A controversial short film set in Richmond, about a man who befriends a young teenage boy on social media, is exclusively released online today.
Windscreenwiperman is written and directed by Sam Baron, the cousin of Ali G star Sacha Baron-Cohen, and is released on ShortOfTheWeek.
It explores the stigma around online friendships and our global addiction to social media and tends to provoke strong reactions and debate.
The most shocking aspect about the film is, despite the dubious premise, how innocent it is, while watching the film I defy the viewer to not feel like a pervert by the end of it.
Mr Baron said: “We realised how deeply ingrained the social stigma still is against online friendships, and wanted to use this stigma to fuel the tension in an unexpectedly innocent story about an online friendship.”
The film stars Joe Hurst, who recently appeared in the BBC’s The Casual Vacancy, and centres on the friendship between car-part designer Simon Abbot who interacts with people through the Chat Roulette website.
The roulette wheel browses though people all over the world in their homes who are logged into the website to invite strangers to chat.
Some are holding normal parties, sexually charged men are engaging in masturbation, one woman invites the protagonist Simon to go onto a live sex website.
However, Simon skips past all these people and stops at a young teenage boy.
Mr Baron said: “My co-writer (Raphael von Blumenthal, who also plays the lead role) actually uses Chat Roulette to meet new friends all over the world.
“When he told me about this, I thought it was weird. He couldn’t see why. I presented every argument to him, but he would always undermine my objections with sensible, logical answers.
“Yet no matter what he said, my gut instinct was still that it was weird.”
Simon and the teenager strike up a normal friendship just as one would strike up a conversation with someone at a bus stop.
However the most disturbing aspects are not the film itself but the viewers thinking, the assumptions, the judgements, the fear.
As the film progressed anticipation builds the audience waits for Simon to turn out to be a nutter, a sexual predator, a bad guy.
A heart-racing snooker scene feels as though the film was veering its characters into a dangerous situation.
Reflecting on the stigma of online friendships Mr Baron said: “I think people are creatures of habit, and instinctively distrust things which are new and unknown.
But just as online dating has gone from being a ’90s sitcom punchline to a commonplace daily activity, I think that attitudes are slowly changing towards online friendships too.”
Mr Baron won the prestigious Academy of Motion Pictures’ Nicholl Fellowship for his short film the Science of Love & Laughter in 2014.
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