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Swiping Right – Searchers (Sundance 2021 Film Review)

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A still from Searchers by Pacho Velez, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Asterlight. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

During the dark quarantine witching hours of January 3rd, 2020, I created my first ever dating profile. After months of deliberation and joking about creating an actual page with my friends and followers, I finally gave in to the trend of the common Tinder profile. Part of me was incredibly insecure in creating a profile, largely in part of potential second hand embarrassment. If we're being completely transparent, claiming oneself as a cinephile is frankly not the best way to introduce or even “promote” your identity in an app that's completely based on aggregators and algorithms of appearances. On January 20th, 2020, I finally matched with a person. For reference, this user was a complete stranger. I had matched with somebody days prior, but that was merely just a gag — since I was already friends with the person previously. This new person wasn't anybody I had previously known a lovely woman from the outskirts of the city that I currently reside in. 

It was a euphoric experience, because after weeks of contemplating whether anybody actually cared about my profile, my answer finally came through. Dating apps can be fun, but also dangerously worrisome in how negative thoughts on self-appearance can take over one's own social-life. It nearly happened to myself, when after weeks of patient deliberation, I was genuinely concerned if anybody would actually bother to care. Casual humorous thoughts about remaining alone forever infiltrated my pubescent teenage mind. Are we surprised? Absolutely not. However, these apps do come with the occasional positive expense of meeting new people. If anything, whether this new match I went through is going to work or not, I'm happy that I got to meet somebody new from my city. Going through these exact same cycles of contemplation, acceptance, and personal desire, the latest film from New York-based filmmaker Pacho Velez examines this exact virtual-routed culture with vibrant visual flare and fluttering personality. 

Tinder, Hinge,, OkCupid, Bumble, Adam4Adam, Lex, Grindr, Seeking Arrangement. These are the names of the lead players of Searchers — all apps that seek for one common goal. In a film that is largely dependent on quick interviews with random strangers from ages 19-88, the apps provide a staggeringly effective framing device into the world of online dating. Using overlayed live-screen capture to accompany the interviewees reactions, the different assortments of personalities and experiences onscreen offer insight on the universality of the human experience. Taking an empathetic path in delving into the interviewees' personal, romantic, and sexual desires, Searchers provides thorough and detailed commentary on the value of time, and how money ultimately plays as a key factor into the emotional investability of these aforementioned apps. 

The end result is a film that is delightfully unbiased in its sincere approach. The film highlights different experiences both positive and negative. Although there's a staggering absence in footage of the creation of the dating profiles themselves — which I would personally argue is an essential footstep into the foray of online dating — the actual time spent into the observational and personal element of all the interviewees provides a certain level of relatability. There's something admirable in Velez' keen determination in interviewing people of different social status. Whether it's somebody from a different race, sexual orientation, age, or any other demographic-defining factor, the end result of Searchers is a project that is purely well intentioned and humanist. 

Unlike other COVID-19 based productions that put the pandemic on a pedestal of thematic hierarchy, Searchers uses the backdrop of quarantine as merely an afterthought. When everything is online, and when more people become desperate for communication and love in society's darkest hour sometimes highlighting the obvious can lead to dis-satisfying results. As somebody who uses cinema as an escape from the insanity of our current political state, Searchers is a delightful think-piece and cinematic escape from the often revisited cacophony of societal madness. Braced with passionate affection for the human experience, Searchers is a joyous celebration of love, humanity, and the interactions that form our intricate little lives. 

Dir: Pacho Velez

DOP: Daniel Claridge & Martin Dicicco

Country: USA

Year: 2021

Run time: 81 minutes

Searchers premiered at this year's as part of the NEXT selection. The film will screen again virtually on February 1st. Searchers is also currently seeking international distribution.

A still from Searchers by Pacho Velez, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Asterlight.


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