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Users 2021

Recommended with Reservations

Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Elizabeth Lodge Stepp and Josh Penn
Directed by Natalia Almada
Streaming, 81 mins

General Adult
Climatic changes; Parenting; Technology

Date Entered: 09/15/2023

Reviewed by Steve Brantley, Head of Research, Engagement, and Scholarship, Professor of Library Services, Eastern Illinois University

Users is a beautiful film. Users is a film with a grand scope. Users is an intensely personal film. Users is a film with wide audience appeal. Users is a film that addresses a spectrum of ideas from motherhood to climate change to technological progress and how these ideas comingle with complex implications for life on earth. Over scenes that are both vast landscapes and personal close-ups, the viewer is asked to constantly make visual comparisons between the natural and the technological, between the rhythms of nature and the pulse of machines.

Director Natalia Almada makes heavy use of overhead drone shots to create abstractions that could at first be identified as microscopic, and yet are revealed to be large scale environmental scenes. The title, Users, while referring to us, humans, as neutral users of technology, and less neutrally as users of the natural world, does not tell the story of any specific individuals. There are people in the film, but no one is named, and people rarely speak (one exception is a one-sided conversation we hear from a boy playing video games with a remote partner). The people we see are infants and workers, the former being cared for by an automated rocker, and the latter silently performing tasks that are integrated precisely into a technologically mediated commercial process.

The narrator of the film is also presented to us in an abstracted way. The commentary provided over the slow, beautiful, rhythmic and repetitive camera shots speaks about our present time as if it were a distant past. That disconnection between the visuals of our world and the supposed future from which the narrator comments underscore the unusual experience of time in Users.

Users is a meditation on the changes human society has wrought upon the planet, illustrated with the detritus of that overuse. It is presented in a slow and meditative pace.This is a sharp contrast to the screen-mediated pace of our day-to-day lives, and a contrast which forces the viewer to adjust their attitude toward the visual information being presented. We are not asked to make quick decisions, and wjile Users makes the suggestion that our world is poorer for its technological ubiquity, the more powerful suggestion is that while life and experience are undergoing rapid change, value is not necessarily being attributed to that change. In viewing Users, we are asked to accept as matter of fact the scenes of environmental degradation and catastrophe, and to see them as possessing an odd and terrible beauty.

While there is much to celebrate about Almada’s Users, the film might have more impact in courses about filmmaking and aesthetics as opposed to being instructive in courses about environmental issues or parenting. As a film for an academic library, I recommend it for collections with broad coverage in documentary filmmaking as opposed to recommending it for environmental studies. Users is more art than education.

Documentary Director Award, Sundance Film Festival 2021

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