This morning as I was getting ready for the day ahead, I was listening to the CBC Radio show Fresh Air with Mary Ito. One interview in particular caught my attention. Mary was talking with director Katerina Cizek who has just received an Emmy award for her documentary series "A Short History of the Highrise". I love documentaries in general, but this one was particularly intriguing because it is an interactive documentary. I had never heard of such a thing though it did not surprise me since other traditional media such as books and cards are making their way into the interactive world of digital.
In the interview, Katerina Cizek talked about how the content was presented like a children's pop-up book. This is definitely the feeling I got when I checked it out. The documentary which presents 2,500 years of history of the highrise has many features that brought me back to my childhood, but it also has elements my popup books could never do. The images are brought to life with animation and some of the extra content is presented as a game or with a tab that you have to pull to make the text appear.
The narration is in prose and often uses familiar language, a strange combination to my mind but a highly effective one. The prose gently guides you through the subject matter and the language is accessible to most, but perhaps less to an older demographic.
The extra content is the interesting feature of this documentary. In each subsection of the documentary, you have the option to investigate more content. Pictures, audio from specialists, mini games and interactives bring the subject matter to life.
The pictures are interesting because you can click to see the back of them which contains information about the image, locations, dates and history, as well as accession numbers and collection information. It is a nice way to present this information because it does not detract from the picture by being placed right next to it. You also have the option to view the information or not.
Some of the backs are also the actual reverse of the picture so you can see any information that it contains. This information would often not be digitized at all and if it were, it would not appear in a documentary film. Many of the pictures are from the Times' photography archive and they appear with all the original marks on them and the accession numbers. It gives a real sense that these are real pictures and it connects the audience with the archives and the process of research which is often lacking in other documentaries.
The choice to present this documentary as a short is also highly effective. It takes into account the short attention spans of digital users and does not overwhelm the viewer with information. It is also well structures as each topic is divided into a different part in the series which makes it is easy to understand and follow.
I was highly impressed with this documentary. It gives a good overview of the subject while providing more depth than a normal short documentary might provide. The concept of interactive documentaries is intriguing. It gives the viewer more power over what they are watching and transforms the passive experience of watching a documentary into an active and engaging process. I hope to see more in this medium in the future and I think the museum would be a great place to apply it.