PBS Premiere: July 15, 2013Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

POV: Briefly describe this film for someone that hasn’t seen it.

Nancy Schwartzman: xoxosms is a real world love story about two very different people who live in different cities and meet and fall in love online.

The film sets out to capture this idea of digital intimacy. Can you actually meet someone and love them without having met them in person? So we meet Gus, very isolated and home-schooled, from a small town, who meets this really sophisticated South Korean girl because they do a Facebook game. It’s a personality test, like “What kind of person are you?” And they both opted to make those results public. So when you do that other people can search the results and you know you can start talking to people. So he took a chance and they started this correspondence. And they would remark, you know, “Well, it’s so random,” “We’re so different, you know,” “It’s so funny, I feel so close to you.” And they shared with me this whole archive of their love letters and correspondences and I got to read and watch it happen over time as they fell in love and broke down boundaries.

POV: How did you come to make this film? A lot of your work has to do with young people, love, sex. But what drew you to the subject in the first place?

Schwartzman: I was really interested in how the Internet and technology is shaping relationships. So it sounds very broad, but Hanging Out, my first film, brought me to the company of lots of students and college students. And I would hear about their hookups. And then there were all these questions like, do you “friend” on Facebook the guy you just hooked up with? Is texting too intimate? Do you guys ever talk on the phone? So I had all these questions about the levels of intimacy and where people feel comfortable on various platforms. So I put out to the universe in an email to about 30 students that I knew — I’m looking to explore this topic, does anyone know someone in a relationship or who thinks about these kinds of things? Because what’s interesting I think with young people is they’re not even thinking about it, they’re just living it. So it ended up that my niece, who was 20 at the time, said, “Oh, my best friend, Jiyun, met this random guy on Facebook and they’re in this relationship! I’ll put you guys in touch.”

I think the main issue that I wanted to disprove in a way is that the Internet is a dangerous, terrible place. And beyond that, it can’t replace human relationships. There is this message, for especially teenage girls, that it’s super dangerous, you’re going to only meet terrible people, you’re never going to meet anyone good. And that’s just so not true. People, especially young people, find a way — something about the screen breaks down walls and they’re able to talk about themselves in a way that they can’t face-to-face and open themselves up to other people in a very organic, safe way.

POV: So one of the things that’s also notable about this relationship with Gus and Jiyun is it’s really the first love that both of them had experienced. That being said, you want to know where they are now and, and what happened to them after they went through this pretty intense period together.

Schwartzman: They are living their lives and they’re not together anymore, but from what I see from Gus on Facebook, and we’ve chatted a bit, he has a new girlfriend and he is still in Illinois, and she’s from the same town and they seem very well suited for each other. And Jiyun actually went back to South Korea and she was attending school, and last I saw she was traveling through India with a bunch of bohemian friends, living kind of a very cool bohemian life.

I hope that xoxosms provides a window into how young people are exploring each other and exploring themselves, using the Internet. And it’s not dangerous and it doesn’t have to be fraught. It’s sweet and romantic and innocent. And I think a lot of parents and adults have a lot of misinformation about their children and technology. And these are the kinds of stories that are happening too. xoxo shows that this is happening too and there is intimacy there and these are real relationships and that’s a positive thing.