Sony’s Cyber Thriller ‘Searching’ Carries Warning for Rise Tech Event

Old-fashioned movies are not the kind of content one expects to find at Rise, the glittering tech industry conference in Hong Kong, where YouTube stars rub shoulders with VC investors, and Amazon hosts developer workshops. So Sony was breaking ground Wednesday with the screening of a theatrical film.

Searching,” however, could hardly have been better selected for the Rise audience of Chinese entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley geeks, and Hong Kong money men. The film sees John Cho as an Asian-American, Bay Area exec who must trace his missing-presumed-kidnapped daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Cho and Google executive-turned-film director Aneesh Chaganty were on hand after the Wednesday screening to describe “Searching” as a “conventional thriller told in an unconventional way.”

The film, presented largely as a succession of computer, gadget and TV screens, and made largely in a lab, immediately earned chuckles from the Rise audience. Its opening shot is a familiar Microsoft wallpaper, which becomes a slowly-populated desktop.

The purpose of Sony and Chaganty in showing the movie at the convention, however, goes further than providing light entertainment for the tech crowd. In partnership with TechCrunch at Rise, Sony and Agnaty used a Thursday panel discussion to announce a competitive hackathon with a serious objective.

The goal of the hackathon is to actively seek (Google) Chrome Extensions that can help parents and children be more mindful of their digital lives. “In ‘Searching,’ tech is both at the heart of the problem and also the tool used to reunite father and daughter so we found the best way the film can engage and challenge tech professional to think of new, innovative ways to safeguard minors online is through this hackathon,” Sony said.

Tech has thrown up series of new age social problems that range from FOMO to online stalking and attention deficit disorder in the real world. A few months ago, the World Health Organization declared tech addiction as a disease. There are now over 300 internet fasting camps in Asia and Facebook, Google and Apple all announced features that help people be more mindful of their digital lives. Cyber safety is now a legitimate concern of the modern parent. The hackathon, which comes with a $9,000 cash prize, is intended to place the focus back on the people using the technology rather than the gadgets and software.

Sony and Screen Gems, which acquired the picture at Sundance earlier this year, have set it for an Aug 3. Stateside release.

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