Last week, the National Film Board of Canada launched ‘Out My Window’ an interactive exploration of highrise living around the world including 360° (degree) filming and immersive tapestries of audio stories and photographs from Havana to Toronto, Phnom Penh to Istanbul. It is part of a larger exploratory film project called “Highrise.”
I’ve followed ‘Highrise’ closely because its the latest work by the producer Kat Cizek, a long-time ally of WITNESS (she co-directed the 2002 film “Seeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News” and wrote chapters on storytelling, editing and safety for our “Video for Change” book). She’s one of the leading exponents of a new form of participatory, immersive documentary that combines attention to community engagement and advocacy usage with (where appropriate) cutting-edge applications of new storytelling and transmedia approaches. Her previous project was as ‘Filmmaker-in-Residence‘ embedded in an inner-city teaching hospital and resulted in photo exhibits, web documentaries, and short videos, many of them deployed for public engagement and policy debate. So I’ve been excited to see what comes next with the Highrise project.
Highrise focuses on the human experience in ‘global vertical suburbs’, and two elements are available now. The ‘1000th Tower’ (see it at the main Highrise site) a participatory documentation project with residents of one of Toronto’s suburban towers was released earlier this year, and just last week the “Out My Window” multimedia doc came online.
I wanted to highlight in particular one element of “Out My Window,” the 360 degree filming, based on a technology from Yellowbird, a Dutch new tech company. Check out the great sequence in Havana, where the 360 degree filming reveals a series of participants entering a room to join a joyous song. Sadly, I don’t think it will embed on the blog but do take a look (hint: explore the Havana highrise and look for the mic…).
Human rights applications for 360 degree filming?
Kat has been blogging about the 360 degree filming, which uses a camera with five lenses, and then software that enables the images to be stitched together into a sphere. The viewer then uses mouse clicks to, as it were, spin around to see a 360 degree view from a particular point. In a blog about her experience directing a 360 shoot in Toronto she notes how much choreography is needed to get it right. You have to really focus on how the viewer will experience the material – her take-away: “in flat video direction, you shoot for the editor; in 360 you shoot for the user.”
Of course, this sets me thinking how we could be using this type of 360 filming in our human rights work. What immediately strikes me is how it could be used to give distant audiences a real sense of both the community and the challenges in the areas where WITNESS is working to support groups confronting forced evictions in the name of development (see my colleague Ryan’s post on how we’re approaching this), to give a real feel for the vibrancy of the communities at risk. Immersion in an informal settlement in a city could really help give people a better sense of what is at stake as eviction, demolition and displacement approach. What other use scenarios come to mind?
A final thought: (The whole picture) A 360 degree perspective on human rights
Over the past couple of years we’ve partnered with a Cambodian human rights group, LICADHO to support their advocacy around evictions in Phnom Penh and other areas of Cambodia (see for example, their work mobilizing support for a community of people living with HIV/AIDS facing eviction). So I was very curious to watch the “Out My Window” section set in Phnom Penh – a beautiful portrait of two people living in a building they are constructing on the edge of a central square in Phnom Penh, a middle-aged woman and the young man she views like a son. It’s a delightful segment of the doc, and to me a reminder that as we think about issues like urban displacement we need to think in terms of an ecosystem of people living in poverty and where there rights are not fully recognized. So it’s both about the communities displaced and also the people (often migrants from rural areas looking for work) who end up building the condominiums, highrises, and stadiums on the land where those displaced communities once lived.