Film Reviews

Review: ‘Quiet Zone’

Hot Docs 2017

Courtesy of Hot Docs


The Quiet Zone
(Canada, 45 min.)
dirs. Elisa Gonzalez & Daniel Froideveaux
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)

The National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia offers shelter from wireless technology to both the Green Bank Telescope, one of the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescopes, as well as a community of “electrosensitive” people. Escaping the proliferation of illness-inducing technologies, such as Wi-Fi, cell phone, and radio signals, these people live within the telescope’s protection. The Quiet Zone, directed by Elisa Gonzalez and Daniel Froideveaux, looks into the lives of a few of the people in the electrosensitive community, hearing their thoughts on culture, life, health, and progress.

Languidly following a selection of people from the community, The Quiet Zone allows us to hear the thoughts and feelings of people with this obscure illness. Reflecting upon their lives, they largely prefer being technology-free: unsurprisingly, a resentment of modern life is palpable. In their community, they are no longer rushed, seem truly connected to each other and appreciate life more than those of us trapped within the cages of modernity. Their activities are characterised as wholesome, featuring line dances, bingo nights, church-going, and home cooked meals. The slight tremor of handheld cameras match the comfortable imperfection of life not restricted by the exactness of the urban.

The flowing style of this documentary, with its gentle artistry and pastoral feel, makes it easy to watch but the film is not entirely satisfying. With a mix of visuals, ranging from the small-town vibe of the community, to the more institutional telescope scenes, to the sublime depictions of nature, the film is muddled. The aesthetic becomes stilted as more and more of the film’s focus is on the people, and their quaint style of living. But the quaintness is tired: a homogenous group, electrosensitive people seem to all be older, white, largely Christian, with a distinct set of interests, and an indistinct concept of their illness. A more critical look, or at least a stronger engagement, would have helped to focus and create intrigue.

Most of The Quiet Zone is stunningly shot, and its objective gaze renders landscapes and technology successfully alien. But when it gets to the people, their lives and their opinions, we are brought back to the familiar. Not so different from a rural town, and still using technology which isn’t wireless, the subject matter is not very compelling. Aesthetically, the focus on the community’s inhabitants interrupts the film’s ethereal look while in terms of content, we are given little information of interest to merit the distance from the more beautiful scenes. With an objectivity, which is too cold, and a disjointed style, The Quiet Zone does little to make its subject matter engaging.

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