Web Junkie

PBS Premiere: July 13, 2015Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

Filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia discuss the making of the film, Web Junkie.

Hilla Medalia: China is the first country to declare internet addiction as a clinical disorder. And through China there are over 400 rehab centers for kids that are addicted to the internet. And Web Junkie follows three kids through the course of treatment, which is three months since the day they arrived to the center through the whole course of treatment until they are released. We decided to go to China because China is where this phenomena is in the extreme, but it's also really a mirror to what's happening in the world because this is a global phenomena.

Shosh Shlam: I saw on the Australian television an item about this extreme phenomena in China, that China established more than 400 rehab centers. And one of the kids in the rehab center was beaten to death. And I thought that if to bring up the dark side of the internet, I should go to China where the phenomena is very extreme. I went to Beijing for the first time. I didn't find this rehab center. I went home. I was very disappointed. And I said to Hilla that we have to find it. So I went again. And the second time I found this rehab center in the south of Beijing in Daxing. I met Professor Tao and I asked him to come and to make the documentary in the center.

He didn't understand what does it mean to make a documentary. He thought that we will come for three days. But then he realized that it's going to be a long process. But he agreed to he opened for us the door.

Shosh Shlam: It was a process that the kids got used to us and they developed trust. We have to mention that we had to get permission from their parents to be shot. But in a way you know when we were there, they considered us as their friends. So very quickly, they trusted us and they opened, and they were very happy that we were there, I mean because they felt all the time that they are attacked by their parents, you know, to bring them in and by the doctors and the whole treatment that they went through. So we became very close friends. And from this point of view we were lucky.

Hilla Medalia: Professor Tao says that he has success, but of course we don't have a way to measure and we trust his research. But one of the challenges that we see is that the internet, it's such an integral part of our lives. So it's not like you know drug rehab, you go to the rehab, hopefully you get you know, you overcome it and then you go in your life hopefully not using it ever again. Whereas here you get out of the center and actually you need to use the internet. It's essential to work, to study, to like our life. So how do you moderate it afterwards?

So one of the discussion we always had with the parents is that you know this is actually all those issues and all those fears that they have, those are things that are very similar to what other parents in other countries are experiencing.

Shosh Shlam: But we have to admit that one of the reasons that we went there, it's because it's a very extreme and different way of treatment. We have to be honest, right?

Hilla Medalia: Of course it's very interesting and it was one of the amazing thing was we spoke about the center, but obviously you know we are westerners, we are not allowed in a military. In Chinese military base so it was even you know interesting for us the way we got into the center, we had to hide our... you know our heads and we went into the military base with cars with tinted windows and in the winter we were wearing like a lot of scarves on our heads and in the summer like those crazy big hats, so... to kind of hide our self and actually one time we had an experience when actually the military police came and saw us and luckily our crew wasn't with us so they didn't see the cameras and they asked us to leave immediately and we left but then we went back the next day.

Shosh Shlam: Yeah, but we have to mention that Professor Tao insists that if we are coming every day and it's a military base, we should stay on base.

Hilla Medalia: Yeah, we slept there.

Shosh Shlam: Yes so we stayed on base the whole week, minus 20 Centigrade in winter, no showers...

Hilla Medalia: Shosh was sleeping with her coat.

Shosh Shlam: Yes. No showers. This was his condition for us to continue to shoot. And another fact that we have to mention, we didn't have any permission from Chinese government.

Hilla Medalia: Yeah, we didn't even try to, we didn't even ask for it because there was no way.

Shosh Shlam: We knew that we would not get it. So this is you know it was a real experience. It was a benefit that we were exposed to scenes very early in the morning and very late at night so it was difficult but it was very interesting and challenging.

Hilla Medalia: In the center, most of the children are boys, but there is also a female wing within the center. We actually really wanted to shoot one of the girls, but actually their parents of the girls at the time that we filmed didn't allow us to focus on them and tell their stories. So we didn't tell. But they did allow us to shoot them and show them a little bit so you can see in Web Junkie that there are in the center some girls as well.

Shosh Shlam: But most, I mean most of the addicts are boys. And they are addicted to the game the World Of Warcraft. And the girls are addicted to a game that comes from South Korea, How Many Husbands You Can Have. But this, I mean it's so sensitive and the parents were really very concerned that the girls, you know it will disturb their future. So we couldn't shoot them.

It sounds very you know extreme when I say violation of you know human rights but I think as a parent you know to give pills, sleeping pills, you know to the children and when they wake up they find themselves behind bars, it's very harsh. I think that I had a problem with it, but on the other way I mean if... as a parent if this is the last you know chance and hope to rescue my child, so it's a question. It's a question. And I think that we shouldn't you know judge. We are coming from a very different society, but of course as foreigners we didn't like it.

Shosh Shlam: I mean for me as not being brought up on internet, the feelings and the thoughts to go and to discover the dark side of the internet came from facing the boundaries between the virtual world and the real world are blurred. And we think that we are more connected, but I think that we created a new solitude. And for me one of the most important sentences in the film is said by Nicky. And Nicky says, said, that when he feels lonely he goes to the computer and he finds another lonely person on the other side. And I think that the loneliness is one of the big prizes and affection that internet and technology causes in our human lives. And this was one of the, of the main reasons that I thought to, you know, to go and to bring up this issue.

Hilla Medalia: I think also Professor Tao, one of the things he always talked about is the EQ, the emotional intelligence. And, and how the kids are communicating, and how they are really losing their ability to communicate in the real life and all the interpersonal relationship and ability they're losing. Whereas they become masters in everything that is online and how the internet is actually creates on one hand, it's really an escape and on the other hand, it also creates all those like excitement for them.

Shosh Shlam: But they don't communicate.

Hilla Medalia: Right. They lose their EQ... They lose the ability to communicate in the real world.

Shosh Shlam: And I think that the children today, they are losing the language of feelings. And they stop to talk to each other. And I heard here in Israel that in Israel we have a very serious phenomena of drinking. And that teenagers are drinking so much to be able to communicate with each other, because I mean they are not. I mean they, they stop to talk to each other, you can see like two children in a room and they talk with text messages.