Update: the amazing Filmmaker-in-Residence box set was released in 2009 and is available from the NFB.
Are you comfortably sitting in front of your computer? Cup of hot tea coiling bergamot steam from beneath your winter-cooled nose? Relaxed and ready? Good. Now take a deep breath and go instantly to the National Film Board of Canada’s newest political multimedia offering and prepare to be comforted, engaged, inspired, enraged, and informed as a tapestry of rich music, video, photography, text, graphics and sounds cajole you into the world of the NFB filmmaker-in-residence program. Political documentary filmmaker Katerina Cizek is the current auteur at the center of this initiative which seeks to reconnect with the groundbreaking and globally imitated Challenge for Change(CFC) project that sprung from the wells of the NFB in 1966. Only this time, things look a little more crisp and the cameras are a little lighter.
The “Virtual Residence on the Web” as Cizek calls it, comprises an incredibly delicious pallet of stunning media that flows with the click of the mouse and advances a multi-directional yet braided narrative that combines the politics of socially engaged media making, community-building, health care, art therapy, poverty, drug addiction, youth pregnancy, globalization, HIV/AIDS, healing, and much more. The whole journey takes about one hour to go through and every minute the screen is filled with important messages that are simultaneously fluid while remaining embedded in a media mosaic so aesthetically saccharine I might even say it was too rich. At times the dramatic – although beautiful – music does push ones feeling a little too much in a direction of sentimentality, but on the whole, it is a web-based experience that redefines documentary practices, especially distribution/exhibition. It is also an experiment in locating culture and traveling the sometimes frail ligaments that connect us across physical distances, cultural chasms and digital divides.
Cizek is stationed at St. Michael's hospital in Toronto, where as the filmmaker-in-residence, she captures the volatile moments that make up the peoples' lives living in the streets, living without homes, living with addiction, living with sickness, and of course those that are dedicated to intervention – people who rupture the complacent and comfortable apathy of our increasingly disconnected Western world. The aid workers and health care attendants are not the focus of this project, nor are the drug addicted individuals living on the street. The focus of this program, and presumably the resulting documentaries, is of community and action.
Given the lofty goals of connecting people with one another, with representation of the disenfranchised, and intervention in the social and the local, as well as challenging audiences beyond entertainment/consumption, but to think and act, it is unsurprising the NFB has articulated this initiative in the language and trajectory of the Challenge for Change experiment. While somewhat different in execution (professionals are really the ones making the media for the most part), the goal of using the tools of media to achieve social transformation are firmly in place. Indeed, this media project is resolutely in concert with the earliest CFC films that appear like old ghosts still unrested in this online presentation – such as the Fogo Island tapes.
The media that will pour out of your computer screen, wrap round your head, nuzzle against you while also slapping you awake, is one of the most refreshing, engaging and political pieces I have seen on the internet. Kudos to the NFB for continued dedication to the political documentary, and kudos to Katerina Cizek for rising to the challenge to effect change. In her own words:
As the Filmmaker-in-Residence, I'm working to make media “with them.” [healthcare workers] Films, documentaries, photoblogs, and photography that will effect real, tangible social and political change; media that can be used as tools to advance, enhance and achieve their distinct goals. My job is an experiment. Through my work, I want subjects, participants, and audiences to take action. I call it interventionist Media.
From bicycling AIDS activists in Malawi, to the mean streets of Toronto and the working class neighbourhood of St Jacques, Montreal, this multi-faceted, multi-media (with hands on the ground, and digitally, virtually on the screen) initiative is an intervention sure to inspire action.