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Through a mix of mesmerizing images and contemplative narration, director Natalia Almada explores humanity’s relationship with technology in the thought-provoking documentary Users. It’s more of a tone poem than an analytical investigation, raising complex questions that don’t have straightforward answers and reminding viewers that we all have choices when it comes to how we interact with the digital tools and devices that are so prevalent in our modern world.

Winner of the Directing Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, the film feels even more relevant in 2023, with the rapid proliferation of generative AI tools like ChatGPT constantly in the news and our increasing understanding of the potentially negative mental health consequences of social media use. The risks are especially high for young people, and that’s where Users spends much of its time, too — with kids, looking at the ways that technology impacts them from day one and pondering the role it will continue to play as they get older.

The film’s calm, introspective narration seems to be coming from a mother’s perspective, fueled by her insecurity over whether her children will still need her in a world where infants can be efficiently soothed to sleep by a machine and any question can be answered by the family smart speaker. But, she reminds us, wires and screens aren’t the only things out there: There are also fields and landscapes and green grass to run and play in. The images Almada chooses to illustrate the compelling beauty of the natural world can feel like living art installations, and watching them on the screen is a meditation-like experience.

By the time Almada pulls back the curtain on exactly who’s narrating her film, you might be ready to pull the plug on your phone (as well as your tablet, your e-reader, your laptop, your video doorbell, your kids’ gaming system, and any Alexa/Google-enabled devices you happen to have lying around). While it’s important to take the film’s sobering message with a grain of salt — because there are positive features of modern technology, and having the time and energy to fret about the ethics of tech is rooted in a level of privilege that many, many people don’t have — there’s no denying the fact that Almada’s message is worth thinking about. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nikki Fowler: Natalia Almada’s Users is a therapeutic and hypnotic ode to nature, questioning the rise of technology and its influence on humanity and the world, specifically how we consume and navigate the dance with automation as our human lives become more isolated. She tells the story through her own experiences of being a mother, flawed when compared to robotics and the tech that governs our lives. With outstanding cinematography and sound, you will get swept away into a visually and audibly sobering experience that’s almost therapeutic in the fear, friction, isolation, and loss of emotion that at times comes with our advancements in society to an age where we no longer have to leave our homes to work, shop, eat or play. Almada questions the now and the future, as well as contemplates global warming in her euphoric visual experience. Prepare to be spellbound and contemplate whether the good in technology outweighs the bad.

Leslie Combemale Raising our children from birth, growing the food we eat, how we communicate and travel…how will the way we are developing technology around those rituals and very human experiences fundamentally change us individually and as a society? Juxtaposing biology and nature against manmade technology, writer/director/editor Natalia Almada makes a case for the idea that one day we will be unable to distinguish the difference between the two. What makes the film particularly powerful is how sound, or the lack of sound, and music (by Kronos Quartet, no less) are used, both in technologically focused and natural environments. There is a calm, a connectedness to soul, that sounds of nature evoke, but we are also tricked in a number of ways, both visually and aurally, about what is natural and what is technological. Users is, ultimately, decidedly anti-tech, but the film is at once lyrical and jarring in the questions it poses about our future as a species.

Jennifer Merin Mexican-American filmmaker Natalia Almada’s documentary, Users, is a poetic and profoundly provocative delve into the complex intersection of nature and technology in human civilization, present and future. The film presents itself as 81-minute meditation on the ways in which our increasing dependence on technology will impact our future generations, and those who are being birthed in the present. Don’t expect a delineated thesis or linear narrative of any sort. Almada juxtaposes images of the natural world — rushing water, clouds, pristine forests — with those of technological wonders — mechanized indoor crop growing and harvesting, soaring communications towers, streamline vehicles — to suggest the unfathomable complexity of our modern environment, civilization and culture. Read full review.

Cate Marquis Natalia Almada’s non-linear documentary opens with that unseen female narrator talking about how once parents didn’t know a baby’s sex until the child was born, women carried babies in their bodies for nearly a year without knowing gender — as if this condition of having to wait was a phenomenon from a distant past. The narrator then goes on to talk about her baby being cared for by machines – perfect machines replacing imperfect parents – and wondering about how her child will grow up in this modern world that is covered in solar panels and harvests food that is grown without sunlight or soil. Read full review.


Title: Users

Director: Natalia Almada

Release Date: June 9, 2023

Running Time: 81 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Natalia Almeda

Distribution Company: Icarus Films

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

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Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).