Interview with Katerina Cizek- Out My Window December 13, 2012Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Multimedia.
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Photo Collage: Vincent Marcone
Editor’s Note: It’s a pleasure to include this interview with Katerina Cizek. Her 360° web documentary Out My Window is one of the most ambitious multi-media projects I have seen this year. The full screen interface design reminded me of what CBC Radio 3 pioneered back in 2003 but the core of the work is the storytelling and intimacy that draws in the viewer. Be prepared to spend some quality time exploring this work. I leave you with this for the rest of the year. It’s time for my three-week break editing and launching my own new site. Verve Photo will resume on January 3, 2013. Until then, a very Happy New Year to all.
The high-rise apartment is the most commonly built form of the last century. From Chicago to Bangalore, Havana to Beirut, millions gaze on the world from the heights of these edifices. Directed by Katerina Cizek (b. 1969, Canada), Out My Window (2010), the first global documentary to emerge from the National Film Board of Canada’s multi-year, multi-platform HIGHRISE project, examines this experience in thirteen of the world’s major urban centers.
An interactive collage of photography, text and music, Out My Window introduces users to transplanted Turkish peasants, Brazilian squatter activists, renegade Cuban musicians, and a myriad of other urbanites; it delves into contemporary issues, such as the transformation of former Eastern Bloc cities like Prague and the hijacked high-rises of Johannesburg, in the process illuminating the power of community that exists within these spaces.The documentary won the IDFA DocLab Award 2010, Cross-Media Prize for School and Youth Education BaKaFORUM 2011 and the International Digital Emmy Award for Non-Fiction 2011.
Katerina Cizek graduated from McGill University in Montreal and worked as an independent filmmaker before joining the National Film Board of Canada, where for five years she was the Filmmaker-in-Residence at an inner-city hospital, a multidisciplinary project that won a 2008 Webby Award, a Banff Award, and a Canadian New Media Award. The daughter of Czech immigrants, she lives in Toronto, and teaches about her innovative approach to the documentary genre around the world.In this conversation with IFN Film founder Jason Bunyan, Cizek discussed her influences, the creative, logistic, and technical considerations that contributed to the success of Out My Window, and the evolution of photojournalism in the digital age.
JASON BUNYAN: What motivated you to create Out My Window, and what was your creative process?
KATERINA CIZEK: The idea behind HIGHRISE is to experiment in documentary form and content. It’s not to define the form or the platform of a project before we’ve begun understanding the story. In HIGHRISE, I’ve been given an incredible opportunity by the National Film Board [of Canada] to work in this way. I worked with an awesome team of researchers, such as Emily Paradis, who has PhDs in urbanism (through adult education), and alternative participatory research, my colleague of seven years Heather Frise, a seasoned documentary filmmaker and, along with the fabulous Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam and Paramita Nath.
We did two sets of research: one was at a local level, and the other was at a global level. Locally, we started by just getting to know one high-rise here in Toronto, and globally, the team was looking for interesting high-rise neighborhoods around the world.
That was a good six [to] ten months of research, and as findings started coming back to the team, I was moved and taken aback by the diversity and universality of the enduring human spirit in these buildings to find meaning and create art and community, often despite the buildings the people were living in. One day I began picturing if all these stories took place in one global high-rise,’ and I imagined a high-rise on the web where every window is a different place in the world. That’s where the idea for Out My Window came from, but it was inspired by this phenomenal research that the team had done.
Jaimie Hogge, Toronto, 2010
BUNYAN: Roughly how many people were involved in the creation of the project and how many photographers were on the team?
CIZEK: There were over 100 people that came together to collaborate on Out My Window. We directed it mostly over Skype, Facebook, email and the phone. We originally worked in 25 cities around the world, and that eventually came down to the 13 that you see represented in the project online. There would have been at least one photographer in every one of those places; every city has its own cool story about how we found the team and how that all flowed together.
For example, in Prague, we worked with Sylva Francova, who has lived in the community and [who] self-documented her own story. [Her] father has [also] been documenting the community for over 30 years, so we were able to draw on their incredible archives of the birth and development of this massive high-rise community through their lens, which was amazing.
