A program in which teens introduce elders to the joys of the Internet is the focus in “Cyber-Seniors” — a worthy cause, if not necessarily one that required a longform documentary portrait like this predictably cutesy, padded effort from director Saffron Cassaday. The Canadian pic is getting its North American theatrical launch with a combination of limited runs and one-off screenings on May 15; it should have some shelf life in various formats as a persuasive recruitment tool for launching similar volunteer programs elsewhere, as well as simply convincing seniors that cyberspace is worth exploring.
Narrator Cassaday informs us right away that her siblings Macaulee and Kascha originally launched this program in 2009 while still high schoolers, deciding to teach basic online skills to seniors at a local retirement home after seeing how Internet access had transformed the lives of their own grandparents. Much of “Cyber-Seniors” is taken up with footage of feisty oldsters expressing complete ignorance of computer usage while their teen instructors marvel at said ignorance. The seniors are soon delighted with their newfound ability to communicate easily with far-flung relatives, locate old friends, find favorite music, et al., via the wonders of Facebook, Skype and YouTube. When one woman’s cooking lesson is posted to YouTube, teens are paired with seniors in a competition to create online videos sharing their life wisdoms, with whoever gets the most viewer “hits” winning.
Pic’s “Aren’t they just the cutest thing you ever saw?” attitude toward its aged subjects will either charm or exasperate. Though there might have been some real drama to tap in following some seniors’ efforts to reconnect with their long-lost loves, Cassaday either doesn’t find any such intrigue, or didn’t bother looking for it. The film does touch on more serious issues when sister Macaulee and their grandfather suffer bouts of cancer — but it doesn’t find any way of integrating that first-person family drama into the general topic at hand, so it comes off as a somewhat gratuitous inclusion.
Packaging is pro, and the innocuous tenor will in fact serve feature well in potential broadcast sales (it could easily be trimmed to fit shorter timeslots) and as a community-outreach tool.