Highrise – A Landmark I-doc, with Room for Improvement

Highrise is an ongoing interactive web documentary that chronicles “the highrises of the world, and the worlds inside the highrises”. Director Katerina Cizek recognizes that the fastest growing and most diverse areas of the world’s cities are along the fringes, where highrises shoot up and suburbs form around a menagerie of incredibly diverse cultures.

Cizek’s goal with Highrise is to raise awareness for the low quality of life these people often suffer due to institutional neglect, including poor sanitation, gang violence, and lack of employment opportunities. Governments around the world are slowly recognizing that the growing edges of their cities are experiencing necrosis. Some political movements are enacting “reclamation projects” to breathe life back into these places.

However it is not yet enough. One of the aims of Highrise is to foster a community of action and support between people around the world through the creation of a shared highrise experience. Highrise invites the user to virtually stand inside a selection of international apartment complexes and share a space with its inhabitants. Captured in these images and stories are experiences of both tragedy and inspirational community life.

Highrise is certainly an achievement from a technological standpoint. The website is dynamic and enjoyable to navigate. The presentation is an internet marvel, incorporating navigable 360 degree videos and interactive photo panoramas (loads of new technology was developed by the NFB as part of the development of this project). All of this makes the site a great stopover for the internet sightseer at the very least.

I have been studying interactive documentaries like this one for a while now. The field is new and its conventions relatively un-established, but its potential is clear to many. At the time (year) this project’ realization was groundbreaking. It’s so interactive, easy to participate in, it has a unique visual and aural presentation, and all while reaching what it sets out to achieve.

That being said, there is a ‘beef’ that I have with interactive documentary. I always feel like I want to leave them after about 10 minutes, long before the all the content has been explored. Once I hit the mark where I say to myself “oh, cool. I get what this is about”, I feel like closing my browser tab. For the most part I stick it out and explore everything I can, either because I am writing a critique on or because I feel like I’m going to miss out on something.

This may not be a legitimate criticism. I can’t say if this is a result of the documentary being bad or an attention problem of mine. All I know is that the goal of the project is to engage me interactively enough to want to keep clicking, but I ultimately feel like my hand is forced. This might not be a problem if there wasn’t still an hour’s worth of videos to click through. Since we all know that nobody is a perfectly unique butterfly, I can only assume that there are others who share my reaction.

The interactive docs that have kept me along until the end have – and I know this may sound strange – shared qualities with video games. Bear 71 for instance is an NFB interactive doc that had a 20 minute length and then it was over, but in those 20 minutes I was riveted and ultimately satisfied. I still praise its ingenuity. Peers who also praised it described it as immersive, said they loved the open world design, and felt a real sense of discovery along with purposeful participation, and a compulsion to go on.

I think that had Highrise been presented to me as a linear documentary, I could have watched it from beginning to end and been mesmerized in thought. In its clickable online version, I found the freedom of choice made it hard to keep clicking for an indefinite amount of time until every piece of information was received. I just wanted it to talk to me, because I lost interest to interrogate it.

I do not mean to reduce Highrise to its flaws. Highrise is an important piece and a necessary one that helped lay out some conventions of interactive documentary. I have focused this reflection to decipher and point in the direction of what the medium can gain most by improving; the ability to inspire a continued willingness to participate and interrogate. Interactive doc has potential over linear film for a user to experience immersion, purpose, and fun. If these propensities of the medium are not built upon, it is my opinion that the medium will fail to distinguish itself as a viable form. However, I have faith.

I think that interactive documentary has enormous potential that hasn’t been reached yet. Studying it makes me feel like I’m living on the brink of a breakthrough new storytelling medium, one where the ability of games to engage and immerse is being used shift perspectives of people and show our world the way a good documentary does.

My peers and I may be in the perfect place to define that revolution.


FILM4130 Final Project Report

Brainstormed with Mike Zdero about the interface and logic for the Korsakow’s presentation.

Joe – Conducted, filmed, and edited interview

Malin – Conducted, filmed, and edited interview

Lucas – Conducted, filmed and edited interview

Kolasa – Conducted, filmed, and edited interview

Thomas – Conducted, filmed interview (this was a great interview, it fell through the cracks when Elli was supposed to make changes to it)

Adam – Conducted, filmed interview

Monica – Conducted, filmed interview

Library Girl – Conducted, filmed interview

Conducted and filmed at least a half a dozen other interviews that didn’t contain valuable material.

Brought my own equipment back and forth to school (Camera, SD Cards, Tripod, Light, etc.)

Borrowed and returned the cage microphone under my name.


I think the project succeeded in getting all of the students to try some production. For better or for worse, every student came out knowing more about the interview process.

It was hard for me to accept that the interviews I conducted would be edited by someone else because I had a vision to complete them, but not the time. One of my favorite interviews disappeared somewhere along the process because its editor couldn’t take her responsibilities seriously. I thought the second editor I had was excellent however.

The class project forced me to work in a group, which was a good thing. It pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could do. I think everyone involved had their boundaries pushed in their participation.

Thought Catalog

I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a Walgreens across from a Burger King, opening a package of NyQuil and this bottle of cough syrup I just bought.

If I were a Burger King, I would be closed right now.

If I were a Walgreens, I might still be open because some Walgreens are open 24-hours a day. If you were a Walgreens, you would be the kind that sold alcohol.

If you were a Burger King, you would also be the kind that sold alcohol. You would be one of a kind.

You would be the only one that does what you do.

It’s cold today. Cold like yesterday and probably tomorrow too. My car is freezing and I’m sitting here rubbing my hands together, coughing up green mucus and thinking about earlier today when we talked on gchat.

I told you I hadn’t seen Brian…

View original post 2,701 more words

A Dirge For Little Bird – Internet Archive Remix Project

My goal for the public domain remix is simple and impactful.

A Song Of The Birds (1935) remixed with Betty Boop: Snow White (1933), both by Max Fleischer.

These public domain cartoons are both relics from my childhood, as I would imagine they are for many people my age and much older.

As innocent as these cartoons are, there is a haunting quality to them that children are sensitive to, but cannot express. Or perhaps they begin to haunt a person when they are pulled out of the recesses of childhood memory and resurrected to an adult mind. Either way, I’ve always been sensitive to it.

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This remix places Koko the clown’s haunting performance of “St. James Infirmary Blues” (as performed by the great Cab Calloway) alongside the tale of a little bird who is taken from this world the same day he learns to fly.

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I like it as a sad little piece. It differs from my recent work but recalls more directly my earliest work; sad, dark, frightening, but quirky, off, and somehow cute. This is how I would clumsily describe the vein of inspiration I most relish. Of course everybody is free to call it whatever they like, even ‘not for me’, ‘dumb’, ‘weird (in a bad way)’ and ‘simply shit’. I still believe there are people who may feel a connection with it, as I do.

It runs at exactly a minute forty, YouTube adds an extra second (that’s for you Taravat, so you know I’m not over!!!)

“Betty Boop: Snow White (1933),” Archive.org video, 7:06, accessed March 26, 2013, http://archive.org/details/bb_snow_white

“A Song Of The Birds (1935),”  Archive.org video, 7:17, accessed March 26, 2013, http://archive.org/details/A_Song_Of_The_Birds_1935

Here is an original Cab Calloway performance.

Here is the full performance from Betty Boop.

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