Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? They weren't exactly the highest form of literature, but their concept as a form of interactive storytelling was revolutionary. I mean, you could choose how to read a story! No longer were we slaves to the author's vision, and our experience could be uniquely ours!
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, and I know nothing can replace a really good story, but I always think it's exciting to see something I take for granted turned on its ear. It's the same feeling I got when I saw this interactive web documentary. If you've never seen one of these, it's your lucky day. The National Film Board of Canada has been working with talented directors on a variety of projects that push the limits of documentary form, and their latest endeavor is a project called Highrise: Out My Window by Katerina Cizek.
It's about life in a high-rise building, told by people from around the world. There is no beginning, middle or end - no linear narrative whatsoever. As the viewer you decide what parts of the project you want to watch, in what order. Cizek wanted to mimic the more intimate experience of entering peoples' homes and asking little questions here and there. "That's actually the way we experience and begin to understand each other," she says on the phone. "There are missing elements, there are things we don't know. It's not a seamless environment where we know the whole piece all in one go."
As director of the documentary, Cizek enlisted the help of reporters and photographers across the world, and worked with designers to stitch the pieces together in a custom-made interactive. Each location features a 360-degree view of a high-rise apartment and the view out the window. The project also includes three music videos that use the same technology as Google Maps to shoot video at 360 degrees, allowing you to move your mouse and watch different things unfold around you. Seriously, check it out, it's nuts!
"Documentary is an evolving language," says Cizek. The interactive film is only one part of a larger project that also holds live events and uses mobile technology to put cameras in the hands of high-rise residents so that they can document their own lives. With this project she hopes to see how new media and technology can be used by filmmakers working with communities to impact the world we live in instead of just documenting it. "The possibilities are pretty wide for what the technology will allow us to do but it's up to us to figure out the creative side of these things."
So what do you think? Is it an engaging experience? Can you imagine what other forms of documentary we'll be seeing in the future?