DIRECTOR'S BLOG

SUBSCRIBE
HIGHRISE, UNDERGROUND + HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

TTC-screen_NFB-1MT

The HIGHRISE/One Millionth Tower public art installation in the Toronto Subway well underway. The series features 6 silent videos on all digital screens, and 4 different posters on 110 platforms that together, tell the story of re-imagining our vertical city.

Here’s a few pix and videos. We’ve had a great response, including a Globe and Mail article, an interview on CBC Metro Morning, an article in The Grid and even a Hollywood Reporter story (!).

TTC-poster_NFB-1MT

image001

image002

Here’s three of the six silent videos, with ambient subway sound, to give you an idea of the experience watching, while waiting for a train:

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.
ONE MILLION COMMUTERS

Our HIGHRISE documentary, One Millionth Tower, has re-incarnated into a public art project that reaches 1.3 million subway commuters daily in Toronto, Canada.

1MT_2011_12_05_poster_2

6 short videos adapted from the documentary and 4 specially-designed subway posters with images from the project  are currently on display throughout the Toronto underground subway system until the end of February. The 30-second videos play continuously every 10 minutes on the digital signage system, while 110 copies of the posters are on display at 59 stations throughout the city.

The project is curated by Sharon Switzer for Pattison Onestop and Art for Commuters (A4C).

The idea for the project was to hone the central concept of One Millionth Tower to its most basic, core, visual theme: to contrast the “real” Toronto highrise conditions with that of the “imagined” landscapes of the residents and architects.

Here’s some pix from my visit to the print shop with Joanna from Helios Design Lab, to check out the 6-foot tall print proofs.

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 8.56.59 AM

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 8.55.43 AM

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 8.55.59 AM

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 8.55.16 AM

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 8.55.24 AM

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 8.55.03 AM

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 9.48.14 AM

Nice article in Canada’s Globe and Mail here. Watch this space for the silent videos coming soon.

ONE MILLIONth TOWER: LIVE

One Millionth Tower has gone live — and not just on the web. Here’s some pix from recent live appearances:

LIVE AT THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
DSC_0164

Last week, we celebrated our new web-documentary One Millionth Tower (1MT) live at the historic Gladstone Hotel Ballroom in downtown Toronto. The highlight of the show was a saxophone performance by Jamal, one of the 1MT residents (check out the above bootleg youtube recording by Prof. Roger Keil!) Over 150 Torontonians were in attendance.

DSC_0135

The event was hosted by our incredible Senior Producer, Gerry Flahive, who brought 12 people to the stage, each in their own way, highlighting the collaborative nature of the project.

DSC_0144

Ob represented the residents on our panel, and he spoke out about the need for resident involvement in changing the landscape of our highrise environments across Toronto.

DSC_0146

Graeme Stewart of ERA architects took on tough questions about the mechanics and philosophy of Tower Renewal. How can it really happen? What are the real costs? Who needs to be involved?

DSC_0147

Elise Hug of the City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal program, spoke about need for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and how to bring many stakeholders together. She was followed by Jamie Robinson, of United Way, who gave context with the remarkable Vertical Poverty study, and the United Way’s hopes for making the Kipling buildings a demonstration site for what’s possible. Matt Thompson, Chief Storyteller at Mozilla Foundation, rounded out the panel with a great talk about the role open technology can play in city-building. Before the screening, Roger Keil talked about the highrise in the context of “the world” by introdicuing the fabulous Global Suburbanisms project he is spearheading at York University (and with whom we are partnered), while Michael McLelland of ERA Architects gave a great nutshell introduction to the legacy of apartment towers in the city of Toronto. Russell Mitchell of ANC/United Way talked about Rexdale, the neighbourhood in which we are working. Mike Robbins of Helios Design Lab also took to the stage to explain why we used open source to build 1MT.

DSC_0158

Somewhere in the packed house was Marcus Gee, columnist for The Globe and Mail, who then filed this great story about our project and vertical Toronto.

LIVE AT THE REAL HIGHRISE
1MT_kipling

A week before the Gladstone, Ob, Faith, Donna and Jamal showed 1MT live to their neighbours in a moving presentation — in the very meeting room in which the project was created.

