Documentary - HIGHRISE


The National Film Board of Canada’s pioneering, multi-award-winning interactive documentary series HIGHRISE launches its final chapter on June 2nd...

Universe Within: Digital Lives in the Global Highrise caps a seven-year odyssey for digital creator and documentary maker Katerina Cizek, producer Gerry Flahive and the NFB.

We are becoming a vertical—and digital—species. Billions of us live in highrises, and three billion of us are connected to the Internet. Universe Within takes us into the apartments, hearts, minds and computers of vertical citizens around the world to reveal the digital human condition in the 21st century. Trapped in our highrise units, can we find love, hate, peace, God, community—or a better world—online?

Created by Katerina Cizek and produced by Gerry Flahive and David Oppenheim for the NFB, in collaboration with University of Toronto researchers Deborah Cowen and Emily Paradis and award-winning Toronto- and Los Angeles-based interactive agency Secret Location, Universe Within transports users to highrises in 18 cities around the globe, with first-person accounts of how we seek to connect via the Web.

Stories include a mother in Ramallah who tries to stay connected with her family in Gaza; a team of competitive video game players in Seoul who live, work and train together in a highrise compound; a Mumbai teenager who records corrupt government officials in the hopes of saving her building from illegal demolition; as well as young Iraqi refugees in a Toronto suburban highrise, taking part in a “Girls Learning Code” program to learn how to create video games.

A collaboration between documentary makers, highrise residents, academics, creative technologists and theatre artists, Universe Within challenges conventional documentary storytelling through its blending of character-driven first-person accounts, fictional elements and innovative use of technology. The experience mimics personal and intimate “documentary conversations” between the viewer and host avatars, who are scripted and filmed in haunting 3D point cloud data. Users are guided by the host avatars, who ask provocative questions about the role of ethics, emotions and empathy in our digital, vertical worlds, which in turn shapes each viewer’s experience. The result is a unique and personalized work that challenges our comfort in using digital technology to meaningfully engage with others—including those constructed solely of pixels.

HIGHRISE has spawned more than 20 works of mixed media, interactive documentaries, mobile productions, live presentations, installations and films. It’s captured many of the digital world’s highest honours and has been hailed by Wired, the world’s leading technology publication, as having “re-invented the documentary format.”

Universe Within will be accessible on all devices, with an enhanced version in WebGL from here.

Image - National Film Board of Canada
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