NEWS: 2,000 towers in Canada’s golden horseshoe


A remarkable new study, authored by our partners ERA Architects,  paints a highrise picture of the golden horseshoe area encompassing Canada’s largest city, Toronto:

Over 1 million people live in highrise apartments  — in 1,925 of them, to be exact— in this urban corridor, spanning from Niagara to Peterborough, from Waterloo (Canada’s Silicon valley) to Barrie, which totals a population of 8 million. That’s 1 in 8 people living in highrises in the area.

Yet, according to the study commissioned by the Ontario Growth Secretatriat, most of their concerns and needs are largely ignored by planners and politicians.

According to the study, authored by HIGHRISE partners E.R.A. Architects with Planning Alliance, and Cities Centre at the University of Toronto:

•Most are concentrated in areas of high social need, but often lack access to community services.
•Residents have among the lowest rates of car ownership, but are the least served by public transit.
•Restrictive zoning has left many towers isolated and detached.
•The buildings, some now 50 years old, have fallen into disrepair and are among the worst residential energy wasters.

But there is also much room for opportunity. The combination of population density and poorly used space offer enormous potential for renewal and revitalization.  Or, as the authors of a new report put it: “Tower neighbourhoods provide a large geography for action.”

The report can downloaded here, and  there’s a nice write-up in The Toronto Star today.


The release of this report gives us, here at HIGHRISE, a nice opportunity to announce a new project we’ve been working on with ERA over the fall. We’ve been calling 2,000th TOWER. It’s a participatory/collaborative project, and we’ve brought together ERA Architects with the residents of  THE 1,000th TOWER (the web-doc we released last spring) together with a hotshot team of animators to explore the possibilities of Tower Renewal. If 1000th TOWER examined the glum conditions on the ground through the eyes of residents, then 2000th TOWER envisions solutions to the problems, inspired by international examples of Tower Renewal projects from around the world, brought to life by discussions between people of all walks of life,  architectural sketches, and the magic of animation.

We begin on post-production of the 2000th TOWER this week, and will bring you updates here as we progress.

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What a way to cap off two incredible weeks in Amsterdam. We’ve come home with the first ever IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling for HIGHRISE/Out MY Window.

At the award ceremony in the stunning Tuschinski Theatre of downtown Amsterdam, the president of the jury, Alexandre Brachet reported: ‘“The project draws its strength when viewed in depth and at length. The meetings in dozens of countries, from Bangalore and Beirut to Toronto, Canada are all beautiful and the design of the piece resonates with the stories. Photos, video, audio and interactivity all work in seamless harmony towards telling the stories in a compelling way.” The other two jury members were Zach Wise and Antoinette Hoes.

The DocLab competition category rocked with 17 amazing projects: from non-linear guru Florian Thalhofer’s Planet Galata: A Bridge in Istanbul, to 3 very fine NFB/interactive projects (Testtube, This Land, Welcome to Pine Point), to the Arcade Fire runaway hit The Wilderness Downtown, to the university student project in the Appalachians, Soul of Athens, and of course the two fantastic nominees: the visually lush California is a Place, and the totally DIY  Soul Patron (shot, edited and programmed by the author as part of his masters in applied science).

Variety, IndieWire, DocSpace, MovieCityNews Filmmaker Magazine all covered the full IDFA awards.

I spent much of my time in Amsterdam at the lovely Brakke Grond, where we have our installation of Out My Window until January 9th, but I did get into the IDFA movie house a few times to see some great films, mostly revolving around the politics/technology theme. I caught most of the big double IDFA award winner (dutch category and feature-length) Position Among the Stars, which has an opening shot that rivals that of Manufactured Landscapes in beauty. It’s the third instalment in a (decade-long-in-the-making) trilogy of family life in Indonesia by Leonard Rete Helmrich, a cinematographer/director who built steadycam contraptions with low-tech solutions (bamboo etc) to create a technique he calls “Single Shot Cinema.” He often uses long, uninterrupted shots, with the camera moving freely around, surprising us with unusual points of view and sudden glances sideways, sometimes even to follow a fleeing cockroach in extreme close-up. The camera as a living, curious and very much involved entity.

