University of Colorado
Citation: Chawla, Louise. (2010). "Play Again." Children, Youth and Environments 20 (2). Retrieved [date] from http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/
A film production of Ground Productions, Portland, Oregon and New York
Produced by Meg Merrill and directed by Tonje Hessen Schei, 2010
To arrange screenings at local theaters and community events, go to www.playagainfilm.com
Available through Bullfrog Films, www.bullfrogfilms.com
Play Again is an 80-minute documentary film that won a special mention award at the 2010 Barcelona Environmental Film Festival and that was selected to screen on the opening night of the Bioneers Festival in the United States in mid-October 2010. As its press release states, “At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, Play Again explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds.” Although most of the footage was shot in the United States, where the average 8- to 18-year-old spends seven-and-a-half hours a day behind an electronic screen, a few scenes show children and their families along the seashore and fjords of Norway, where the director Tonje Hessen Schei spent her childhood. According to Hessen Schei, the stark contrast between the way her children are growing up in the United States today and her own Norwegian childhood roaming the woods and playing outdoors in all weathers spurred her to examine what is lost as we allow our children to trade experiences in the full-bodied real world—and especially in the natural world—for the virtual worlds of computer screens, television and texting.
The film tells its story effectively by letting children speak. It follows six young teens in the Pacific Northwest of the United States: first as they describe their lives as “average American children” engaged with electronic media five to 15 hours a day, then as they embark on a wilderness adventure deep in the Oregon forest—disconnected from all media but immersed in the worlds of nature and group life with their guides and each other, and finally as they return to their homes and struggle to maintain a “media fast” on their return. The teens’ reflections on their experiences at each stage speak more powerfully than any adult expert could ever do. There are, nevertheless, plenty of adult experts in the film, including David Suzuki of Canada, United States environmentalists Bill McKibben and Charles Jordan, journalist Richard Louv, sociologist Juliet Schor, neuroscientist Gary Small, child psychiatrists Michael Brody and Susan Linn, and educators Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige. Their comments are trenchant and frame the film’s big issues, but their parts are kept appropriately short so that the focus remains on contemporary children’s experience in their own words.
The film moves back and forth between dramatic images of children in front of screens, the allure of video games and television commercials, children in nature, and nature from a child’s-eye view. It includes a few images of polluted shores and melting glaciers, as Charles Jordan makes the point that, “What they do not know, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” The cinematography of James Klatt and a soundtrack by the composer Andreas Hessen Schei add substantially to the film’s high level of production. Play Again can serve as a compelling catalyst for discussion and action to limit both screen time and the commercialization of childhood and to increase children’s free play outdoors and access to nature—not just through distant wilderness adventures but also through schoolyard gardens and nearby nature in neighborhoods.