‘The Great Disconnect’ film premiere

From left, Rob Tyler (co-director, director of cinematography), Jim Morrison (assistant director of photography), Ron Finley (community activist and 'gangster gardner'), Tamer Soliman (director and producer) and Sarah Douglas (writer and story editor).

Cayman’s community may remember a documentary titled ‘Bright Spot’, released in 2015. In it, health and wellness professional Tamer Soliman looked at the benefits of coconut products, their links to the Cayman Islands’ history and culture, and why they deserved a revival. The film was shown at the CayFilm Festival  and was an Official Selection of the Miami Independent Film Festival, among others.

Now, Soliman is back with a new film – ‘The Great Disconnect’ – focused on a more universally relatable problem: social isolation. What began as an idea in the mountains of Jamaica ended up taking the crew to cities in Canada and the US. They talked with experts about the phenomenon of people feeling more disconnected from each other than ever before, even in this world dominated by social media.

Rob Tyler, director of cinematography, sets up a shot.

The team is now ready to show the finished product to the public. It will be premiering at the Camana Bay Cinema on 11 and 12 Oct. with two screenings each evening at 6 and 8pm. Each screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the producers and on the first night, there will be an after-party to which ticket holders are invited.

It has taken three years to complete the project, which actually began as a shorter film. CayFilm audiences may remember it screening as a 42-minute piece in 2017.

In that same year, a distribution agency approached the executive producers to suggest that a longer film would be more marketable. It wasn’t until Nov. 2018 that the 60-minute version was finished, followed by work on a distribution strategy.

Although film festivals are normally the well-trodden path that filmmakers take after finishing a new project, this time the producers are going along a different route. They have a distribution contract with a California agency and have had screening requests from international locations such as Australia, Sweden and the UK. They are also licensing the film to non-profits, NGOs and educational institutions looking to screen it at conferences, educational events or town hall gatherings.

Q&A with Tamer Soliman

You say this all started in the mountains of Jamaica?

Yes. Before making this film, I had been aware of the concept of community wellbeing, but I never really thought too much about it, and I definitely didn’t think it was a key factor in achieving optimal health. Working as a health and wellness professional for over a decade, I advised my clients that health was defined by two things: what we ate and how much we exercised. But all of that changed after a trip to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Rob Tyler, my good friend and director of photography, and I stayed a few nights in a small mountain camp, outfitted with just the basics for simple village life. There was just an amazing sense of community there.

Obviously technology, smartphones and tablets have contributed to the era of social isolation. What do you feel is the solution to keeping usage in check?

What we learned from our interviewees Dr. Tara Gruenewald and Sherry Turkle is simply that people need to engage in more activities that don’t involve screens. [Setting] boundaries in the household, like no gadgets at the dinner table, in the bedroom, while driving, etc. is very valuable [for] keeping us in check. If you’re a parent, you need to model the behaviour you want to teach your child – meaning that we all need to become more reflective of our own screen usage in order to create change around us.

The social norms around phones and tablets have changed drastically – not in a good way – and we need to instead focus on creating opportunities for real face-to-face conversation and ‘call each other out’ when we are sliding into bad habits (i.e. unnecessarily checking phones during meetings, dinner parties, etc.).

What is the best way to get the message across to the public? Is not social media one of the necessary ways to spread the word, and does that not in some way counteract the message behind the movie?

Social media is definitely a tool we are using to market the film. In ‘The Great Disconnect’ we caution people to be aware of the time they are spending online and/or on screens. In an ideal world, we would be able to engage in online communities and social media to complement our ‘real world’ activities and relationships, but because of the addictive nature of these devices and applications, many people struggle with finding a balance. Our goal by promoting our movie online is to encourage people to have more meaningful and frequent in-person experiences.

What did you learn about isolation affecting wellbeing?

[When] I met with experts in economic, social and urban design, I discovered how multifaceted this idea of community wellbeing is, and the ill effects that happen as a result of community breakdown. These issues not only impact personal health and wellbeing but the health and wellbeing of communities on a much larger scale. Loneliness and social isolation are being labelled as epidemics – epidemics that may become one of society’s biggest challenges of the 21st century.

Making this film has changed my definition of what it really means to be healthy – physically, emotionally, and socially.  My hope is that by watching this film, people will reflect on the idea that to be well, we need to find ways to come together. The health of society as a whole depends on it.

Tickets to view the film can be purchased at www.tickettailor.com/events/disconnectedpremiere.

Tips to combat social isolation

  • Engage in a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Create and maintain meaningful friendships
  • Join in social activities to meet new people
  • Learn something new
  • Find a hobby
  • Get a pet
  • Become an active member of your community through volunteering