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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

ArLynn Presser stars in the social media-exploring documentary, "Face To Facebook."

New Facebook film documents woman meeting all of her "friends"


The cinematic trailer for a new documentary about Facebook, called "Face To Facebook," was recently finished. The film will be released in 2012 by Gopho Films, and revolves around the main character, a real woman who lives in Chicago, named ArLynn Presser.

Presser has suffered from severe anxiety and agoraphobia for 30 years, but made a New Year's resolution on Jan. 1, 2010, to overcome her issues by visiting all of her 335 Facebook friends, despite the fact they live all over the world, including Italy, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Germany, India, Korea, New York, Alaska and Milwaukee.

To inspire herself to really do it, she made another goal: to meet all of her Facebook friends within 365 days.

A former attorney, Presser was put up for adoption just before her third birthday. She was temporarily adopted into a troubled family but ended up in foster care for the remainder of her childhood. At age 19, she started having severe panic attacks in public which slowly got worse until she could not leave her home in suburban Chicago.

At the age of 50, she divorced after a 23-year marriage during which she raised two sons and penned two dozen novels under the name Vivian Leiber. Her psychological challenges were worse than ever and she decided she had to do something drastic to regain her life.

Around this time, she thought a lot about social media and questioned whether it had been good or bad for her. She realized that she only knew about 15 percent of her Facebook friends in real life, and most of the others she connected with through online Scrabble.

Presser decided she was going to contact all of her Facebook friends and ask them if they were willing to meet her in person. Most agreed; a few unfriended her.

Presser took her idea to one of those Facebook friends, filmmaker Ben Gonzales. Gonzales was fascinated with the concept and began filming immediately.

Gonzales, along with a team of others, traveled around the world and documented Presser coming face-to-face with her social media comrades. At the same time, they interviewed psychologists, social media experts and other agoraphobics to get a sense of what it is she's going through, as well as how social media influences our interactions with each other.

Presser spent her life savings to travel the world meeting her Facebook friends, which ranged from a 75-year-old Zumba enthusiasts to a female rapper. In support of her effort to help herself, her ex-husband gave her all of his frequent flyer miles.

Brett Bakshis is working with Gapho Films on "Face To Facebook" and he believes that ArLynn's story will reach anyone who has felt isolated in their lives and that the film also makes provocative commentary about the power of social media.

"ArLynn is an incredibly earnest and engaging figure that I think a lot of people are going to relate to. Everyone has certain fears and anxieties that they deal with every day, and watching someone like ArLynn, whose own fears and anxieties have kept her almost prisoner in her house for the last several years, may help people realize that they're not alone, and that there are others who are going through exactly what they're going through," he says.

The film will be completed in early 2012 and then it will be submitted to film festivals worldwide. The film will screen for the public this summer.

"We're a ways off yet, but we're trying to generate some interest in the film now," says Bakshis.

Gonzales , who directed and co-produced the film, graduated in 2000 with a degree in cinema and photography from Southern Illinois University. Chad Wilson, the film's other producer, is a freelance producer and director who lives in Chicago.

Overall, the film depicts Presser as a woman who forces herself to go on a journey to overcome her fears and, in the process, finds out a lot about herself and the skewed way she viewed herself.

"There is no such thing as a boring person," says Presser. "You're just not asking the right questions."

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