‘A Very Close Jewish Family’
Wed, 02/20/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Tiffany Shlain gets at “the universal idea of connectedness” through a very personal story.
Tiffany Shlain gets at “the universal idea of connectedness” through a very personal story.

As the old saying goes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Filmmaker and new media mistress Tiffany Shlain (whose film “The Tribe” looked at Jewish identity through the lens of the Barbie doll) could tell you that or, better still, show you her recent film, “Connected.” The clever and engaging documentary is vivid testimony about how important it is to be ready for the unpredictable.

“When we started working on the film around 2007, it was a very intellectual and left-brain project about the effects of connectedness in our world,” Shlain recalled in a telephone interview earlier this month. “Two years into it, I was watching a rough cut and I had the sinking feeling that I wasn’t connected to the material.”

A lot had happened in the interim. Dr. Leonard Shlain, the filmmaker’s father and strongest influence, was diagnosed with cancer and had only nine months to live. Tiffany was pregnant and turning 40. And she knew that she would have to tear apart two years worth of work and rethink “Connected.”

“That was the moment when I had to enter the film, and I knew it would mean another two years of work,” she said.

The result of the ensuing revisions is a unique essay film that combines the original concept with her own personal story, the work of her father, a doctor and writer, his illness and eventual death, her struggle to have a second child, which involved five miscarriages, and, she said, the fact that “at the core it’s the story of a very close Jewish family” (her own).

“It was very difficult, creatively the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she admitted. “It was hard to be so personal, but I knew that to get to the universal idea of connectedness, I had to explore my own personal truth. To understand that idea, I had to understand, on the most primal level, why we need to connect — we need to go back to our parents. Humans have evolved because we need to connect to survive as humans.”

And to understand and communicate that abstract idea, Shlain had to make it clear — to herself as much as her audience — how connection worked in her own life.

“The most exciting moments for us were when the ‘idea’ film about connectedness and my personal story clicked together,” she said. “Those moments made all the pain worth it.”

“Connected” is currently available through video-on-demand from local cable providers, from iTunes and Amazon and from the film’s website, www.connectedthemovie.com, where you can also find a home discussion kit and an educator’s kit that help put the movie into a larger context.