BUNYAN: What were the durations of the pre-production, production and post-production phases?
CIZEK: About 14 months. We conceptualized the project, with the interactive architecture team, before creating all the assets. [Then] we went into full production in the cities, working with people on the ground – local journalists, photographers, housing activists. That period took about six to eight months, and then we [began] building the actual website.
BUNYAN: Generally speaking, what is the budget for a project of this scale?
CIZEK: This one came in around 150,000 Canadian [dollars]. When you compare it to a documentary of its size, we have 90 minutes of material in this film – a feature-length documentary. If you compare that to an equivalent independent feature-length documentary, which comes in easily around one million, it’s phenomenal.
BUNYAN: To what extent did your team rely on traditional photo-journalistic approaches when developing stories for Out My Window? Did the team develop new techniques specifically for the project?
CIZEK: There’s this new generation of photojournalists that I had the honor of working with in many of the cities for Out My Window, who taught and inspired me about fresh approaches to visual journalism. We structured the teams based on the stories, skills, and the talents of the people who came to the project, and … tried to work with and learn from people on the ground.
In some places you have classic photojournalists that had experience with newspapers, and then there were people from an academic arts background who have already developed an incredible relationship in the communities.
For example, in Chicago we worked with David Schalliol, a PhD who has been working in [Chicago’s] high-rise communities for several years. We couldn’t have done this story without him. He was the photographer, the journalist, the researcher. It wasn’t just about ‘take this picture,’ it was about ‘what is the story here?’ That’s a very, very different kind of photojournalism. In Sao Paolo, we worked with an incredible photographer, Julio Bittencourt, who had published a book on Prestes Maia, the squatting community in the high-rise building there. [It was a] totally different kind of practice.
There’s also Ted Kaye, who is Canadian, Tajik, Taiwanese. He was remarkable: he pitched us three or four stories that were amazing. The one we ended up working with was about his grandmother, a 91-year-old woman who tends to the ashes of her ancestors in a high-rise crematorium. [When we received it], it was fully paper edited, translated … subtitles marked in exactly where they are supposed to go; he had in-depth knowledge of how to tell a story from beginning to end. [He represents a] new kind of visual journalist, who understands editing, story, how language works on the screen. It was phenomenal.
BUNYAN: Was interactivity a consideration throughout the process for all team members, or did it come into play in post- production?
CIZEK: Yes, absolutely from the beginning. That was a challenge with some members of the team to understand that, the process was designed from the beginning with the user experience in mind.
Julio Bittencourt, Sao Paolo, 2010
BUNYAN: One of your team members was Ontario-based photojournalist Brent Foster. When you first contacted him about getting involved with Out My Window, he was living in Delhi and in the process of traveling home. What goes into developing a team comprised of diverse members, many of whom are located in different parts of the world? Can you break down what goes into orchestrating an effort of this kind?
CIZEK: I was Facebook friends with [Brent], but I didn’t know how or why. I saw on Facebook’s news feed one day that he had won a noteworthy photography award. I contacted him, and he told us he was living in Delhi and would be interested in the project; I had said that we already have a story in India, but he said he travels a lot so, whenever he goes somewhere he’d tell me if something might match up.
He wrote me a few times and said ‘I am going to Bangladesh’ and I said, ‘well, actually, we have a story in Bangladesh.’ [Later] he wrote and said he [was] going somewhere else. Meanwhile, I was developing a story in Istanbul with an incredible architect and housing activist who had developed [a] story, but we didn’t have a photographer. [Then Brent writes], ‘I am off to Africa with a stop in Istanbul.’ … Bingo. They were a wonderful team; [Istanbul] is a beautiful collection of stories.
BUNYAN: Brent used a Canon 5D Mark II for his shooting, a digital camera which would have streamlined the process of placing his work into an interactive project like this. Were there particular makes and models of cameras that you wanted to use for Out My Window? Did any of the photographers shoot with film?
CIZEK: I don’t think so. We did do some film shooting but that was not necessarily with the photographers. We let the photographers work with what they were most comfortable with as long as they met our spec [document].
BUNYAN: When I asked Brent about which photographers, historical figures or living ones, inspire him, he cited Larry Towell, who is one of the first photojournalists that he had heard of, and Richard Koci Hernandez. Which photographers inspire you?
