In Touch – Between Black Mirror and real life


Between popular Netflix series Black Mirror and real life, director Paweł Ziemilski takes us to a universe in which people connect to each other only through Skype and video conferencing. The documentary is called ‘In Touch’, and had its first screening in Greece at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, where it was awarded with the ‘Human Values Award‘ by the Hellenic Parliament.

‘In Touch’ focuses on a small village in Poland called Stare Juchy. Since the 1980s, around 400 people have emigrated to Iceland, in search of a better life. The documentary depicts the ways the emigrants and those staying behind are trying to keep in touch with each other.

A still from ‘In Touch’

Separated by a large distance, they try to stay connected to each other through modern ways of communication, such as Skype or video calling through other media. The documentary shows the reality of migration: families separated by someone’s search for a better life elsewhere.

Innovative filmmaking

Ziemilski made the documentary in an innovative way. Rather than directly using the Skype conversations between family members, he mainly used them as inspiration for the final documentary. He watched hours of online interaction between different people. Then, he decided to go to Iceland to film the lives of those who emigrated there. He felt he wanted to give something back to the people he was working with. Because of this, he tried to surpass Skype and give something more ‘real’. With the videos he shot, he went back to Stare Juchy, back to the migrants’ relatives. He projected his videos for them in various places: on buildings, in people’s houses, and in the environment of the village.

Paweł Ziemilski in conversation with the audience at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

This way of working creates intimate moments between family members separated by thousands of kilometers. The inhabitants of Stare Juchy can see and hear their relatives, but something is missing. They are searching for senses that make the interaction more ‘real’. They want to be able to touch one another, and do activities together. The exchanges that are shown remind us how difficult it is for people to stay connected with each other, even in this age of digitalization and internet.

Sometimes, the situations that are shown are quite funny. In one scene, a mother makes her daughter try on clothes, virtually projected onto a door. In another, a father plays football with his son. But although they are fun to watch, the feeling is bittersweet. Situations that are part of everyday life suddenly become unusual, as people are struggling to be part of each other’s world.

Screens projected in a wall gives the impression of reality, in this case for a football game.

The bigger picture

The documentary is strong in its use of intimacy. By focusing on just one village, the viewer feels truly connected to the characters. But at the same time, In Touch highlights a reality for many people all around the world in times of globalisation. Just in Poland, over 2 million have emigrated since the country joined the European Union in 2004.

In Iceland, the Polish are the biggest minority group. The total population of Polish people in Iceland is slightly below 14.000, which on a total population of 300.000 is a quite large number. Many of these people have relatives that stayed behind, and the large distance and expensive journey make it difficult to visit each other.

All in all, ‘In Touch’ is a strong and intimate documentary that in a sensitive way explores feelings that migration brings along and how we deal with this topic in a digital age.

Article by Justin Roche and Sacha Bogaers

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