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It’s September, and HIGHRISE is in full swing.

Last week, I braved the stage at IGNITE TORONTO (presenters have 5 minutes, 20 slides with 15 seconds each). My subject was *THE SUBURBS: it’s not what I thought* and it was a runthrough of what i’ve learned from HIGHRISE so far. Check out this bootleg youtube vid someone posted of my presentation.

This week, I’m on a panel at the Interactive Ontario conference talking about Transmedia Storytelling with the great Siobhan Flynn moderating.

We also just got two academic invitations for next spring. In Montreal, the Concordia U. team at Ciner-G is organizing
an International Symposium on Nonlinear Digital Storytelling. Then, there’s a lab-symposium in Bristol on interactive documentary. The organizer, Sandra Gaudenzi, recently published this blog post about HIGHRISE, and asks some interesting questions about our project:

The blogger sez: “Although 360 technology is sexy, the point here is to know how it will be used. In her last project for NFB, Filmmaker-in-Residence, Katerina Cizek took very seriously the meaning of “collaborative” media. During 5 years she worked with the medical staff, and with the patients, of an inner-city hospital… and it is only through deep rooting into their universe that she emerged with the version of the interactive documentary that is available online – and on DVDs. I am really curious to know what type of collaboration she is experimenting with in her new project, Highrise. After having directly engaged with a selected group of tower residents in Toronto (see their descriptions of their space and the presentation that has been organized with Toronto’s major here), they are now asking everybody to send photos to Flickr… is this a contradiction or a cleverly balanced dose of crowd sourcing and intimate collaboration?
And also… is 360 degrees technology an aesthetic landscaped choice or does it experiment with new type of digital interaction? I am afraid that for now they are the only one to have the answers… maybe they want to share some information with us?”

Thanks for your questions, invitation and interest, Sandra. Once the work is up, it’ll be a lot easier to discuss many of these issues. Your questions are more about interpretation rather than simply about the intentions of the maker, so looking forward to launching and talking soon. Meanwhile, here’s a little blurb about HIGHRISE/Out My Window to give you a better feel for what we’ve been working on:

Out My Window is one of the world’s first interactive 360º documentaries. Delivered entirely on the web, it explores the state of our urban planet told by people who look out on the world from highrise windows.

It’s a journey around the globe through the most commonly built form of the last century: the concrete-slab residential tower. Meet remarkable highrise residents who harness the human spirit — and the power of community — to resurrect meaning amid the ruins of modernism.

With more than 90 minutes of material to explore, Out My Window features 49 stories from 13 cities, told in 13 languages, accompanied by a leading-edge music playlist.

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In anticipation of our forthcoming interactive documentary OUT MY WINDOW, we are inviting you all to send in your own photos and stories of the view out a highrise window you know. What do you see? What does it mean? We’ll aggregating these images and stories at Flickr, and soon, we’ll stream these photos and stories in a pretty awesome companion site to OUT MY WINDOW called OUT MY WINDOW/participate.

Join us!

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We launch HIGHRISE’s first web-documentary tonight.

It’s called THE THOUSANDTH TOWER: Stories from inside a Toronto Suburban Highrise. We’ll be down at City Hall, with the Mayor et al. getting highrise residents’ voices in front of city politicians, administrators, urban planners and the general public. We’ve had some nice press: Shawn Micallef columned us at Eye Weekly and Spacing Media and Now Magazine calls us one of this week’s can’t miss event. Torontoist lists us here. Listen to the radio interview from CBC’s Metro Morning here. Toronto Star takes more of a newsy angle. And HIGHRISE as whole has also yesterday been listed as one of 7 Mindblowing Multi-Media projects.

Audiences can get a peak at the THOUSANDTH TOWER here, and just so you know… we’re busy putting the final touches on a large, very global web-documentary (13 cities around the world, 12 languages, over 90 minutes of riveting story built into a totally awesome interactive framework), Out My Window, due out soon on an worldwideweb screen near you.