CIZEK: I am actually off to see an an exhibit by Josef Sudek, amazing Czech photographer’s work here in Toronto . He photographed in the early part of the 20th century. During the darkest times of Stalinism and Communism in the Czech Republic in Czechoslovakia, he retreated into his studio and started doing these deeply meditative photos of his interior space, and even shots out his studio window. He also documented the city of Prague in phenomenal ways, with these panoramas that are just stunning; he’s a big inspiration. David Hockney’s work [also] had a big influence on the conceptualization of the collages on the interior space.
BUNYAN: Like the One Millionth Tower which followed, the photographs and video that were shot for Out My Window speak to issues affecting both global and local communities, sometimes simultaneously. One startling example of this was the presence of a traditional coal iron in the stories of Akshada, as well as in Durdane. What images from Out My Window have remained in your mind?
David Schalliol, Chicago, 2010
CIZEK: It’s the small details of intimate domestic life or views out a window that you look at over and over again that build in meaning as your life goes on, and the rollovers, those little triggers [in the documentary interface] that cause the story to unfold. One of my favorites is the yak, in the Toronto Story. In presentations and in cinematic presentations it always gets a chuckle because of the sound … It is such a lovely, unexpected moment.
Still photographs can be woven in with sound and audio but that isn’t necessarily video: as much as the photography sings in Out My Window, it’s the sound design and the beautiful work that Janine White did in terms of creating that audio landscape that gives it the capacity for immersion.
She came from the team at Imaginarius (Vincent Marcone) that developed the site’s architecture. There was a limit on how big her files could be, so she created these very small sound files, six to eight for the inside and six to eight for the outside, and then they programmed them to play them randomly so it never becomes repetitive in the way that a DVD would. She won an award for that work. I think her creation works hand in hand with the photography to make you feel like you are there.
BUNYAN: Based on the projects you have encountered while teaching and speaking in different parts of the world, what does the future of digital storytelling appear to be, and what are some of the ways that you will be exploring these possibilities in HIGHRISE’S next installment?
CIZEK: We are in the early days in digital storytelling. The technology and platforms are changing so quickly. No question though, the big shift in the immediate future is from desktops and laptops to mobile devices. These devices, and their capabilities, will transform how we tell stories. They allow the introduction of location, space and personal data via tactile interfaces. I think they also bring the cinematic experience a bit closer to the ‘reading’ experience of a tablet. What does that mean for documentary? Also, how users actually use devices and technology is an often mysterious part of the equation. Most technology companies have departments of anthropologists doing ethnographic studies of how people actually use hardware and software. We invent these things, but then people find new and sometimes wondrous ways of using them. This was the subject of Seeing is Believing, my film about the handicam revolution, almost ten years ago.
So at HIGHRISE, we are exploring these two sides in our own way. We are exploring new platforms for telling our next stories, including tablets and user-centered narrative strategies. We are also interested in the digital lives of high-rise residents, and what we can learn from them about the creative ways in which vertical dwellers use and adapt technologies to their own circumstances. We’ve partnered with academics from University of Toronto, Professor Deb Cowen and PhD Emily Paradis, to do participatory research and documentation about digital citizenship in high-rises.
Out My Window was about people’s view out of their physical windows in relation to stories of where they live; now we are interested in people’s views into their computer screens in relation to where and how they live. It’s a fascinating study of contrast: the human confinement in vertical living, juxtaposed with this real-time virtual access to the world through these technologies. It’s a new documentary exploration of our motto “The towers in the world, the world in the towers.” We have a lot to learn from the people living within the high-rises of the world.
Amy Helene Johansson August 17, 2012Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Bangladesh, Multimedia.
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Editor’s Note: When the Bombay Flying Club teamed up with Amy Helene Johansson to produce a video about the Garment Workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh I knew that it would be worth seeing. They consistently produce outstanding work, and so included here is an overview from Poul Madsen about their collaborative process. It is effective the way the video opens in the shopping district of Stockholm and then cuts to the girls walking along the railroad tracks on their way to work in the sewing factories. A Lost Revolution? is an excellent example of the power of multimedia storytelling.
