What does it take to disconnect?

Ubiquity What if WiFi was a killer? Wireless networks are the connectivity tissue of modern life but some claim electromagnetic radiation has devastated their health. Such people seek relief by taking refuge in the wilderness where there is no wireless littering the airwaves. And with the internet of things taking over every home and plans for total connectivity, their means of escape are diminishing. Revelatory and thought provoking.

“Every day I feel like I am being shot over and over again... by an invisible gun”, says Asaka Kojima. “The radio waves make my body feel as if it is being shot by tiny bullets 24/7.” For Asaka and other sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), the struggle to avoid energy waves transmitted by electronic devices is a losing battle. Despite Asaka's efforts to live a technology-free life, it is hard to find respite: “When the waves get into my house I get ringing in my ears, and my head gets fuzzy. That goes on for some time and then the nosebleed starts”.

In a remote Swedish forest, Per Segerbäck has forged a home away from the buzz of everyday life. But life in seclusion has its own challenges: “If you want to get away from the towers, you have to move somewhere where people don't live, and usually it's places like this with snakes, and ticks and angry insects that try to eat you”. Per has lived this way for years. When he first moved to the forest it was in a frantic attempt to remedy his debilitating symptoms. “My children were very upset and sad that I had to leave my home in such a rush”, he recounts. “It was a very tough time.”

But for Per and other sufferers of EHS, the illness portends a darker future for us all. “We are like the canaries in the coal mine”, says Per. Anouk De Bont walks through the streets of Weesp in the Netherlands with her two young children. They reach a transmission tower and stop dead in their tracks. “What do we want this tower to do?” she asks. The children answer in unison: “Go away!”At home Anouk uses pen and paper to put her concerns into writing: “My children are growing up in a world with more and more wireless devices. Radiation levels are increasing. At friends’ houses, at school. It's everywhere”.

But EHS sufferers live in a world that pays no notice. With little action taken to alleviate their pain and nowhere else to go, exile is the only answer. At the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, the world’s largest community of EHS sufferers has developed as the unremitting growth of wireless technology has driven more and more people from their homes. Residents of the Radio Quiet Zone still dream of a world that has space for people like them. “Probably more than anything, I miss being able to go out into the world, travel, go into any building and not hurt”, says one woman.

Another resident puts it more bluntly: “If they're going to take over the world with their technology, they need to provide spaces for us. When I walk into a restaurant, it hurts me to walk in there, because there's Wi-Fi. Where are my rights? Where are our rights? This is our world, too.

Reviews and More

“Ubiquity gets at something unsettling about the way we live now” – Hot Docs

"a truly important film... a potent warning sign for excessive use of technologies"Get Reel Movies

LaurelHot Docs - Official Selection

The Producers

Bregtje Van Der Haak - Director

Bregtje is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. Since 1997, she has been directing international documentaries and transmedia projects on social change with a special focus on technological culture. She was the first female filmmaker to film the lives of working women in Saudi Arabia in 2006 and was awarded the Media Woman of the Year award. Bregtje studied dance in Paris, political science and law at the University of Amsterdam and the New School for Social Research in New York and is a graduate of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. She contributes regularly to the VPRO Backlight documentary series on future affairs and she is a curator of the art biennale Manifesta 12 in Palermo.

BALDR Film - Producers

BALDR FILM (2012) is the Amsterdam-based production company of Frank Hoeve and Katja Draaijer. They focus on developing and (co-)producing challenging, author-driven features and documentaries of a select number of filmmakers with a distinctive personal signature. BALDR Film offers a lot of support in matters of content, focussing not only on urgent content but also on form and originality. In this they don’t fear to take risks, always aiming for a high artistic value, visually intriguing style and an international audience.

BALDR Film produced the well-acclaimed films Sevilla (2012, Dutch Academy Award), Those Who Feel The Fire Burning (2014, Dutch Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary, IDFA Nomination Best Feature Documentary) and Brothers (2017, Premiers Plans d’Angers). At the moment, BALDR Film has several films in production: the feature Gold, Window Boy would also like to have a Submarine, Sick, Sick, Sick (CineMart 2015) and Heartbound Cannes Critics Week winner-Armadillo).

Making The Film

Director's Statement

With this film, I want to explore the impact of new wireless technologies and ubiquitous internet connectivity. Ubiquity is not only a film about the electro-sensitives Per, Asaka, and Anouk, who are forced to live a lonely existence on the margins of the modern world. It is a story about all of us. Are the electro-sensitives our sensors in this radiating new era? Because who controls the power of the tech companies that are changing our world so profoundly? And is there something like ‘the right to remain offline’?

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