Haiti docu becomes teaching tool

Red Cross uses Canadian docu to show how to help victims

Toronto– A large-scale docu project is rarely greenlit before location, characters and scenario are known. But that’s what happened in September 2009, after director-producer Nadine Pequeneza negotiated unprecedented access to the disaster response team of the Intl. Federation of Red Crosses in the wake of four hurricanes that hit the island nation in 2008.

With a budget of $1.3 million raised from various government funders, Pequeneza and three crews — one dedicated to an ambitious website with a separate budget — sat through a quiet 2009 hurricane season, firming up logistics. Then a massive earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 12, 2010.

Filmed over six months, the three-part “Inside Disaster Haiti” — which preems on pubcasters TVO (a development partner), SCN and Canal D in Canada this month — delivers a front-row seat to the early efforts, unfolding dramas and monumental challenges of Red Cross relief teams in Haiti.

While ITVS Global Entertainment is selling the doc internationally, “Inside Disaster Haiti” is already connecting with global auds via an interactive website.

Launched late last year, the site offers extensive educational content about Haiti, the earthquake and how humanitarian aid works, and includes first-person role-playing simulations of a survivor, aid worker and journalist in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. Red Cross agencies have recently started using the simulations for training.

It’s the kind of robust multiplatform component the Canadian Media Fund now mandates for all film and TV funding applicants (the guidelines changed in spring 2010) and which is proving a challenge for many Canuck docu producers faced with shrinking broadcast windows and stretched budgets.

But after Pequeneza brought the project to veteran doc producer Andrea Nemtin of PTV Prods. in late 2008, they discovered major film and new-media funders eager to lend support to a subject tailor-made for transmedia treatment.

“Today viewers expect to participate in their TV watching,” says Nemtin, “Our challenge was that the Web audience would be looking to us as soon as the event occurred.”

A Web development budget of $100,000 (later expanded) from the Bell New Media Fund and TVO allowed website producer Katie McKenna and one-person field crew Nicolas Jolliet to launch a blog site within hours of the quake. By giving away its photos and HD footage through a CreativeCommons license, the site immediately built a community. But the next phase required long-term thinking.

“With so much celebrity participation in humanitarian work now, more people are interested in how they can get involved,” McKenna says. “Unfortunately, Haiti is not going to be the last natural disaster the global community responds to, so we wanted to create something that will be useful in years to come.”

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