LIVE ON THE RADIO
metro_morning

Jamal and Donna also hit the CBC Metro Morning airwaves live in Matt Galloway’s 3-part series dedicated to One Millionth Tower. Metro Morning is the number one morning show in Toronto.

LIVE IN AMSTERDAM
1MT_at_IDFA

Meanwhile, One Millionth Tower was showcased *live* in Amsterdam for the largest documentary festival in the world, IDFA, as part of the fantastic DocLab lounge. (HIGHRISE won the inaugural DocLab award there for Out My Window last year. This year the honour went to the artful web-documentary In Situ, a lyrical french project from ARTE, which is not unrelated to urban themes in HIGHRISE).

LIVE AT MOZFEST
Screen shot 2011-12-13 at 7.37.11 AM

This is me, Kat Cizek, chuffed to be launching 1MT live at the awesome Mozilla Festival in London U.K. in front of a crowd of 4-500 brilliantly talented hackers and journalists who had gathered for the Media, Freedom and the Web Festival.

LIVE ON WEB TV
cizek_and_fox

And finally, streaming on live web-tv during an interview about 1MT at Mozfest, I had an unexpected visit from the Foxy Mozilla Fox Mascot, the true rockstar of the Mozilla Festival. Never know what can happen when you’re *live.*

Video courtesy Roger Keil, photos from the Gladstone by Marcus Matyas for the NFB, Kipling Launch and CBC Radio by Kat Cizek for the NFB, and Mozilla Festival by Sarah Arruda, for the NFB.

One Millionth Tower: the first week

720x310_HIGHRISE_1MT_nighttime

Lots of great responses to our newly-launched web-native documentary One Millionth Tower.

When we premiered at the Mozilla Festival in London UK, and co-launched on-line with wired.com, the prestigious technology publication reported that we’ve “Re-invented the documentary format… the resulting film is unlike any before it.”

Engadget, one of the world’s top blogs (#6 according to Technorati), says the documentary “Elevates the art of HTML5″ and the french publication Libération says “By far the most ambitious, most audacious of the HIGHRISE collection.”

For One Millionth Tower, we go “hyper-glocal:” we tell a local story about two sister highrise buildings in suburban Toronto, but our approach and message has global resonance.

I was really moved when Priti, one of the residents at the building, told us “You may just drive-by and see an ugly building, but for us, this is our home.”

Over a billion of us live in deteriorating apartment buildings, and in One Millionth Tower, we wanted to discover how  harnessing the spirit of the people who live inside can help re-imagine the bleak highrise landscape, anywhere in the world.

“Too often we blame the buildings. It’s really about the system around the buildings. What can we do to improve that?” says ERA Architect Graeme Stewart, whose generative work on Tower Renewal has inspired much of the overall HIGHRISE project.

The idea behind One Millionth Tower is to bring together residents, architects, animators and a web developers to tell the story of speculatively transforming physical space in a 3d virtual landscape  — directly in the browser.

The Atlantic Cities publication notes “The ongoing collaborative aspects, through the amazing interfaces Cizek and her team have created, are surprising and enlightening.”

It all started when our HIGHRISE community-media documentarians, Heather Frise and Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam, gathered Faith, Ob, Donna, Priti and Jamal, all residents of the highrise, together with Graeme and his team of architects to draw and to re-imagine the spaces around the highrises as vibrant active places. Soon, animators Howie Shia, Lillian Chan and Kelly Sommerfeld brought the illustrations to cinematic life.

Then, using brand new technology called webGL, and Popcorn, new software inspired by Mozilla, Mike Robbins of Helios Design Lab, radically transformed the whole project. He helped us craft a documentary in 3d space that lives and breathes like the web. For example, when it’s raining at the Toronto Highrise for reals, it is raining in One Millionth Tower.

“It is a story about space,” Mike says, “so I thought why not put it in 3d space?”

Pulling together so many technical and human innovations involved 24/7 piloting by Associate Producer Sarah Arruda and Technical Director, Branden Bratuhin.

“Our iterative process was complicated, and it was successful only because true passion and commitment from every member of the team,” says Sarah.

