Viral | Review | Hot Docs Documentary Festival

 The "vlog" has become a form of filmmaking in its own right, a common language between teens and young adults who can connect to people around the world through bite-size storytelling in an easy and accessible way. Filmmakers Udi Nir and Sagi Bornstein pluck the internet art form and bring it to the big screen in their documentary, Viral, which follows seven people throughout the year 2020, as their follower counts grow amidst a rising pandemic. Nathaniel, Riley, Jessica, Tina, Shakir, Justin and Cassandra are our "protagonists". We navigate their stories as circumstances change and watch as they each uniquely tackle the complexities of COVID-19.

It's strange to reflect on something we are currently still living through, "I think this is going to be much bigger than everyone realises," are words from one clip to the overlay of empty stores as people prepare for the unknown. These memories aren't so far away for audiences, and that quote still reigns true now as we consistently see new developments. It's a film that becomes more relevant by the second and equally as devastating as we watch half the world get back on its feet while the other crumbles under insurmountable pressure. It is still true that we don't realise just how huge the impact will be on people, their mental and physical health and even the world in a larger sense. 

Viral contextualises the tragedy of the pandemic in a way that is accessible. There's not one single person who has gone untouched by the pandemic, regardless of how big or small that impact may be, and Viral reminds us of that by showcasing just how interconnected we are as a global humanity. There's an empathetic lens on all protagonists who each have their issues. Towards the end, there was a momentary worry that it focused on a more privileged view of the pandemic. It does, however, acknowledge the space it occupies, and leaders of the film recognise they have come out relatively unscathed. 

There is a perfectly valid argument of whether or not it is too soon for films of this sort that reflect on a time we are barely past. However, Viral does it in a way that makes it impossible not to feel the comfort of knowing there are other people in the struggle. 

Nir and Bornstein have captured both their contributors and the year as a whole with empathy and compassion. People will recognise each ebb and flow as they pass through it, and for some, it may provide catharsis while others may feel it is too soon to revisit. Viral utilises a global platform that connects us all daily, turning an uncynical lens on social media. Often dubbed an antagonist, it encourages us to look at the good and the bad of people being so connected and invites us to find common ground in humanity. Many stories are yet to be told of this time, but Viral provides that starting point of reminding us that we needn't slip back into old patterns even when the masks come off.

Hot Docs starts on April 29th, running till May 9th - tickets are available via 

Hot Docs is geo-locked to Canadian audiences. 

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