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Our First project of HIGHRISE, an exploration of life in global vertical urban peripheries, is about to premiere. If you are near or around Toronto, please join us…

Toronto is a city of more than 1000 towers. But we rarely hear from the people who live in them.

Equipped with digital cameras and powerful personal points-of-view, six Toronto residents are documenting their own vertical lives against the backdrop of the city’s ambitious Tower Renewal effort. Their photo stories are the first installment of the National Film Board of Canada’s long-term collaborative documentary project, HIGHRISE, witnessing the human experience in vertical living across the globe.

Join Toronto Mayor David Miller as we showcase
photos and storytelling in a

stories from inside a Toronto Suburban Highrise

Wednesday, May 12, 6 pm

Toronto City Hall
First Floor Rotunda
100 Queen St West

Reception to follow

City staff and councillors please RSVP to
Everyone else, please RSVP to

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GRATS to our partners: GLOBAL SUBURBANISM team

We are thrilled to congratulate our partners at the City Institute at York University for the official announcement of their massive research project, Global Suburbanism. They have received one of Canada’s largest academic grants, called the Major Research Collaborative Initiatives from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It’s 2.5 million CAD for 7 years.

From the press release: “Roger Keil, professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, director of the City Institute at York University, and director of the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies, is working with 44 researchers at 29 universities, and 16 partners in 12 countries to better understand the challenges suburbanization poses in a globalizing world. City Institute faculty associates Lisa Drummond, Liette Gilbert, Shubhra Gururani, Laam Hae, Stefan Kipfer, Ute Lehrer, Karl Schmid, and Doug Young are among the co-researchers on the Initiative.

Based on the experience of Canadian suburbanization, but ranging from North America’s wealthy gated communities to Europe’s high-rise-dominated suburbs, the exploding outskirts of Indian and Chinese cities to the slums and squatter settlements of Africa and Latin America, this project is the first to systematically take stock of worldwide suburban developments while analyzing their governance models, land use, infrastructure and suburban everyday life. The project also includes collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada on documentaries about life in suburban high rises.”

Over a year ago, HIGHRISE teamed up with the Global Suburbanism team to collaborate, and work side-by-side in our respective projects. The whole team meets in Montreal in April… Let the collaborations begin!

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HIGHRISE  has had one last meet-up with YELLOWBIRD 360 Vid Cam – this time in Cuba – for the final music vid shoot of OUT MY WINDOW, our web-doc in production about highrise living.

This time, an even more elaborate choreography and blocking, a custom-built version of a song about the highrise neighborhood, 6 musicians and 3 children as backup singers. Explosive.

The song itself is about a neighbourhood east of Havana, called Alamar, the world’s largest public housing project, with over 100,000 residents in over 1,00 buildings in an area of 15 square km.

The neighbourhood is also the cradle of cubano hiphop.

The performers are a poetry – hiphop – art collective called Omni.

The song progresses from a children’s rhyme, to a Manu Chao-esque folk song, into slam poetry into punked out hiphop. With a new musician appearing every 30 seconds or so. This time, we not only shot for the user, we put the user right in the middle of the action, into the centre of the circle, with great action happening all around in all directions.

We’ve learned tons from each shoot and put it into the crafting of the next: from Amsterdam, to Toronto to Havana. We’ve also learned enormously from our collaborators: the great people at Yellowbird Marc and Fabian, Caspar at IDFA whose been a great advisor along the way, and our partners on the Cuba production, Liz Miller (professor at Concordia U in Montreal) as well as Caridad Cumana, our Film Guru and friend in Havana.

We are now exploring new ways to share the material beyond the web – stay tuned for developments!

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The Yellowbird/HIGHRISE 360 video camera team strikes again.

This time, a music video shoot on the 15th floor of a highrise in Toronto, with Amchok Gompo, an incredible Tibetan musician. This is part 2 of our collaboration with Yellowbird on our first web-doc, called Out my Window: Views from the Global Highrise, in which we profile interesting residents living in interesting highrise neighborhoods in several locations around the world.

