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Connecting with the maker of The Great Disconnect - In Conversation with Tamer Soliman

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

By: Darida Rose

The Great Disconnect is a documentary directed by Tamer Soliman. Soliman is wellness expert who partakes on the quest to find out more about the consequences of isolation and socialization via technology and how these effect the human condition. The Great Disconnect is an absolutely necessary film, made prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but all the more relevant after the fact. Soliman travels to several North American cities to find that wherever there is community, nature, and more human interaction, there seem to be higher levels of happiness and healthier individuals. There are quite varied outlooks that Tamir gives perspective to, from urban structures that lack natural designs and pathways for connection to cybernetic relationships as opposed to face-to-face interactions. The film makes us think about the current path of our civilization, our shifting values and socialization habits, and what the future potentially holds in store if we become more immersed in a world of isolation and loneliness.

Tamer Soliman was kind enough to chat with Phoenix Journal about his film and the journey of making The Great Disconnect.

Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): Mr. Soliman, absolutely necessary film during this pandemic. Can you  take us through the timeline of the process? When did the questions really start to form and the itch became something more practical?

Tamer Soliman (TS): Working as a health and wellness professional for over a decade, I always 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 in 2015. I had the unique opportunity to stay a few nights in a small mountain camp, where life was simple, but very communal - and people seemed truly happy and connected to one another. This prompted my exploration into community involvement and social connections, and the effect that it has on our quality of life and longevity.

(PJ): On a personal level, how awesome (in the truest sense of the word) was it for you to see the content of the film’s relevance become much more important or emphasized post-pandemic?

(TS): At the onset of the pandemic when “lockdown” measures were put in place, a viewer who saw the film prior to the pandemic wrote to us and said, “After this is all over, your message of the need for community connection is going to resonate strongly and positively with all of us. We have taken for granted the concept of living in a community for far too long and now with impending isolation, meeting up with friends, family and neighbours is going to mean so much more.”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement.  While we made the film in a pre-pandemic world, it is almost eerie how relevant and underscored the message of the film has become because of it. No-one wants to see people suffering from loneliness or social isolation, so let’s hope that when this pandemic is over with,  our “new normal” involves people prioritizing a lot more human, face-to-face interaction than what they were doing prior to 2020. The good thing about building a sense of community is that it’s never too late to start.

(PJ): On a journey of re-discovering a sense of community, what perplexed you the most? The film depicts more positive notes in terms of action and community building, but emphasizes the lack thereof. Was there a more dystopian narrative that you may have contemplated? Perhaps building more on the isolation and cyber-social networking?

(TS): The consequences of the over-usage and over-reliance of social media and online communications are very real - and there have been many documentaries exploring this topic exclusively. In our film, we knew we couldn’t completely avoid the social media conversation, but we wanted to highlight other topics that aren’t as frequently explored - such as urban design, capitalism, media and our culture individualism and busyness.

(PJ): There’s a great balance in the film between the negative and the positive. There’s a shift in traditional communal values, but also active volunteer-ships in community building efforts. There are faulty urban designs, but entrepreneurs and programs in place to lead a transformation. Can you tell us a bit about how you were able to find this balance, the challenges and deliberations of it when you were putting it all together?

(TS): Our goal was to balance the messaging of the film so that people knew the detrimental effects of loneliness and social isolation, but still felt hopeful enough to take action. That’s why we incorporated the stories of the community activists and the real-time example of the condo party experiment. It sounds simple but after all of our research, it really seemed like people needed to be reminded how good it feels to truly connect with others, and how important it is for us to find a way to give back to our communities.

(PJ): For viewers less familiar with how documentaries take form, can you elaborate on your process. Did you have the story structured in the  first place, or did much of it take shape as you went along in your journey of discovery?

(TS): Documentaries have a unique set of challenges because the script is constantly evolving. With every interview and new piece of research you come across, you have to find a way to integrate it and communicate it to the viewers in a clear, interesting and entertaining way. I can’t remember how many drafts of the script we went through until we got it right, but it was a lot. Luckily, our small team of writers, lead by Sarah Douglas, managed to figure out a way to smoothly transition from theme to theme and Rob Tyler, our film editor, was very patient with all of the edits and revisions that became necessary as the script evolved.

(PJ): You did touch upon the notion of food and sharing food as a source of building community. During this pandemic, people are really starting to hone their cooking skills. Can you take us through your take on the future of sustainable food practices and community building? Are you optimistic given your broad knowledge and experience regarding the matter?

(TS): I have always been a champion for local, seasonal eating, and I think a lot of people either embraced this concept during the pandemic or were forced into it when the grocery store shelves were emptying out with all of the panic buying. This gave people a real-life lesson about where their food comes from and what food security is all about.

The local and sustainable farmers that I support all said that they had an increase in sales of their products, including CSA subscriptions (community supported agriculture vegetable boxes) -which is fantastic. Now people have seen first hand not only how delicious local food is, but also how invaluable our sustainable local famers are - so I am hopeful that this trend is here to stay.

(PJ): What’s in store next? Are you working on any stories or ideas that you’d like to share with our readers.

(TS): Right now we are solely focused on promoting The Great Disconnect. We feel that the film is timelier than ever and we want to make sure it reaches as many people as possible.

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