“One Millionth Tower is a prime example of the work we are doing together to empower makers and build tools that anyone can use to make awesome things happen — on the Web and in the world. It’s a testament to how we are building a better Web together,” says Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation.

The same can be said for building a better city. How can we all be part of building and re-building rethinking the cities and infrastructures that defines us now as an urban species?

“The highrise building for us is a great storytelling prism. It’s a metaphor, and it’s a way for us to address ‘the future of cities’ in a concrete, human way,” says Gerry Flahive, the Senior Producer who leads our productions through “formats that haven’t been invented yet.”

With music composed by Toronto’s own visionary Jim Guthrie, including a sonata by Owen Pallett, and sound design by Timothy Muirhead, the collaged “mixed tape” approach to the soundscape adds more poetic reference to collaborative nature of the project.

The inspiration has not stopped on the web. Due in part to the documentary process, and mostly because of all the great community organizing that’s been happening on site (the residents themselves, the United Way, ERA Architects and the City of Toronto) there’s been real on the ground impact that’s come from the “imaginings” of the documentary.

Last summer, as we were still completing the virtual work, the residents won a grant that brought a playground “built-in-a-day” to the site, through Kaboom, a non-profit that brings back play to neighbourhoods in need.

“It’s because of the One Millionth Tower,” says Donna, one of the residents instrumental in the project.

“Because the residents had done two years of organizing,” says Elise Hug of the City of Toronto, “They were able to put in the application in a week and a half.”

“In One Millionth Tower, my mother blows seeds around,” says Jamal, who has grown up in the building and worked on the project, “it’s very symbolic.”

When we picked up the NFB’s first Webby for our Filmmaker-in-Residence project in 2006, we used five words to accept the statue: “The internet is a documentary.” By that I meant that what we do on the web as citizens is at its core, documentary: we creatively interpret our actuality.

Today, five years later, as we launch One Millionth Tower, I am surprised to flip those words around: ‘Documentary is becoming the web.’

Out of the 2,000+ tweets so far about One Millionth Tower, my favourite  so far is from @terry_whyte who says he “Came for the HTML5, stayed for the story.”

See the documentary here: highrise.nfb.ca/onemillionthtower

HIGHRISE on BIG SCREENS

Screen shot 2011-05-16 at 4.42.41 PM

It’s been a busy week at HIGHRISE, with two exciting public projections.

In Montreal, to a packed audience at the gorgeous L’Astral theatre, I had the honour of  “performing” HIGHRISE/Out My Window accompanied by 3 musicians, playing a live, improvised score. Sam Shalabi on oud, electronic guitar and electronics, Alexandre St-Onge on electric bass, upright bass and electrionics, and Will Eizlini on tabala and electronics. A magical evening, all part of the DNA Symposium at Concordia University, which was a heady mix of academics and practitioners, all discussing the intersection of Database, Narrative and Archives in the context of computer-generated story-telling. Thanks to the DNA team, and esp professors Monika Kin Gagnon and Matt Soar for creating this space for us.

Screen shot 2011-05-16 at 8.22.42 AM

Meanwhile, in Toronto…

GH_2011_05_12_Toronto_The_Good_Paramita_shots_IMG_2667

…My colleagues represented HIGHRISE at the awesome annual Toronto the Good Party (put on by our partners and friends ERA Architects, Spacing Magazine and others). Technical Director Branden Bratuhin, Associate Producer Sarah Arruda, and Project Coordinator Paramita Nath talked all things HIGHRISE with good torontonians. They also gave a sneak peak (projected on the hallowed halls of Hart House) of our new project, One Millionth Tower, which we are describing for now, as a spacial film/web experience, built in HTML5 by Helios, popcorn provided by Mozilla Foundation.

We will be releasing a video documentary of the Montreal performance, and we’ll be telling you more about One Millionth Tower soon, so watch this space in coming weeks.

****
photo credits:

Montreal performance by David Dufresne, duflab.com
Out My Window out DNA’s window, courtesy of DNA Symposium
Toronto the Good Party, by Paramita Nath

OMW wins IDFA DocLab AWARD

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.