In Toronto, we did a double shoot, following the YB crew with a “flat video” team. Made for a long day, especially for Amchok. For the YB shoot, it was helpful to have an extra DOP’s advice on lighting, and to have a sound recordist’s expertise to get the right balance of voice, instrument and drums.

The shoot took a long time to set up, because of the strong sun bursting in through the misty window. We compensated with the DOP’s lights in the hallway, to even out the shadows. We also covered the window, and brought the iris down on the camera.

After the sparse 360 shoot Amsterdam (only 2 musicians), I was interested in filling out the room with more searchable activity for the user – and that meant more choreography, especially with children. It took three takes to slow them down from running around like wildfire.

We started out with only two musicians, Amchok, and his friend Victor on an african drum. But about an hour into set-up, I remembered that our sound recordist, Mike, is actually an accomplished Brazilian drummer. We asked him, Amchok and Victor if it would be okay to bring in another drum. Everyone agreed, so Mike dashed home and back for his tambourine (Mike’s home was actually visible from Amchok’s window view!).

The shoot required a lot of art direction – where should Amchok look while singing (into the camera or not? – it seems really unnatural to look into a yellow box). And the choreography of  9 people in a smaller room was complex too. Should everyone move in the same direction? That might seem boring for a user. It was tough to direct, during filming, as I was hiding in the kitchen with 4 other crew, not seeing anything at all during the takes. Then, playback is low-rez, slo-mo, unstitched with no sound on a laptop!

After the YB shoot, one of the flatvideo crew almost lamented: “With this new 360 degree video technology, you don’t need a Director of Photography anymore…”

But to use the technology creatively and well, it actually requires a lot of thought and art direction and coordination, understanding how the user will actually experience the material on-line.

So the takeaway from shoot 2 is definitely: in flat video direction, you shoot for the editor; in 360 you shoot for the user.

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Miloon Kothari is an architect who builds more than buildings, he builds human rights cases.

He spent eight years on fact-finding missions to 13 countries as the UN’s  first Special Rapporteur on Housing.

Today, HIGHRISE met him at a downtown Toronto coffeehouse, after his whirlwind lecture series at University of Toronto earlier this week.

He had just gotten off the phone with his office in New Delhi, where he is currently helping to build a case for a group of homeless people. Late last month, the group was was evicted from a tent settlement at a traffic roundabout. The temporary shelter had actually been built by one arm of the municipal government, but then torn down by another. After an article appeared  on the front page of The Times of India, a New Delhi High Court judge took interest, and is now asking a lot of questions.  If things go well, Miloon hopes, the case may become a case for all 140,000 homeless of the city.

He is also currently researching and tracking social control in the global city.

“In the last 4 to 5 years I’ve seen a proliferation of anti-vagrancy policies all over the world.” He cites Rome as an example, where it’s become illegal to eat in public. In London, he says, the “wetting-down” policy has municipal workers spraying park benches with water in the evenings to make them too wet to sleep on for the night.

And while homelessness is a global problem, Miloon is concerned that there is no global network dedicated to ending homelessness. He says its not enough to build shelters and get people into housing, we need to understand how people become homeless in the first place.

It’s all part of a global trend of increased segregation in our cities wordwide. “It’s segregation not just on the basis of race, its based on income.”

Perhaps the most stunning fact that Miloon has found, is that todaymore people in the world are displaced by development than by armed or ethnic conflict. Evictions, land-grabbing, displacement are radically reshaping the global urban landscape.

Miloon warns that as our planet quickly urbanizes, the segregation itself will lead to more conflict.

Miloon’s work at the UN, at home in Delhi, and in consultation with communities all over the planet is ground-breaking. He connects the local dots to a global big picture that our world so sorely lacks, and so desperately needs.

We’re pretty excited to continue discussions with Miloon and to find ways to collaborate with him on HIGHRISE.

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