Continuing the politics/tech theme, I also saw the Danish Blood in the Mobile, which investigates how Nokia and other electronics companies are fuelling a deadly war in the Congo (by purchasing coltan and other minerals needed for cell phones and electronics from killer warlords). It’s a subject that has been on the media radar for the last decade (Peter Wintonick and I pointed to it back in 2003 in our web-companion to Seeing is Believing: handicams, huamn rights and the news) and yet the multi-nationals continue to rake in huge profits, and to dodge justice as millions of people in Congo continue to die. The film wisely suggests that there’s a solution: to demand more transparent supply chains (see here). For a more uplifting portrayal of the Congo, I went to the heart-warming Kinshasa Symphony, which came in fourth for the IDFA Audience award. (The award went to the oscar-short-listed Waste Land, also about repurposing recycled materials from a garbage dump to create participatory art. I caught Waste Land at Hot Docs last year, it’s a must-see).

I was happy to see a the “talk-show” live interview with fellow Canadians Luc Coté, Patricio Henrique about their urgent film You Don’t Like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo. They talked about the struggle they had to finance their film, based on  7 hours of surveillance footage (shot on VHS) of the interrogation of Canadian Omar Khadr held at Guantanamo, for alleged war crimes he committed when he was 15 years old. No financiers would touch the film when they were making it, yet its now playing a huge role in pointing a spotlight on how the Canadian government has betrayed its own citizen, to the hands of torturers and sadists. The timing of the release of the film is spot-on. In October 2010, Omar Khadr had just plead guilty to all charges, part of a plea bargain that would get him an eight-year sentence instead of life in prison. This makes him the first person to be convicted as a war criminal since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and the first child soldier since Nuremburg to be found guilty of war crimes.. The filmmakers showed the film to a room full of judges in the Netherlands last week, and are now touring with the film around the world. And their highly-deserved IDFA Special Jury prize will no doubt give the film a good boost.

Worth mentioning too is the last film I saw, My Reincarnation, by Jennifer Fox. For the last twenty years, her camera has witnessed the difficult relationship of a Tibetan Llama, Rinpoche and his resistant son (born and raised in Italy), who is said to be a reincarnation of Rinpoche’s uncle. Jennifer’s trust in life and fate unfolding before her camera (over 2 decades!) is breathtaking, and the film, a full 2 hours in length, takes you for a huge emotional, spiritual ride.

And finally, while IDFA is all about the films, the filmmakers, the parties and the fun, what really blew me away was the audiences. IDFA 2010 boasts an incredible total of 180,000 visits to the festival, up 15,000 from last year. As a maker primarily for the internet these days, I appreciate the direct communication I have with people who see our work on-line every day. The immediacy of twitter and social media is profound. But  what IDFA gave me, was the chance to meet hundreds of audience members face-to-face, and nothing beats that.  During my live cinema screening of Out My Window, audiences called out, cheered, reacted, laughed and applauded – all in real time, and I could feel their breath. It was a high that only live cinema can give you. And in my many, many hours at the Brakke Grond, I witnessed hundreds of audience members interacting with the installation as well as the kiosk computer version of the web-site itself. It was the ultimate in user-testing. I saw how things really worked and what could be improved (for example, two-days into the installation we added vinyl lettered instructions on the floor  for the motion detector spotlight triggers). But over and over, audiences approached me to tell me how much they loved the HIGHRISE experience, and it was real proof that Out My Window touches the minds and hearts of people from all walks of life: from PhDs, to teenagers, to filmmakers, to new media students to the general public.

The words and energy of one audience member , Willie, will stick with me for a long time. I met her almost daily at various IDFA DocLab events (she got rid of her tv and internet 6 months ago, and now interacts with the world only through free live events in Amsterdam) and she gave me quite a bit of her time explaining what she appreciated about the our project – and life. She said the 360º approach of our project reminded her of spiders, who have  multiple eyes set all around the front of their heads (i did not know that!). She is a self-prononounced “survivalist” and loves wild, foraged foods, and she loves clicking on objects on the internet that reveal a whole world behind them. Fascinating mind, and heart. Thank you IDFA and DocLab, for so much, but mostly for giving me a chance to meet audience-members like Willie.

And see you, Ally Derks, director of IDFA, in Toronto for Hot Docs, for your much-deserved Doc-Mogul Award, for your huge contribution to the documentary community.

