Tallgrass Film Festival Review: I Am Human

It seems like every year I fail to make it to all of the documentaries that I want to. That’s stressful, you know? I feel like I’m not giving those filmmakers their credit. Each year I schedule a few and usually make it to only a couple. They’re almost always great, but sometimes you just stumble on something special.

I Am Human is that something special this year. 

We join the odysseys of three separate individuals – Bill (tetraplegic), Anne (Parkinson’s Disease), and Stephen (Blindness). These individuals live a variety of different ways, existing with assistance from loved ones and medical personnel, but emerging new technologies in neuroscience are granting them the chance to improve and possibly even  overcome their physical ailments. All three are endearing, intelligent, and comfortable being open about the struggle they’ve undergone. Documentary filmmaking is often about bringing information to light that would otherwise stay beneath the surface of public awareness and it often shines a light on the humanity of its subject matter. Directors Taryn Southern and Elena Gaby started out attempting to understand these new technologies and wound up bringing us a story of human evolution instead. It’s beautiful. 

We should have a word about Taryn Southern real quick. She’s from Wichita after all, a local woman returning with a documentary that wound up being one of my favorite things at any Tallgrass Film Festival. She competed at “American Idol,” holds two bachelors degrees from the University of Miami, created an album using artificial intelligence titled I Am AI, and has won numerous awards and attentions with her web video productions. I just wanted to highlight a filmmaker from my hometown that has displayed talents in multiple artistic fields.

She’s got her own eye for talent as well, bringing in cinematographer Joel Froome for I Am Human. The guy’s eye has now captured the lives of these people with gorgeous camera work and blocking that a film geek could swoon over. It’s one of the most beautiful visual setups I’ve seen this year and is able to add a somber, loving, and deeply human tone to settings like sterile hospitals and country homes. It’s coupled with a fantastic score from Pierre Takal, a composer who has worked on projects with Chris Gethard and Morgan Spurlock, and together the two manage to create the feeling of a big budget sci-fi medical drama within the scope of a medical documentary. It’s a truly wonderful setup that is deeply important to the structure and impact we find in the lives of the subjects.

And those subjects truly shine here. Engagingly human while also feeling cautiously optimistic, the film spends a bit of time on the moral and personal implications of the technology while reminding us that its positive effects are already being seen. Bill, Anne, and Stephen all go through their surgeries and experience changes while we’re asked to think of the boundless possibilities of the merging between flesh and neurotech. It’s a discussion that has been theorized in fiction and now realized in hospital research facilities, meaning that we have to put it on the table and talk about it. Taryn Southern and Elena Gaby have brought it to the forefront and asked us to join them in talking about the future of human evolution. I don’t know where I Am Human will wind up streaming but when it does we’ll let you know. It’s a must-see.


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