Why Canada? Story of an amazing experience (I)

I must admit that during my childhood, I really wanted to travel to America to know the U.S.A, a trip that I did in 2000. During this trip, which lasted a month, I traveled around the United States east coast, visiting Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. And I suppose, having gone up this year to the Twin Towers, is why the attack on 9/11 affected me so much. At that time, finishing my career of communication, I got the chance to visit the country nearest to where I was: Canada, but I was not keen to do so. From Canada I only knew there was one of the wonders of the world today, the Niagara Falls.

A decade later, the effect has been reversed: that is, even with the attempt to get through the end of the year in New York (or go to my second homeland, Colombia), I eventually decided to stay in Canada for many reasons. In this post I will address my trip to Canada for a research period of a month and a half at the University of York, a place located in the “Greater Toronto Area.”


Greater Toronto Area

My interest in Canada wake up as I was progressing with my PhD, especially during the time I worked on the state of development of the interactive documentary. While I knew that France, England and other European countries were making good progress in this field, I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the numbers of production and training offered in Canada in relation to this area. And I said to myself: you must see it and experience it by yourself! So I applied for a predoctoral scholarship at the University where I work (UVic), a small university that some time ago put the emphasis on new technologies and who knows how to pamper and provide opportunities for young teachers. With the money and a contact of an institution in Canada, I decided to make the trip in the worst possible date, Christmas 2011.


As from February I could not come – I teach at two universities and supervise over 30 projects including multimedia, documentaries and music videos – and before I had to support my students at the start of the course in Vic, I decided to make the trip from mid-December 2011 to late January 2012.These dates were bad because Christmas begins from December 15 and people do not go back to work until January, and to that we must add that the temperatures are low, if not very low (three days I’ve experienced the termal chill of – 20 degrees with a windy atmosphere and it is not pleasant, I assure you!). So I arrived and, obviously, all my contacts made in the I-Docs simposyum in Bristol and the EADIM Network Conference (Austria) – where I met Nico Meissner, who is researching on interactive cinema – were either travelling or in family holidays. So, I literally spent the first 15 days advancing on my thesis and placing strategic locations in Toronto.

From the second week of January, people returned to the routine and this is where my professional story begins (and the one that could interest to the audience of this online portal on interactive documentary). This comprehensive introductory narrative, which will be completed with various interviews in the future, allows me to introduce the various actors involved – in one way or another – in the field of interactive documentary and new media production, and in a certain way to set up a kind of physical route through which I believe the key places in the Toronto area are according to my humble knowledge of the situation. I want to apologize if I left institutions or important players, as I am sure I have.


During this time, I took up a doctoral research position in the Future Cinema Lab. During my stay in the research center, I was involved eventually in some projects as a partner, taking advantage the rest of the time to advance my doctoral thesis. All this period, I have been a visiting researcher in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University. Founded in 1959, York University is now Canada’s third largest university, and world-renowned for attracting students who forge their own unique paths. That’s because York offers an unparalleled academic experience: their top-ranked programs set international standards and their interdisciplinary approach to learning allows students to combine majors in completely different fields. York’s faculty expands the horizons of their students, providing them with a broad perspective of the world that opens up new ways of thinking. York offers full and part-time graduate and undergraduate degree programs to almost 50,000 students in 10 faculties.

Keele Campus (YorkU)


The Faculty of Fine Arts is the only one of its kind in Ontario and one of the most renowned in North America. Located within the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, the Future Cinema Lab (FCL) investigates how new digital storytelling techniques can critically transform a diverse array of state-of-the-art screens. The Future Cinema Lab is the first dedicated facility of its type in Canada, enabling researchers to design new forms of storytelling, develop prototypes for urban research, and create innovative, subversive projects within networked and hybrid media environments. The Future Cinema Lab is designed as a joint research project between Professors John Greyson, Caitlin Fisher and Janine Marchessault, bringing together their unique and complimentary practices as researchers, artists, and filmmakers within a spectrum of new media practices.