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Amsterdam – After a long week of physical building and digital patching, we’ve mounted and opened the Out My Window StorySpace Installation.  It’s part of a great exhibit at de Brakke Grond called Expanding Documentary, in conjunction with IDFA DocLab.  Our installation translates the stories of Out My Window into a physical space, using projection, an 8m wide hand-built lattice of screens and motion trigger interactivity.

The audience response to the work has been great: lots of dutch general public and  international documentary traffic coming through. Yesterday, met a Spanish couple from Barcelona, who travelled to Amsterdam for the weekend just for the doclab program, they’re working on their PhDs in interactive documentary. Also have met several dutch locals who have lived in Bijlmer, the highrise neighbourhood we feature in the exhibit. They given me new insight into the controversial and complicated history of the place. Nice round up of the opening night at the DocLab blog.

In other news: tonight at IDFA DocLab, I do a live cinema screening of the web version of Out My Window, and if you like OMW, please consider voting for us at the FWA (Favorite Website Awards), we are up for the shortlist, and they are one of the most important web nods out there. You can register and vote here  <registration only takes a second>

Necessary Shout-Outs for getting this installation off the ground and looking so gorgeous: Priam Givord <incredible interactive artist>, Markus <developer wizard from Derivative>, Branden Bratuhin <HIGHRISE technical director, without whom nothing HIGHRISE could happen>, Michelle Kasprzak <creative curator on the ground in Amsterdam>, Ana Serrano <producer extraordinaire>, Paramita <essential HIGHRISE teamster>, Gemma and Fleurie and the whole beautiful team at de Brakke Grond, and last but not least Caspar Sonnen, curator of DocLab who got us into all this trouble in the first place.

Vids of exhibit coming soon!

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We’ve been pulling a few all-nighters lately, working towards our World Premiere opening of the HIGHRISE: Out My Window Story Space Installation next week in Amsterdam at IDFA DocLab.

The project extends the stories and images of our 360º web-based documentary into physical space. How do stories about space (originally created for the computer screen) translate into life-size images, within a physical space?

That’s a question we’ve been exploring with our co-producer Ana Serrano, head of the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab, and Interactive Artist Priam Givord, who have both guided us through this incredible process of bringing the virtual into the physical.

We are building a portable 8 meter-wide screen, built out of scafholding, wooden frames and projection fabric. Together, these physical materials create a lattice of screens on different planes, physically mimicking the collaged feel of the 360º environments of the apartments in OMW.

Additionally, we are creating 3D layered effect with software from Derivative, an awesome tech company in Toronto, who are working closely with Priam, around the clock, to develop a new interface for their 3D interactive software for this installation. The software allow us to project the images of OMW in x,y and z axes across the huge screen.

We’ve been working in a rented studio here in Toronto (it’s normally a puppet-set building studio), and last night we wrapped the canadian portion of R+D.

Today, Priam and HIGHRISE technical director, Branden Bratuhin, are packing up and hand-carrying our Christie HD projectors to Amsterdam. Ana and I are travelling over the weekend, we’ll be met by Michelle Kasprzak (a Canadian curator currently working in A-dam), and a Derivative Programmer will come in from Germany. From there on on, we’ll be holed-up at de Brakke Grond, the gallery co-hosting the Expanding Documentary exhibit, until the opening on Thursday. Wish us luck!

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The Derivative TOUCH DEVELOPER software

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Behind the scenes: scafholding (cheap and available anywhere in the world)

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Priam Givord, our extra-ordinary interactive artist

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It’s WOW.

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Ana, at the back, Priam in the middle, Branden, HIGHRISE tech guru in foreground.

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The images of nature, David meditating, and the cuban sea => our favorite story so far

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Producer Ana doing deals, working logistics, keeping us on track.

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The haunting beautiful track called Pegwee Power ( you hear the instrumental version in Havana, Amsterdam and Sao Paolo stories of Out My Window), is now available for free download at exclaim here.

Exclaim calls the song “Just shy of seven minutes long, it’s a bizarre epic, pairing baroque instrumentation with Todd’s quirky vocals. It comes from her album Choose Your Own Adventure.”

