What comes to mind when you think about the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg? These days, it’s characterized by hipster bars and specialty boutiques. Few know that the Southside was once called Los Sures, and was one of the most vibrant Latino neighborhoods in New York City. A project by the Brooklyn-based nonprofit UnionDocs, Living Los Sures takes a rare 1984 documentary about the neighborhood and transforms it into an interactive web platform that engages the entire Los Sures community. With interviews from the original documentary subjects to a shot-by-shot breakdown of the 1984 film, Living Los Sures takes community engagement to a whole new level and captures the depth of this culturally rich Latino neighborhood.
Location-based Interactive docs
Location-based Interactive docs
The interactive documentary is gaining momentum, and though its value is widespread, the storytelling devices offered by an idoc really lend themselves to one genre in particular: the location-based interactive documentary.
This platform was made for this genre. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – what better way is there to explore the nuances of a particular community than actually exploring it? Whether it’s a click through experience, a self-guided series of videos and images, or a user-driven site that allows viewers to upload their own content, the interactive element is what drives these stories forward. It’s a medium that requires trust; communities trust filmmakers with their deeply personal stories, filmmakers trust viewers to immerse themselves in the experience. When all the elements come together it’s an experience that offers more depth than could be achieved with video alone.
Hollow arguably counts as one of the greatest examples. (We wrote about Hollow many times before). And we explored the possibilities of the genre with recent projects such as Refugee Republic and Who Are The Champions?. For this Top five, we asked new guest blogger Claudia Dibbs to select her five favorite location-based idocs.
1. Living Los Sures
2. Circa 1948
Vancouver-born artist Stan Douglas (wikipedia) partners with NFB Digital Studio to create an interactive app that recreates two vastly different neighborhoods from Vancouver history. Aptly set in post-war Vancouver, BC, the viewer has a myriad of choices. They can walk through the affluent West side Hotel Vancouver, Full of squatting homeless veterans, or through the working-class Hogan Alley on the East side, a place rich with diversity and known for its bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling. The app uses touch navigation coupled with glowing hotspots to drive the viewer through their self-guided tour. Ghosts of past residents provide a fragmented narrative that amplifies the themes of gentrification and wealth disparity that remain significant today. Gaming technology meets film noir meets history in this innovative exploration of a changing city.
A small town in Germany faces potential destruction as plans for a new coal mine surface. This scrolling documentary uses interviews, photographs, and simple illustrations to display the brevity of this situation. Residents are left in limbo; will they be forced out in the next ten years? Should they keep living life as normal? And why, in a country known for its progressive energy policies, are small villages being displaced to make way for coal extraction? Photographer Marco del Pra’ and interactive documentary author and producer Frédéric Dubois begin the story far in the future and work backwards, first showing the post-apocalytic landscape consumed by the mining industry, then transitioning to the uncertainty of the present-day, and ending with a history of Atterwasch. Telling this story in reverse has a powerful effect; it helps reveal the fact that progressive energy policies don’t really mix with big industrial leaders, and makes the viewer question who really holds the power in modern society.
4. DIY manifesto
French filmmaking duo Nora Mandray and Hélène Bienvenu were entranced by the story of Detroit, Michigan. A town crippled by the demise of the auto industry but rich with culture and city pride, Detroit residents have adapted to their circumstances and are proprietors of a DIY attitude; champions of community building and shared resources in their almost post-apocalyptic cityscape. The Kickstarter funded interactive documentary, retitled DIY Manifesto, tells the story of Detroit residents who have taken the task of rebuilding the city into their own hands. The site takes you through videos, articles, and has it’s own DIY toolkit for viewers to get involved. Detroit is the perfect example of a city that refuses to give up, and how community engagement can make all the difference.
The site has only been launched in French so far. The directors are still looking for broadcasters in English-speaking countries.
5. The Most Northern Place
Though interactive in the most basic sense, Anrick Bregman and Nicole Paglia‘s collaboration with POV results in a website that utilizes just a simple scrolling technique to tell the story of the town of Thule, Greenland, one of the most northern cities on the planet. When the U.S. Army decided to build a base there in 1953, the local Inuit population was given only four days to relocate. Minimalistic and bright, the imagery and music work together to create a feeling of uninhabited isolation. There lies a bastion of connection with the feature that allows you to connect via microphone with another visitor to the website, (much like how radio waves were traditionally the most common form of long distance communication in cold climates). The ethereal webdoc is adapted from the short Qaanaaq by Nicole Paglia, telling of the story of the settlement of the same name that the locals were forced to relocate to 100km from their homes in Thule.
Guest blogger Claudia Dibbs lives in Los Angeles and was formerly the digital media fellow at Taproot Foundation. Right now she is working with Jongsma + O’Neill as the associate producer for their virtual reality documentary The Ark.