The 2011 International Digital Emmy award in the category of non-fiction was recently awarded to what is touted as the first 360-degree internet documentary in the world. Directed by Czech-Canadian documentary filmmaker Katerina Cizek under a project by the National Film Board of Canada, Out My Window looks at high-rise communities in 13 cities around the world – from Toronto to Chicago to Sao Paulo to Prague – through the perspective of some of the occupants.
“Out My Window is an attempt to frame some of the questions, or rather re-frame how we think about globalization, migration, housing, human rights, and how the first-person narratives of residents need to be part of the conversation,” said Cizek. “I think of Out My Window as a survey of some best (and worst) practices around the world in dealing with urban density and the legacy of the concrete high-rise neighbourhoods”.
Set up as a ‘virtual high-rise’, Out My Window invites viewers to click on the window of their choice – each corresponding to a particular city – taking them into a 360-degree collage-like view of the inner and outer world of the high-rise occupant. Within each, viewers can click on one of three to four elements of the collage to watch slideshows and listen to the voices of the occupants telling stories about their lives within the high-rise, the buildings and the communities out their windows.
Britanny looks out the window from Cabrini-Green – one of Chicago’s most notorious public housing projects. PHOTO: DAVID SCHALLIOL, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
In Chicago, a mother and daughter express their concerns, fears and memories garnered in Cabrini-Green – one of Chicago’s most notorious public housing projects, having gained a reputation internationally for its gang violence. The high-rises of Cabrini have been under demolition since the 1990’s. “You live your whole life in these buildings and then it’s gone”, says Brittany, the daughter. “You don’t know what you’re going to do. All your friends are going to be separated.”
Subsequently, on May 5 the last high-rise of Cabrini-Green came down. Since their interview at the end of 2009, Britanny and her mother have been relocated to a Chicago Housing Authority low-rise on the South Side.
In Sao Paulo, Ivaneti – a coordinator of the Downtown Homeless Movement (a movement led by women from different squats in downtown Sao Paulo), has been in a building that’s been empty for 17 years. As she states in the film, “Apparently there are more than 400 buildings like this in Sao Paulo”. In 2000, when Ivaneti was offered her own residence, she gave it up to continue living in the squat and helping others.
This sense of community is found within many of the high-rises, as well as creativity and a sense of meaning.
“Out My Window is (mostly) about high-rise residents who harness the power of community, music and art, and search for meaning in their environments, no matter how prefabricated they may be,” Cizek writes in the director’s statement on the project’s website. “
Out My Window is set up as a ‘virtual high-rise’. Viewers can click on a window to hear the stories of high-rise occupants. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
Out My Window is part of a larger project called Highrise, which, according to the website’s description, is set to generate many projects including mixed media, interactive documentaries, mobile productions, live installations and films. Collectively, the projects will both shape and realize the Highrise vision: to see how the documentary process can drive and participate in social innovation rather than just to document it; and to help reinvent what it means to be an urban species in the 21st century.
“We are fast becoming an urban planet; we are now more than 50% urban as a species. Urban stereotypically means “downtown” yet the urban experience for most people means living at the edges of the cities, often in high-rises,” said Cizek. “Some of the most interesting, complex, dynamic things are happening at the edges of our cities, yet we don’t understand how the suburbs, the peripheries work. Yet, density is the solution to urban sprawl. So how we deal with density, and whether we decide to shape imaginatively how we can make density humane is one of the biggest questions facing us in terms of human rights in the next decades.”
Along with the Emmy and a host of other awards and nominations, Out My Window was recently honored with the prestigious One World Media Award in the category of New Media on May 10.
Learn more about Out My Window here – http://highrise.nfb.ca/