It’s one of 18 songs on the OMW playlist that was curated and supervised by the inspiring Helen Spitzer, radio producer, music critic, writer and generally incredible cultural powerhouse on the Torontopia scene. We’ll be hearing from her soon-ish in this space about her curatorial process.

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2 tracks from OUT MY WINDOW, available for free download

Tracks from Highrise/Out My Window are now featured for download at Canadian music website Exclaim!

The Canadian independent music monthly has *two* articles about Out My Window up their website today: First, a news story giving an overview of Out My Window here.

and a link to free download of Jim Guthrie’s music from the project playlist:

Jim Guthrie generously made his unreleased track “Little Furnace” – one of 18 tracks from the music playlist – available for free, to entice music fans to the Out My Window site!

Check back at >> next Tuesday when they feature a free download of Maylee Todd’s musical contribution to the documentary, and watch this space for a guest blog from our Music Supervisor, Helen Spitzer, all about the music of Out My Window.

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Join our Social Media Tele-conference about HIGHRISE/OUT MY WINDOW
an open conversation with the director, Katerina Cizek

Bloggers, Tweeters, Mainstream Journos and General Public welcome!

Thursday, Nov 4, 2010
2:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (Toronto, Canada)

Using collaborative web technology and the telephone (to hear the audio, you will need to call in via telephone technology, but you can use skype, gmail or any kind of VOIP)

get a tour of the site, and ask your own questions about the behind-the-scenes of one of the first 360º feature-length documentaries, HIGHRISE/OUT MY WINDOW.

rsvp to before 13h00 (EST) Thurs Nov 4, 2010
you will be sent instructions via email on how to join in.
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We are honoured to be one of six nominees for the BT Vision Innovation Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest, happening next week in the U.K. The list of other nominees makes for serious mind-blowage:

• Arcade Fire + Chris Milk’s The Wilderness Downtown, a music video built in HTML5 starring your hometown
• Exit Through the Gift Shop, a feature doc by and about that crazy Banksy artist dude;
• Prison Valley, a French web-doc by multi-media powerhouse Upian;
• The Arbor, hybrid doco-fiction, about a British playwright, who wrote her first play at age 15;
• The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, a doc built entirely out of propaganda, news footage and home movies;
• Quadrangle, an American experimental doc about a four-way love story.

See what we mean!?

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Early Reviews of OUT MY WINDOW


We’ve had some good responses to our 360º documentary OUT MY WINDOW.

Leslie Scrivener, in a feature spread at The Toronto Star calls it “stunning… profoundly moving…” The Vancouver Sun says: “Beautifully textured, compelling…” Reel Screen reports on our opening at IDFA.

Matt Galloway, of CBC-Radio Metro Morning, sez Out My Window is “unbelievable, extraordinary… What I’ve been obsessed with for the last few days… Worth spending a couple of hours with.” Listen to the interview here.

We got Boing-Boing-ed.

At Forbes in his Buzz Boom and Sizzle blog, Bill Barol says: “In assembling like a mosaic the static images of tower-dwellers across the world, Cizek honors their stories and creates something that moves, in every sense of the word.”

Chicagoist sez “ingenious… produced by the always-awesome National Film Board of Canada…”

Huffington Post sez “More than 100 people from around the world came together on this project — watch it, be astonished and stay connected as they unveil more features in 2011 (maybe you want to tell your story?). And while “Out My Window” isn’t for sale, you can buy something from the NFB’s online store — help keep documentary filmmaking alive!

Tracy Boyer, at Innovative Interactivity, sez: “It’s been cool seeing panorama technology integrated into multimedia storytelling, and I would argue that this is the best attempt at doing it seamlessly amidst a myriad of other multimedia elements. Make sure to have your volume on for this one – they know the importance of high quality sound and fitting music!”

The Activist Writer Blog sez: “This is panorama-technology put to perfect use for social awareness.”

Sam Gregory at, of NYC, writes about our 360º technology, about it’s potential for human rights advocacy, and the Phnom Penh stories in a post called “Learning from Innovations at the Highrise Project.

Carl Wilson, culture and music critic, makes us his web pick of the week at Back to the World, calling it “…beautiful, meditative… really gives meaning to interactivity. Prepare to spend some time exploring it.”

A thoughtful thorough review at Yonge Street blog.

