Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2021: “Searchers” Film Review

It’s strange to see how online dating tools have become so important in the human socialization process. Apps such as Tinder and Grindr changed the game for new and old generations alike, and now it’s common to hear that someone met their significant other thanks to an app on their phone. Everything is a couple of swipes or text messages away. However, it’s not that simple. 

The dating process is still filled with hope, desire, obstacles and disappointments. But now this experience is a little different, and Pacho Velez’s new documentary “Searchers” tries to capture it all.

From an 88-year-old looking for a partner to a 20-year-old nicknamed “little_sailor20” selecting potential sugar daddies, Velez filmed dozens of New Yorkers browsing though their favorite dating apps. We get close-up shots of the subjects and a glimpse of what they are actually watching. It’s a simple, yet very creative setup that allows us to study their faces in detail while they vent their thoughts and explain their selection process to Velez, who interviewed people from as many ethnicities, ages and genders as possible.

A couple of 50-year-old interviewees call it “a job” because of the amount of time you have to invest in in the search. A 74-year-old named Cathleen explains the various ways men try to ask for sex without explicitly saying so. A man seems down on the whole thing: He judges every single detail of the candidates appearing on his screen, but later on, he recalls a beautiful love experience he had while using these apps. A young man exchanges horny messages while explaining to a friend (and us) the meaning of each sex-infused phrase.

Director Velez is also looking for love. He creates a profile and browses through options but doesn’t sound very convinced by the whole thing. He’s doing this while sitting next to his mother. They chat about relationships, love and even religion. A lovely panoramic shot of New York is in the background.

“Searchers” | Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Between the interviews, we see footage of New York. The documentary was filmed in New York during summer of 2020, and despite the masks and the pandemic background of it all, Velez captures love and the beauty of life in the streets. Couples playing with a dog, kissing next to the sea or just peacefully walking — this is wonderful B-roll that adds just the right amount of heart to the film.

There’s something very endearing about “Searchers.” The concept could’ve run its course quickly, but the documentary flows like water through its 80-minute runtime. Most importantly, the observations allow us to draw our own conclusions about the modern dating process. There’s a lot of cynicism, the risk of catfishing (Velez himself recalls a great story about this) and the feeling of desperation of not being able to find anybody right for you, which in itself is a byproduct of the way the apps sell their product and segregate their customers, as well as the robotic nature of algorithms. The film is also a study on loneliness, our need for love and the way these apps can give a fake sense of security. 

It’s a fun, interesting and lighthearted documentary that gives and takes hope, that invites us to learn about human relationships, and that carefully observes the way technology has embedded itself into the way we create bonds with others.

“Searchers” had its premiere at Sundance 2021. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more coverage of the festival.

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