Amy Helene Johansson (b. 1973, Sweden) studied film and theater theory before earning a BA in fashion design. In 2006 she moved to Bangladesh to work for a multinational fashion company, and her interest for photography grew rapidly. Amy’s work has been published in leading broadsheets and magazines in the UK and Sweden, including the Sunday Times UK, Dagens Nyheter and Sydsvenska Dagbladet. Her work has been awarded Asian Geographic Magazine ‘Faces of Asia Award’, the Foundry Emerging Photojournalist Award and the Swedish Picture Of the Year ‘Multimedia Category’ and been shortlisted for ELLE commission award and a National Geographic award. Her work has been displayed in solo and collaborative exhibitions in Bangladesh, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the UAE, as well as the National Portrait Gallery in London, UK. Amy is currently based in Sweden.
About the Project:
“For this project I had the opportunity to spend three months in the slums of Dhaka where the garment workers live, together with a researcher from the Swedish organization Swedwatch. Two women Shapla and Mahfuza bravely agreed to share their stories for the film. After four years in the fashion industry in Bangladesh I thought I had a good picture of the situation, I saw factories improving day by day, and felt the situation was getting better. I did not realize just how far behind the situation was for these women when they leave the factory. The media and companies have been focusing on the factories but the real life of the workers has not been highlighted. I was appalled to see the situation.
“Filming in these areas in monsoon rain was among the most challenging work I have done, and I will never forget the women I met and who still are there. I particularly remember a woman, Popy, telling me she has to lock her son in a room during the days while she works and her fear that if a fire would break out he could get burned alive.”
Comments from Poul Madsen, producer at Bombay Flying Club on the process of making “A Lost Revolution?”
“Amy approached us in early spring 2011 about her project in Bangladesh and we decided to collaborate with her on the story. We knew Amy beforehand as she had been one of our workshop participants at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in the Fall of of 2010. For about three months we Skyped and corresponded about her project. Amy would call me up when she had found new possible characters or when she had visited the various slums of Dhaka. Basically I tried to coach her during the entire process and I also provide technical advice along the way. We were looking for characters who would have strong personal stories and who would fit some of the criteria s and keywords that had been setup for the project. Themes and concepts such access to sanitation, domestic violence, family and children.
“In August 2011 we met for a week in Denmark. The idea was basically to storyboard the story, come up with a script and do a rough edit. She brought us complete interview transcripts from the two characters she had selected along with a storyboard idea and a hard drive containing all her raw material. We spent a whole day going through the interviews, sorting quotes out and editing the storyboard. We used a scissor, some tape and a whiteboard for this. Then we started to throw stuff down on the timeline. Gradually the story took shape. After a week we had a complete rough and Amy brought it back to the Swedwatch headquarters in Stockholm. After a few months they decided to re-edit a few things and to use another speaker for the story. Our job was basically to coach Amy, help her set up a storyboard and cut a complete rough edit.”
Seamus Murphy Interview November 20, 2011Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Afghanistan, MediaStorm, Multimedia.
Tags: Afghanistan, Multimedia
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A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan is one of the finest multimedia pieces I’ve seen recently. Over 30 minutes in length, the images, audio and editing weave a gripping and poetic story. Partially told in the first person by Seamus (the multiple points of view are what make it so effective), I was transported to Kabul. This is what multimedia is meant to do. Seamus has spent over 15 years covering Afghanistan. His book A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan was published in 2008.
Project Background: From the Soviet invasion and the Mujaheddin resistance to the Taliban and the American occupation, A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan examines thirty years of Afghan history. It is the story of ordinary citizens whose lives play out in the shadow of superpowers. There are tales of violence to be sure, but there is also love and even romance. Based on 14 trips to Afghanistan between 1994 and 2010, photojournalist Seamus Murphy (b.1959. Ireland) chronicles a people caught time and again in political turmoil, struggling to find their way. Outsiders often see Afghanistan as a problem in need of a solution: a conflict region that needs more troops or another election. But in seeing Afghanistan as a problem, the people of the country, and their desire for self-determination, are often overlooked.”
