Why Canada? Story of an amazing experience (II)


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This second post of the series Why Canada?  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.” This experience 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.While – as I related in the first post of this series -, I spent the first days progressing on my thesis in my apartment in North York, I spent the last three weeks conducting meetings and interviews with major players in this field.

I also had the great pleasure of meeting with Robert Logan (University of Toronto/OCAD – SLab) [9], a good friend of my PhD director, Carlos Scolari. Professor Logan received me in his apartment in Toronto Harbour with excellent views of the Ontario Lake. We talked about different projects I’m working on and I interviewed him, which became a master class in relation to new media and McLuhan, of course…


Professor Logan and OCAD University

I also had an interview with Jackie Garrow [10], project manager of DOC Toronto. DOC Toronto is the oldest and largest chapter in the Documentary Organization of Canada. In fact, DOC was founded by this chapter 25 years ago. Formerly known as the Canadian Independent Film & Video Caucus, DOC Toronto began as an advocacy group in 1983. The first of many successful lobbying efforts lead to the creation of Telefilm Canada’s documentary broadcast envelope, a landmark decision that helped to develop Canada’s strong independent production industry.  Today, DOC Toronto has about 380 members including many international award winning documentary filmmakers. With a shift away from advocacy work (leaving that to the National office) its chapter is now solely focused on mentorship and professional development projects and programming for both emerging, and experienced documentary media artists in Toronto.


At the end of my stay in Toronto, I had the chance to personally meet and interview Richard Lachman (Ryerson University EDGE lab) [11], one of the promoters of docShift, a very ambitious project related to the interactive documentary. In an interview in depth, he talks about different topics, explain his personal background and his relationship with Glorianna Davenport and Mike Murtaugh in some pioneering experiences in the Interactive Lab at MIT. He also answered to key questions regarding taxonomies, transmedia, technologies, vidogames, activism and collaboration, among other topics. He also explains what the DocShift initiative is and its various proposals such as the DocShift Program, DocShift Institute and DocShift Index. Finally, he presented his thoughts on how he sees this field in the near future. We will present the interview with Lachman in various parts in relation to the different sections containing i-docs.org.

And, as good narratives, the highlight came at the end. After the interesting meeting with Lachman, I had a meeting with Gerry Flahive [12] and Katerina Cizek [13] from the National Film Board of Canada. Gerry welcomed me very affectionate and we talked for a few minutes, during which I took to give him my personal CV and a summary of a project I’m trying to promote. The next day, the day of my departure, I was chatting with an interactive documentary maker that knows a lot of this field: Katerina Cizek (Highrise). I met Cizek in 2010 at IDFA Doclab in Amsterdam in the “De Brakke Grond” theater, where se presented the interactive installation of the “Out my Window” project. The really interesting thing is that I could interview her: a fascinating footage and exchange of ideas which I will also make visible splited in parts such as interactive documentaries (see Mandy Rose interview with Cizek). During my visit to the NFB I also met Silva Basmajian and Paramitha Nath.


For reasons of time and agenda, I would have liked to meet many other people, especially people from the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab as Ana Serrano [14].

In any case, next time… In short, as the main actors involved I should cite the National Film Board of Canada,  DOC Toronto (DOC chapter) – and DocShift – the Hot Docs festival and several universities and research laboratories, such as York (Future Cinema Lab), Ryerson (EDGE lab), University of Toronto, OCAD – Ontario College of Art and Design, (Slab) and so on. These were for me my priorities during this trip, but the range grows  – with new technologies and Moore’s law –  and is no longer possible to cover the entire spectrum of the field in this country, if not city.

Well, you see, and returning to the original narrative, it has been a very intense month and a half, as I can reach several main goals I had set: (1) to further isolate in order to advance with my thesis – I had to come to Canada to do so, and at Christmas …! (a situation that has helped me reorganize my thoughts of this kind of narrative that keeps on taking new directions and that further complicates the analysis), (2) make contacts and present projects at various meetings, (3) locate Toronto area in general and key locations in the city in relation to interactive documentary, (4) to score points ahead of my accreditation when I’ll become a PhD; and also other secondary goals as (1) knowing the university environment in North America, (2) visiting Toronto, and sites like the CN Tower (the tallest tower in the world), Niagara Falls (awesome spectacle of nature!) and go see a live NBA game (the Raptors against Minnesota in the Air Canada Centre, it was really crazy!), and (3) practice my English.

