students are overjoyed to have any information one Google search away, and also learn the importance of Wikipedia as a valuable educational resource. Best of all, we see kids teaching other kids how to use certain features of their computers. This communal learning experience is exactly what One Laptop per Child was attempting to accomplish.
Kleiman takes this opportunity to broach broader questions about connectivity, namely the effect social media has had on our relationships. When he poses the question "what is a friend?" to his subjects, only the Peruvians offer thoughtful, personal answers. But his American subjects all chuckle at the question, aware that the term "friend" has become diluted in our culture thanks to sites like Facebook. "Web" is a pleasant movie, even if it doesn't offer much for long term comfort. These kids do have the internet now, but how much will that access actually help them? Kleiman points out by the end of the film that since one of the children moved up to a new grade, he no longer had a laptop. Well I hope he learned everything he needed to know in the one year that he had it. Did he receive enough relevant information to improve conditions of his village? Probably not. Has One Laptop per Child been a success? "Web" doesn't really say. It seems like a step in the right direction and no bad can come of it, but is this program actual good, or just perceived good?
"Web" makes its world premiere at DOC NYC on Sat. Nov 16 @ 2 PM at the IFC Center. An encore presentation will take place Tues. Nov 19 @ 5 PM. Director Michael Kleiman is expected to attend.