Director Delaney Buffett joins us on Close-Up Culture to discuss her short film, Mooptopia.
The documentary follows an overnight TikTok sensation who – a year later – struggles to cope with the sudden loss of fame. You can see Mooptopia at the Tribeca Film Festival in June – Mooptopia | 2022 Tribeca Festival | Tribeca (tribecafilm.com)
When did you first encounter Mooptopia’s story, and what intrigued you about it?
Before I came across Mooptopia, I read a survey that said today’s children are three times more likely to aspire toward becoming a YouTuber than an astronaut. I didn’t know how that could be true until I stumbled down a rabbit hole of teen influencers on TikTok and YouTube. There were hundreds of them with millions of followers. The most interesting part was even though they were very famous online, most of them were still living very normal lives in their hometowns.
I had more questions about these viral sensations, so I continued down my rabbit hole and found an article specifically discussing internet famous teenagers, one of whom was Mooptopia. Mooptopia, or Anastasiya, stood out to me because it seemed like no one knew anything about her. She was a mystery to her almost three million followers and me.
When, and how, did you reach out to Anastasiya about this documentary?
I reached out to Anastasiya in August of 2021. I downloaded TikTok for the first time to DM her but quickly learned that I couldn’t contact her unless she followed me back. I am not social media savvy which is the ultimate irony of my doing a film on a TikToker, so I had a friend help me do some sleuthing, and we found her on Instagram where I finally was able to connect with her. We met for the first time on Zoom where she graciously agreed to allow me to tell her story.
Can you tell us about your time with Anastasiya, and what surprised you most about her situation?
In September of 2021, I traveled with a small crew to Maryland where I met Anastasiya in person. I expected her to love the camera because in my mind influencers were obsessed with capturing every moment of their lives on film. But Anastasiya was not this way. She was comfortable but never overindulgent. She knew her boundaries and effectively communicated to us when she was tired or overwhelmed. She never let filming interfere with her time with family or friends which I deeply respected.
She is kind, smart and self-aware beyond belief which made interviews a breeze. I am incredibly grateful to her for helping us tell an honest story about her personal experience with fast fame.
The nature of fame has shifted so much with the internet and now social media. How do you view fame, particularly for young people, in the modern age?
When I decided to tackle this topic, I, having zero background in psychology, reached out to experts who study the effects of social media on adolescence. I asked one researcher how she thought becoming a viral sensation affected teenagers, and she asked if I remembered the feeling in high school when I thought everyone was staring at the tiny zit on my forehead? Oh yes, I remembered. She said this feeling is referred to as the “spotlight effect,” our tendency, particularly as adolescents, to overestimate how much other people notice us.
It feels like the whole world is looking at you when in reality your audience is imaginary. But what if your audience was real? What if millions of people were judging each word and every movement to decide whether or not you were worthy of attention? That is what it is like to be a famous teenager on TikTok today. Anastaysia wakes up every day to comments about her body, her skin and her hands. Her audience is real and often relentless.
What do you hope audiences take away from your documentary?
I think it’s easy to villainize TikTokers from behind a screen. I’m guilty of it, but the truth is we’re not that different. These people on our feeds are human beings with the same insecurities we have. So I hope this film humanizes the viral sensations we love to hate.
Do you have any other plans or ambitions to share with us?
In addition to working in the unscripted world, I also write comedy with my best friend, Katie Corwin. Our first feature is shooting this fall, so I am very excited for that!
See Mooptopia at the Tribeca Film Festival – Mooptopia | 2022 Tribeca Festival | Tribeca (tribecafilm.com)
Keep up with Delaney’s work – www.delaneybuffett.com