With the exception of your racist uncle, it seems that we all have some kind of allergy to Facebook. Even filmmaker Kelly O’Brien admits to a strong ambivalence, after repurposing some 10 years of her own activity on the social-media platform into the acclaimed live show Postings From Home.
“I know Facebook is awful,” she writes in a pre-interview email to the Georgia Straight. “I should really shut down my account, but it keeps me making things. Huge dilemma.”
“It was never really premeditated. It was an experiment and it was out of desperation,” O’Brien later says during a call from Toronto. “I was stuck at home with kids, I’d finished my MFA, and I couldn’t make another film because I didn’t have the time. I think I just started it out of a way to make some meaning out of my life, out of what was going on.”
Thus, O’Brien’s family snapshots, videos, and musings went from Facebook feed to evolving art project, with a heavy emphasis on the wit and wisdom of siblings Emma (15), Teddy (12), and Willow (7). She’s mounted Postings From Home eight times since its debut in 2016, reshaping the performance each time.
The creative restlessness is deeply wired. A native of West Van, O’Brien moved east in the late ’80s for college, cocreated Toronto’s Splice This! festival of 8mm film in the ’90s, and made “little diary films” as a side project to her professional work in TV. “And when I became a mom,” she says, “I just couldn’t go back. When Teddy was born I for sure couldn’t do that work anymore.”
Teddy is O’Brien’s second child, and it was his arrival that locked the young mother into a rigid caregiving role, but also prompted the magnum DIY opus that brings her, courtesy of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival, to the Vancity Theatre on Saturday (May 4). She speaks of “a political purpose” behind the project.
“With Teddy I have a son with severe disabilities, and you never see kids like him on Facebook, really, or hear stories about that,” she explains. “This is not your sunny, perfect family, by any means, but there is a lot of joy, and a lot of beauty.”
There’s certainly something rousing about O’Brien’s gambit here, short-circuiting the most hideous model of surveillance capitalism into an intimate performance piece. And while O’Brien is mindful of her own ethics—particularly in the case of eldest daughter Emma, naturally confronting her own feelings about privacy and public persona out here in meatspace—a side benefit is that the entire family has graduated from subject to participant.
“It sounds kinda lame but everyone is so busy in their day-to-day lives, so now after school I make Willow tell Teddy about her day, and I film it. Otherwise, she might never engage with him, so it’s become this way that we spend time together.”
Contra the much vaunted “connectivity” that Mark Zuckerberg dribbles on about, Postings From Home is authentically creating bonds in O’Brien’s family, in her digital “community”, and inside the walls of a theatre. She used to hand-process 16mm film; now she transforms the digital into analogue, reportedly moving her audience to tears in the process. For us, this poses no dilemma, huge or otherwise.