In 2020, Zoom became a staple of many of our lives and a way for us to stay connected with others. It has also become an innovative way for filmmakers to continue to create content, even in the middle of a pandemic. Kristen Brookman’s second short film, Hi, Stranger (2020), tells the story of two people navigating their first date via Zoom and all of the awkwardness that this entails. As the date goes on, and the two become more comfortable with each other, they open up and discuss their mental health and thoughts of suicide.
Watch the full film and read our interview with Hi, Stranger (2020) writer and director Kristen Brookman, in which she discusses the challenges of filming entirely over Zoom. The short film – short entirely online during the COVID pandemic – is available to watch in full at the bottom of the interview with this talented up-and-coming UK filmmaker.
Can a dating movie on Zoom really work?
Hi, Stranger (2020) opens with the unnamed male character, played by the brilliant Tom Lewin, staring back at the viewer, waiting for his date (Penelope Yeulet) to arrive. Watching on my laptop, it wasn’t completely inconceivable that I was the one about to have a video call with him. This initial intimacy is characteristic of the entire 13 minute short film in which the audience quickly becomes invested in observing the two protagonists as their relationship evolves. It is a real testament to Kristen Brookman’s talent as a writer and director that this kind of connection can be built in such a short amount of time and still feel complete and well rounded.
Watching on my laptop, it wasn’t completely inconceivable that I was the one about to have a video call with him.
Anyone familiar with dating in any form, but especially online, will recognise the awkwardness of the pair’s initial interactions as they try to determine what they are each looking to get from this.
For Penelope Yeulet’s character, this is embarrassingly misjudged when she mistakes the invitation to video call as a proposition for something much less PG. This endearing vulnerability and humour sets the tone for the rest of the film as we witness serious discussions interspersed with spontaneous dance intervals and sincere debates about duck-sized horses. Although entirely scripted, the naturalistic dialogue makes this feel like a very genuine interaction.
Casting talented actors
This is, of course, aided by the excellent chemistry between Penelope Yeulet and Tom Lewin’s characters, immediately evident despite this being their first date. My concern with a film acted entirely over Zoom was whether or not certain physicality would come across. I was pleasantly surprised that despite filming in different parts of the country, Lewin and Yeulet were able to provide excellent performances complete with lingering eye contact and flirtatious grins which can almost trick the audience into believing they are in fact sharing the same space. This connection also makes the conversation’s transition into sincerity entirely believable.
The film was made in support of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), and was released to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. It handles open discussions of suicide and mental health sensitively and with real honesty, broken up with ample doses of humour and sarcasm.
Framed within the context of online interaction, Hi, Stranger (2020) acknowledges the fact that we never really know what anyone is going through when presented with just a picture or text message. After they both admit to having had suicidal thoughts, she states that he “never mentioned anything when they were texting”, he responds, “neither did you”.
One of the most sensitive and realistic depictions of mental illness that I have seen on screen to date.
This interaction sums up the sometimes superficial nature of online communication. We can choose exactly what information we share with others and hide that which is more personal, more hidden, in order to present a perfect happy image. It isn’t until we are confronted with someone face to face (even via Zoom), that we are forced to admit this.
A realistic depiction of mental health issues
Speaking in a discussion after the film’s online premiere, Brookman stated that she didn’t want this to be a negative, depressing story, but one of hope. I believe that she wholeheartedly achieves this goal with Hi, Stranger (2020), establishing one of the most sensitive and realistic depictions of mental illness that I have seen on screen to date. She shows that people are capable of going from the ultimate depths of despair to glimpses of joy and human connection which keep them going for one more day, to eat one more bowl of ice cream and watch one more film with a stranger over Zoom.
So, I encourage you to watch Hi, Stranger (2020). It will take up only 13 minutes of your day but stay with you long after.
Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Images courtesy of Kristen Brookman