Seamus Murphy interview with Geoffrey Hiller : (more…)
Zach Wise February 4, 2009Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Multimedia, Ohio University, United States.
Tags: Multimedia, Ohio University, United States
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Reckless Willie. Orleans Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
Zach Wise (b. 1979, USA) is currently a multimedia producer for the New York Times. Before coming to the Times, Wise was the senior multimedia producer for the Las Vegas Sun. He oversaw the implementation of multimedia in terms of workflow, presentation and technology. He was also a multimedia storyteller for the Sun who shot and produced stories in multiple formats ranging from video to panoramas. Wise holds a master’s degree in photojournalism from the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University and won several CPOY awards for his multimedia photojournalism projects there. In 2005, he won the Gold 2005 Horizon Interactive Award for “Spit It, Quit It”. In 2006 he was awarded Yahoo! site of the day (May 2006) for Losing Louisiana: Land Loss on the Coast, which was also a featured site on BBC Science and won the Talking Hands Award.
About the Photograph:
“I left the Las Vegas Sun after completing two large projects I felt very passionate about. This is one of them. Reckless Willie is a short documentary on a boxer who is arguably at the end of his career. Willie Chapman has ten children in three states and he’s forty years old. Professional boxing matches are still his main source of income and also the only way he can pay child support to see his kids. Because of his age and losing record, Nevada may not license him to fight anymore. Willie also shows signs of dementia, most likely caused from continued brain trauma caused by boxing.”
Editors Note: Photographer and multimedia producer Zach Wise has been at the forefront of combining photojournalism and interactive media work on the web. He was part of the team that produced Soul of Athens, a watershed project as well as Thirst in the Mojave for the Las Vegas Sun.
Poul Madsen May 30, 2008Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Multimedia, Romania.
Tags: Bucharest, Multimedia, Poul Madsen, Romania
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From the series “Bucharest Below Ground” Romania 2008
Poul Madsen was born in Denmark in 1978 but has since lived in Belgium, USA and India. At the age of 24 he began photography and was accepted into the Danish School of Journalism. Since then his main focus has been documenting social and cultural issues and exploring new and innovative ways of presenting narrative story telling for the web. “I consider myself part photojournalist and part multimedia producer.” Poul’s awards include: Best of Journalism, National POY, China International Press Photo and China Humanity Photo among others.
About the photo:
“This picture was taken inside a sewer in downtown Bucharest. The hot heating pipes underground enables some of the city’s homeless to survive Romania’s brutally cold winter. With this project I wanted to focus on of the European Union’s newest members. The conditions for these children are horrible and the Romanian government does next to nothing to help them get a better future.” It’s well worth visiting the full screen documentary for the web and reminds me of the potential of multimedia story telling. See more projects from Poul and his partners at the Bombay Flying Club.
Dagmar Schwelle April 12, 2008Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Japan, Multimedia.
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Dagmar Schwelle was born in Vienna, Austria, and studied law in order to become a diplomat. When she found out that there were less pompous ways to get to know the world she became a journalist instead. After nine years writing for leading Austrian newspapers and magazines she decided that it was time for a career change, went to Vancouver and studied photography. Since 2004 she is based in Germany and works as a photographer. Last year her first book was published, “Them Over There” – a documentary project on divided border towns in Eastern Europe.
About the Photograph:
This photo is part of a multimedia piece on metropolitan lifestyle in Tokyo. It was shot on a weekend when numerous rock bands perform in Yoyogi koen. Their efforts to be cool and/or wild are overly perfect – so it seems to me that the most authentic element of that spectacle is the shyness of the very girlish female admirers.
Tim Gruber March 24, 2008Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Multimedia, Ohio University, United States.
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Haircut, Snowbirds in Quartzsite, Arizona
Tim Gruber is currently a graduate student at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication. His photos have been published in the Washington Post and Smithsonian Magazine. They’ve been honored by Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism.
About the Photograph:
“After a few weeks of research I came across the little community of Quartzsite and the more I read about it the more I knew it’d be a perfect environment for a project. It was part of my graduate work at Ohio University for a class called magazine and the basic premise was to propose, edit and produce a magazine. It could either be a 24 page print piece or online project. We had ten days to shoot and later edit , design and produce the package”.