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PwC Up front | Issue 5 | Harnessing technology

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52 Up front Summer 2014 Filmmaker Katerina Cizek is changing the face of interactive technology and storytelling, one building at a time. Toronto-based Cizek's interactive documentary series Highrise, on urban issues and the everyday lives of city apartment dwellers around the world, keeps expanding the boundaries of the medium. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, the ongoing series has used 360-degree interactive views of apartment interiors to allow viewers to choose what they'd like to learn about people's societies and inner lives. For a look, see the instalment "Out My Window" at highrise.nfb.ca. Cizek, who has won a 2011 International Digital Emmy Award and several other honours, also shows how poetic digital interaction can be. One photo montage on apartment life, its comforts and sometimes its alienation (in A Short History of the Highrise, co-produced with The New York Times) lets viewers halt the flow and examine any photo more closely, almost like holding someone's personal snapshot. Now, Cizek is planning to push her experimentation even further. What's next for the Highrise series? I'm interested in a conversational documentary. Throughout the ages, documentary has been like a monologue. And I think digital culture – certainly the way software is being built and conceived by technologists – is moving toward trying and simulating conversation, simulating human interaction. For example, your software remembers what you did last time in order to facilitate your next interaction, like Google remembers what you did. You can say the same about conversation. When you see somebody again, you don't reintroduce yourself. [Similarly,] this documentary will ask you questions. And based on how you answer, we will offer up stories and conversation with you. Why did you make Highrise interactive? With a lot of interactive uses, the technology gets ahead of the story. A lot of great documentary stories are being told without challenging ourselves as documentarians, in terms of exploring these new ways in which technology is changing every aspect of our lives. How it's changing documentary is such an important question for me. I found Highrise to be at such a wonderful place at the intersection of this question. I'm really interested in very small, quiet stories of our domestic lives, of the places we call home. Piled on top of each other, they start to give a much larger picture of the human condition and the urban condition of the 21st century. Can technology get in the way of artistry or capturing the core emotions of a story? Any technological choice you make needs to have a sincere artistic motivation, a meaningful reason to be there. My background is in photojournalism; I love still photography. And I love documentaries made of still photographs, but I'm always left wanting to stop the film and examine each photograph and understand where it comes from, and its context. And so I felt like this is an opportunity, as an interactive digital storyteller, to offer up something I've always craved. Where do you see the medium going? I think we're in very early days. A lot of the stuff that we're doing now, it won't take long for it to look really outdated. It's a very different kind of artistic expression, so I do feel like it's ephemeral in that sense. These technologies are changing so quickly, in particular our interface with them. But as this improves and evolves, we are not going to be hunched over a keyboard and a screen for much longer. We are going to wear these technologies, we are going to be immersed in them, they are going to become much more a part of our tactile, tangible and physical experience of the world. Uf Vertical reality Technology plays a leading role in Highrise, Katerina Cizek's award-winning interactive documentary film series By Guy Dixon End game Filmmaker Katerina Cizek.

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