Documentary filmmakers have long been faced with an abundance of material and the dilemma of deciding what information to put onscreen and what to relegate to the cutting-room floor. San Franciso-based outfit Independent Television Service hopes to solve this problem with Electric Shadows, an inventive Web project that combines the art of documentary filmmaking with the detailed informative qualities of books.
ITVS will launch two Web sites later this year that further its mission of providing solid content while encouraging viewer interactivity. To create this venture, ITVS invited a select group of filmmakers to submit applications based on a theme of cultural storytelling.
The two final projects, “Face to Face” and “Circle of Stories,” were chosen from a field of 35 applications and were developed in collaboration with the Internet design studio Second Story.
Made on a limited budget of $70,000, each site integrates classic documentary filmmaking technique with interactive tools like discussion boards.
“Face to Face” compares the experience of modern-day Arab Americans with Japanese Americans during World War II. Producer Rob Mikuriya recorded the stories of Japanese Americans who were interned after Pearl Harbor in 1941 as well as Arab Americans whose lives were affected by the events of Sept. 11.
“There’s a real strong connection here,” says Mikuriya. “Two major tragic events occurred and very distinctive people were blamed for it. There are people living in this country that look like the enemy.”
Users will be able to click on the face of a Japanese American, listen to his or her story and then be linked to the story of an Arab American.
Mikuriya, whose father was held in an internment camp, hopes that his site will broaden cultural understanding and tolerance. He hopes that browsers will “come out the other end with a little bit more compassion about the situation so the next time they see a group of women walking down the street with veils on, they will think twice before they judge them.”
“Circle of Stories” focuses on American Indian storytelling and showcases four storytellers.
Co-producers Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller teamed up with the Cultural Conservancy, an org committed to the preservation of American Indian culture, to create several mini-docs as the centerpiece of their site. The short films show the storytellers, called culture-bearers, telling tales such as “How We Got the Stars in the Night Sky.” The Cultural Conservancy provided supplemental material for users who want more in-depth information.
The project has been a labor of love for Rogerson, who notes, “We went out, shot a film, edited it, but also researched, wrote, created all this design and supplemental material so it’s been a huge challenge.”
ITVS director of programming Claire Aguilar describes the project as “a way to fulfill our mission in the digital arena, contentwise, and also to increase interactivity and discourse among users.”
Regarding the subject matter, Aguilar says, “I think it’s going to be controversial. That’s something we embrace — to open up the discourse and elevate it; talk about things that you normally don’t talk about.”