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Just One Question for Doug Block
Jan 18, 1998 :: Michael Sippey

Last June I had the opportunity to screen Home Page, a documentary from noted filmmaker Doug Block on "the beating heart of the Internet." Having read the pre-release hype, I expected little more than a look into the online sideshow of Justin Hall and the crew at Wired. But Block's film surprised me with its emotional depth, its self-reflective narrative, and its meditations on our need to connect.

Home Page will be screened at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah starting this week, which means that Doug was, of course, exceedingly kind to take time out of his schedule to answer this one question...

To me, Home Page captures perfectly a specific time in the short history of the web (literally late 1996), when we were still experimenting with the boundaries between public and private lives, still shocked by Justin revealing his sexual exploits, still engrossed by Julie's brutal honesty. Fast forward two years, and the national comedy of Bill and Monica is being played out on the small screen of, while the romantic comedy of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is being played out on the big screen in You've Got Mail. On the eve of Sundance, do you think audiences will react to the film differently than they would have if it had been released even 12 months ago?

I don't really think audiences will react that differently now to the film's story because its themes are pretty timeless-- it's really about the search for human connection and intimacy.

However, I do think Home Page will be more accessible to a wider mainstream audience now than a year ago. As you suggested, the Clinton mess and You've Got Mail may well make what Justin does with his online diary seem a little less bizarre and off-putting (though, hopefully, no less fascinating). Millions more people are online now and familiar with online interactions and relationships. Millions more people have personal home pages themselves. And it doesn't hurt a bit that the movie is hitting Sundance just when millennium fever is starting to grip the media.

So, yes, I think the fact that the film took so damn long to edit, though frustrating at times, may well turn out to be a commercial advantage. I think there's an important aesthetic advantage, too.

As it gets further from 1996, it's easier to see it as the year when the Web lost its innocence. Before then, a Justin could still create a hugely influential website from his dorm room while the corporate media moguls were clueless. Over the 9 months I shot in '96, though, it was just starting to dawn on webheads that those early giddy days were ending and their time may have passed.

All of which gives Home Page an added resonance, I think. With the rise of e-commerce and the comeback of technology stocks, you'd think the Web is solely about making money these days. The Web has changed so much and so fast that, while it seems strange to say, if Home Page had come out a year ago, it might have been too close in time to have perspective. It might even have seemed a little dated. Three years removed, the fate of Electric Minds and Wired is a pretty poignant reminder of where the so-called revolution has gone.

Ultimately, Home Page is a story about Justin's personal coming-of-age (and a little about mine), set in a window of time when the Web came of age, as well. It's impossible to predict how widely it will get out or whether it will have much impact, but I do hope it plays a role in turning media discussion about the Web back where it belongs-- on the human desire for connection and community.



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