TIFF Top Ten: Meddy

Meddy is a sneak peek into a new frontier of filmmaking.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Meddy.

In an apartment at an undisclosed location somewhere in Toronto, Sam, a world champion Legacy Quest speedrunner and popular Twitch streamer, sits in a state of extreme angst. Her life is built around her online popularity. Her friends are digital in nature; real people, yes, but known only through the pixelated echo of the internet.

Of her friends one in particular, Eddie, dashing and charismatic — if his online avatar and personality are any indication — has been pressuring her to begin streaming her face when she’s showcasing her speedrunning talent. Twitch, for those unfamiliar, is a website where gamers like Sam broadcast their gameplay live. The key to building up audience is talent, yes, but as is with any content so too is the feeling of a personal connection between creator and audience. Imagine, Eddie suggests, if she would pair her much sought-after gaming prowess with the Twitch convention of streaming her face and real-time reactions.

This issue is that Sam does not want to stream her face. She’s well aware the internet is not a friendly place for women. She’s not interested in showcasing herself lest her audience and supposed fans turn on her for not checking all the boxes of conventional attractiveness. Worse still would be to have her close group of friends, the annoyingly handsome Eddie chief among them, abandon her.

So begins Meddy, a brilliantly crafted short film brought to us by York-trained, Canadian-Polish filmmaker Ted Sakowsky, which played in the Student Shorts program at TIFF Top 10. It’s a meditation on loneliness, peer pressure and bullying; all eternal themes, but brought up to date with a grippingly modern and original story.

Although this in itself is enough to warrant attention, Sakowsky’s techniques deployed in the film flirt with vastly untapped resources for filmmakers: the digital spaces in which more and more people are spending chunks of their lives.

In 2015, Twitch announced that over 1.5 million people use the service to stream gameplay. This was matched and help spur 100 million unique visitors each month. It’s just one indicator of many that building relationships online is increasingly no longer the domain of a cult group, but well on its way to becoming ingrained in the mainstream.

As more and more of our lives start to play out online, it’s likely Sam’s story becomes a more easily recognizable one. It’s also likely that actions we take in digital spaces become increasingly more relevant and powerful.

In one brilliant scene, Sam, frustrated by the pressure Eddie has put on her, takes revenge by suffocating a character she created and named after him in a spaceship simulator she’s running on her desktop. It’s a powerfully tragic and funny scene, which perfectly shows how tormented she is by the process of being forced to do something she’s simply not comfortable doing. There is no dialogue — just recorded gameplay intended to tell a specific story.

It’s not the first time this has been done in film. In How Heavy This Hammer, a film by another Canadian, Kazik Radwanski, gameplay footage is used to enhance the lofty dread associated with the existential angst of its dreary lead character.

The most brilliant aspect of Meddy is Sakowsky’s appreciation for how digital actions, whether they be finally facing our fears and streaming our face live or the simple act of killing off a pixelated ally of symbolic importance, can express volumes of raw and real human emotions. It’s an indication that he, and Meddy, are at the tip of an iceberg on the topic of film turning its lens to our digital lives.

TIFF Top Ten ran from Jan. 12 to the 21.