Important music blog, Said the Gramaphone, sez “It’s a brilliant, and very touching project. Go, with half an hour to spare, and check out (at the very least) some of my favourite stories…”

Ontrack blog sez: “Spend some time on the site and feel like you’ve traveled the world over without one airport security check.”

Lavraki blog sez: “This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long while: part film, part sort of choose your own adventure.”

AOL tech blog, Switched, calls it a “documentary interactive event (“film” doesn’t quite do it justice).”

California Home + Design Resource Blog sez: “It’s a fascinating look at what part these architectural behemoths play in segregation and community building, and the effects of design on contemporary life.”

We were “one GOOD thing a day” in the city department.

Great review in the popular educational blog, Open Culture.

BlogTO sez: “The result is a fascinating interactive mosaic made up of fragmented and non-linear stories that challenge traditional perceptions of the urban experience. Perhaps most admirable is Cizek’s ability to deftly address themes of migration, poverty, and environmentalism without ever losing sight of the lived experience of her film’s subjects.”

In-depth interviews at MIT’s Collab Radio, Australia’s SBS Love Factually: part one and part two.

Also reviews at Playback MagazineLa Femme Architecte, PSFK, Bombay Flying Club, Sociolography, Visual Journalist, Things are Good, Collab Docs, U Chicago Blog, Stories of our City, Archiculture, Osocio, Curious Mind, Objects, buildings, Situations, 1loveTOSCOPE, Canadian Centre for Architecture.

And in the twitterverse:

@brainpicker, influential blogger, says “brilliant”

@joguldi, historian at the Harvard Society of Fellows, “i have seen the future of cinema and it is spatial.”

@gnomeslair, online gamer, says: “Now THAT is how interactive documentaries should be.”

@PJHatfield, curator at British Library, says: “This is stunning, merging the geography of the high rise and film.”

@snapncrackle, a college professor, says: “Profound and playful.”

@lafemmearchitct, New York-based architect,  says: “I. MUST. SHARE. THIS. WITH. ARCHITECTURAL. COMMUNITY.

@slituchy, multi-media producer at West Virginia University, “Holy Multimedia, Batman! Amazing piece uses photo, video, music and interactivity really well.”

@ripmanifesto, (Brett Gaylor, award-winning director of RIP Manifesto) says “epic… must watch.”

@jessebrown, host of TVO’s Search Engine, says “Really impressive.”

@dougsaunders, The Globe and Mail European correspondent, author of Arrival City, says “Seriously: Go into the Cuban apartment, click on the headphones, scroll, freak”

Its’s also tweeted by an editor at The New York Times, a project manager at The Wall Street Journal and Head of Research at National Geographic Television.

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Introducing: OUT MY WINDOW

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It’s really, really real. Our virtual HIGHRISE is up!

Today we launch our major NFB HIGHRISE project, OUT MY WINDOW: Interactive Views from the Global Highrise.

Here it is. One of the world’s first 360 degree documentaries, delivered entirely on the web. It’s about our urban planet, told through people looking out onto the world from highrise windows. Using some pretty cool web technology.

It features 90 minutes of documentary material from 13 cities around the world, shot in 13 languages. As the director, it’s been a blast working on this huge global collaborative effort over the last year. Over 100 people have joined us on this project: photographers, journalists, architects, residents, activists, digital developers, researchers around the world came together to bring you these incredible stories of inspiration, community and resilience.

Props to Caspar Sonnen, the curator and guru at IDFA DocLab, who connected us with the Yellowbird 360 degree video technology and has given us great support throughout the making of.

AND …very excited to be making a joint announcement with Caspar and IDFA DocLab  today, that OUT MY WINDOW will have its WORLD PREMIERE of a live cinema screening (what is that? It’s a live performance of the website in a cinema, VJ’ed by me.) and  an innovative physical art INSTALLATION at IDFA, opening on November 18th, 2010 in downtown Amsterdam. More on that soon in this space.

Out My Window is the first major global release from the NFB HIGHRISE project,  a multi-year, cross-media documentary project, directed by Katerina Cizek, produced by Gerry Flahive, about vertical living around the globe.

Please share Out My Window with your friends/colleagues on facebook, twitter etc., tell us what you think.

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