Faculty of Fine Arts (YorkU)

Future Cinema Lab (FCL, YorkU)

Under the supervision of Janine Marchessault [1], she introduced me to some of the projects being developed in the Lab, as projects on large screen technologies, architectural projection, the project “Subway screens Toronto transit” and initiatives in “3D cinema”. During this time, I also attended classes in the program Future Cinema Film II, taught by Professor Caitlin Fisher [2]. Directed by film Professor Caitlin Fisher, Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture, York’s Augmented Reality Lab is at the forefront in working with both established and emerging technologies. As part of the Future Cinema Lab, it is dedicated to producing innovative research methods, interfaces and content that challenge cinematic and literary conventions and aim to enhance how people interact with their physical environment and with each other. Situated in the department of Film, the Augmented Reality Lab offers artists and designers the opportunity to explore new screen technologies, approaches and techniques through production and theoretical study of this emerging medium. The lab offers some of the most advanced technology available to practitioners in a fine arts context.

Snap Dragon, AR software produced at the ARLab

Examples of projects produced at the Augmented Reality Lab (Future Cinema Lab, YorkU)

In the Future Cinema Lab I also met Pamela Smith, an Administrative Research Assistant and Andrew C. Roth [3], the Technology Manager of the Future Cinema Lab and an instructor in the Interactive Arts and Sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines. I also had time to meet with other teachers of the University of York several times. Among them, whom I have special gratitude for the hospitality received, Carolyn Steele [4], associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at York (Faculty of liberal arts and profesional studies). I also met with Dr. Gail Vanstone [5], associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at York and Coordinator of the program Culture and Expression. Both Gail and Carolyn attended the I-docs symposium last year and this year their attendance is expected also at the conference. Precisely I met them during this event.

 I also contacted with Brenda Longfellow, an associate Professor in the Department of Film at York University [6] and met with Professor Barbara Evans [7], an Associate Professor in the Production area of the Department of Film at York University). Another day, Kelly Parke [8], during a lunch meeting with Carolyn Steele, also enlightened us with his own vision of the projects related to new media. During the last days, it was a pleasure and honor for me to meet and talk during another “academic lunch” with Professor Seth Feldman [8], a founder and past president of the Film Studies Association of Canada.

[I will shortly publish the second part of this post – and this amazing experience -, where I met and interviewed important people of Canada such as Robert S. Logan (SLab, University of Toronto), Katerina Cizek (Highrise/NFB), Gerry Flahive (NFB) and Richard Lachman (Ryerson University Docshift Institut/Program), among others]

Arnau Gifreu Castells
Researcher, Professor and Producer

Universitat Ramón Llull / Universitat de Vic



[1] Janine Marchessault is an associate Professor in the Department of Film at York University. Janine holds a Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization and is the Co-Director of the Visible City Project + Archive which is examining new practices of media art in a variety of urban contexts. Her fields of interest are classical and contemporary film theory, old and new media studies, urban studies; theories of identity and the relation between Film, emotion and cognition.

[2] Caitlin Fisher is a theorist, creative writer and web artist with broad interdisciplinary interests. Her research and teaching focus on the social and cultural aspects of communication technologies, hypermedia fiction, feminist theory and augmented reality. She completed York’s first hypertextual dissertation in 2000 and her hypermedia novella,These Waves of Girls, an exploration of memory, girlhood, cruelty, childhood play and sexuality, won the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2001 Award for Fiction. In 2008, she won the International Digital Literature Award Ciutat de Vinaròs Prize in Poetry for her augmented reality journey poem, Andromeda. Dr. Fisher was awarded a prestigious Canada Research Chair in digital culture in 2004. She directs the Augmented Reality Lab in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York, where she is working to construct and theorize spatial narrative environments that combine the physical world with digital traces and artifacts. She is also co-founder of York’s Future Cinema Lab.

[3] As an artist and researcher, Andrew has collaborated in interactive installations, augmented reality experiences, and the creation of tools for digital media artists. His current work involves the use of augmented reality as a participatory learning tool and the use of graphical programming languages as an interface to optical tracking technologies.

[4] Carolyn works  at the Career Centre (Student Community Development) to provide career focused services and support to York students, while continually working on other projects, including her PhD on interactive documentary. Known as an innovative thinker, Steele resolved the issue of students’ ability to access information by creating a Career Cyberguide for the Career Centre’s website.

