Big River Rising is an interactive documentary about a poor community in the Philippines who are embracing scientific solutions to fight frequent flooding. It was produced by Matthew Gonzalez Noda and Emma Wigley from Christian Aid. We spoke to Matthew…
Q: You have made an interactive documentary about flooding in the Philippines. What made you choose that particular story?
A: We were asked to find an innovative way of communicating Christian Aid’s resilience work which helps vulnerable communities to prepare for and adapt to disasters, and is part funded by the UK government in a number of countries. It’s important work but dry and complex to communicate. We were intrigued by the work our partners in the Philippines were doing, linking scientists with slum dwellers who are vulnerable to natural and climatic disasters, such as flooding. We thought that exploring this partnership would be an interesting way to tell this kind of story.
Q: Why not just do a regular video documentary?
A: The subject of resilience is complex and multi-layered, we worried it might appear dry in a conventional video. By choosing an interactive documentary our viewers are able to engage at different levels according to their interest, from the human story of a slum dweller whose make-shift home has just been completely submerged, to the scientific and educational explanation of flooding in urban environments.
Also, by producing a range of multimedia resources we were able to generate media coverage across a variety of platforms – print, audio and visual. Essentially it allowed us many more options to convey our message to a much larger audience, than would have been possible with an ordinary video.
Q: What considerations did you have about the usage of the different media types (text, images, audio and video)?
A: Audio and stills were always going to be a big part of the piece as my background is in photography and Emma’s is in audio. We experimented with video where the subject matter was important to the story but not particularly interesting to look at, as we felt that subtle movement, such as a flowing river, would help hold viewers’ attention for longer.
Text and graphics were planned from the outset in order to allow viewers to explore the different layers of the story, as little or as much as they liked. The audio visual piece follows a fairly linear and top-line narrative, which is held together by a dramatic human story, but the map and the text allow visitors to investigate the real issues on a deeper level. The idea was to create a piece of work in which all of the multimedia content, when viewed in totality, provided the same information as a regular documentary.
Q: How many people were on the story, and how long did it take to finish it?
A: I was one of two producers. The research and planning took place over a six month period. We spent two weeks in Manila gathering content, helped by Christian Aid’s office there. Back in London, it took a further two months to pull the whole thing together. We had some help with graphics from our in-house design team, as well as ‘second eye’ feedback from the commissioning editor, CA’s Philippines staff, and other members of the communications department.
Q: What sort of feedback has there been?
A: The feedback has been really positive. The project is shortlisted for a One World Media Award, as well as the Innovations Award at the Sheffield Documentary Festival. It generated media coverage on the BBC homepage, as well as on the Guardian, Independent and Huffington Post websites. The British embassy in the Philippines has used it to lobby UK government ministers about climate change, and it was also featured by the Geological Society during Earth Science Week 2012. Now it is being used by our partners around the world to demonstrate resilience to disaster, and in May it will be promoted as part of a teaching resource pack for secondary school students in the UK.
Q: What made you pick Storyplanet as your platform?
A: I researched a number of different tools and the Beta version of Storyplanet became available just as I was testing. I liked Storyplanet because it was simple to use. The grid system made it easy to visualise the navigational elements of the interactive. But ultimately it came down to reliability and support. Storyplanet were very helpful and the software was compatible with the legacy browsers used by Christian Aid.
Q: Where do you see Immersive Media Storytelling (IMS) in the future?
A: I think with the development of tablets, smartphones, games consoles etc., the way we access and engage with information is changing and IMS is an integral part of this process.
Q: Thanks Matthew!
If you would like to know more about Big River Rising and Christian Aid check out this link.