[5] Professor Gail Vanstone is an Associate Professor in the Division of Humanities. Her ongoing research frames women and the stories they tell as powerful critical tools for understanding women’s experience in a world where their voices are often suppressed. She intend to continue to develop this research, applying it to other subjects she is investigating. Professor Gail Vanstone research agenda grows out of themes explored in her book, D is For Daring, the first- ever feminist historical analysis of Studio D, the women’s film unit (1974 to 1996) in the National Film Board. 

[6] Brenda Longfellow is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and film theorist. Dr. Longfellow has published numerous articles on feminist film theory and Canadian cinema in CineTracts, Screen, CineAction and the Journal of Canadian Film Studies. She is a co-editor of the recent anthology Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women Filmmakers.

[7] Barbara Evans has worked extensively as a film director, producer, writer, researcher and editor. A graduate of the National Film and Television School (England), she has worked in Britain for educational television, the BBC, ITV and on films sponsored by the British Film Institute. She was a founding member of the London Women’s Film Group and the British Newsreel Collective. In Canada, she has worked as editor for the National Film Board on such films as Wonderland and Bitter Medicine, and on the feature films Latitudeand Walls.

[7] Currently a senior media designer at York, Parke has held various positions within the same discipline since 1980. His passion for creativity and technology, and his willingness to support those who use technology to deliver exceptional learning experiences to students, knows no bounds.  Parke’s nominators believe he truly has redefined the possible for York instructors and students. His expertise and innovation with MP4 technology has allowed students increased access to courses and provided commuter students with a way to make better use of their transit time. His work with convocation has allowed families of York students around the world the opportunity to share in moments that may not otherwise be possible. Parke is the recipient of the Deborah Hobson York Citizenship Award, which celebrates a commitment and enthusiasm for York University and its particular vision of higher education. Kelly is known to many as the “videoracle”. Regardless of what the issue is, or how long it will take to get it right, he has the answer.

[8] Seth Feldman has published widely on national and international cinemas. He has edited three anthologies on the subject of Canadian cinema, among them the seminal Canadian Film Reader— the first textbook to be published on Canadian film. Other academic publications include numerous articles in the field of film and television studies and two books on the work of the Soviet director Dziga Vertov. rofessor Feldman has served as associate dean and dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, as Chair of the Canadian Association of Fine Arts Deans, on the board of the International Council of Fine Arts Deans, and as director of York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. York University conferred the formal title of “University Professor” upon Dr. Feldman in 2001 in recognition of his extraordinary contribution in teaching and service to the University. Dr. Feldman is the author and broadcaster of more than two dozen documentaries for the CBC Radio’s Ideas program. His arts and media commentary has appeared widely on Canadian broadcast outlets and in the popular press.


University of York













Other posts related (i-docs.org):

1. Interesting ideas on i-docs

2. The docu-game. Towards the immersive mode

3. Interactivity technologies, key factor for the interactive documentary

4. The evolution of the Internet, key factor for the interactive documentary

5. The evolution of the Internet, key factor for the interactive documentary (II)

6. The interactive documentary during the evolution of the Internet: giving examples of the different phases. Assumptions about the technological future.

7. Where we come from. Introduction and initial ingredients to build a correct taxonomic proposal

8. Research questions and compared methodology to establish a taxonomic study of the interactive documentary

9. Compared methodology to establish a taxonomic study of the interactive documentary (II)

10. Taxonomic discussions in the educational context: key issues in relation to interactive documentary (I)

11. Taxonomic discussions in the educational context: key issues in relation to interactive documentary (II)

12. Differences between linear and interactive documentaries. Featuring the interactive documentary (I)

13. Basic characteristics of the interactive documentary. Featuring the interactive documentary (II)

14. “Flows of the visible: the expansion of the documentary”, interesting masterclass by Professor Dr. Josep Maria Català (UAB)

15. On the loss of control over the narrative. New roles on the interactive documentary (I)

16. Significant differences between the two models. New roles on the interactive documentary (II)