In short, this trip has allowed me to experience another culture, which in my opinion is made of driven people with great ideas (only 30 million and it is amazing how advanced they are in many areas!) that accept others as it used to be years ago in the villages: with open arms. It really has been an incredible experience that I recommend to anyone, whether or not being a fan of interactive media and interactive documentary particularly. And in a few months, the Hot Docs festival or docShift Summit may be other good reasons to return… but in the last ten years I have crossed the Atlantic Ocean seven times – four trips to Colombia and other South American countries, USA, Cuba and now Canada – and if I can overcome the laziness of the exhausting flights (over 15 hours in total), I’ll be a frequent visitor to this country, which certainly has stolen my heart. My sincere thanks to all who have received and helped me!

Arnau Gifreu Castells

Researcher, Professor and Producer

Universitat Ramón Llull / Universitat de Vic



[9] Robert K. Logan is Chief Scientist, Strategic Innovation Lab at OCAD. Originally trained as a physicist, Prof. Logan is well known as a media ecologist. He received a BS and PhD from MIT in 1961 and 1965. After two post-doctoral appointments at University of Illinois (1965-7) and University of Toronto (1967-8) he became a physics professor in 1968 at the U of Toronto, where he is professor emeritus since 2005. During this period in addition to math-based physics courses he taught an interdisciplinary course The Poetry of Physics which led to his collaboration with Marshall McLuhan and his research in media ecology and the evolution of language.

[10] Jackie Garrow graduated from McGill University with an Honours degree in Political Science and Women’s Studies; following that she received a photojournalism diploma from the Western Academy of Photography. For several years, she pursued nature photography and travel photojournalism–exhibiting her work at venues like the Wagner Rosenbaum Gallery, publishing two Insight Guides as well as award winning articles in outdoor adventure magazines. Her passion for globetrotting with camera in hand was facilitated in large part through her ongoing contractual employment at luxury travel outfitter– Butterfield & Robinson (B&R). At B&R Jackie played a key role on the marketing and communications team, led the corporate donations program and ran expedition trips in Morocco and South America.

[11] Richard Lachman is an Assistant Professor, Digital Media in the School of Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University. The Gemini-award winning producer is also a creative and technical consultant for new media projects, primarily focused on entertainment and transmedia media properties. He is a computer-science graduate form MIT, holds a masters degree from the MIT Media Lab’s “Interactive Cinema” group, and is completing a doctorate in Computer Science at UNE in Australia. He won a 2008 Gemini Award for Best Cross-Platform Project as Producer and Creative Lead, Interactive of The Mars Project with the Discovery Channel Canada, Galafilm and QuickPlay Media. The project is a major initiative featuring 10 hours of television, plus gaming, online community-activities, ITV, mobile content, books and an internationally touring museum exhibition. Richard is also co-producer and Principal Investigator with Diamond Road Online, which won the 2008 Canadian New Media Award in the New and Information category. Richard’s research interests include convergent media, interactive documentary, and new forms of storytelling. He teaches classes in digital media, interactive art, animation, digital documentary, virtual environments, and digital culture.

The Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) Lab is a trans-disciplinary research lab devoted to researching learning, play and social innovation with an emphasis on autonomy and user-initiated design in the context of lived experience. As a unique facility in Canada, comparable to a select few labs world-wide, EDGE lab leverages the insights of local, national and international researchers from social science, humanities, engineering, and digital technology for applied projects with institutional, community and industry partners. The EDGE Lab provides researchers with a rapid prototyping lab; a virtual world development lab; adaptive design studio, portable networking units, design tools, modular electronics facilities in an experimental monitoring space and indoor/outdoor deployment environments. This infrastructure can be used to develop and study mixed-reality applications in small trials and urban spaces to create and evaluate integrated software, hardware, networking and business paradigms as they relate to real-world use.The EDGE lab is funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and Ryerson University. Projects are funded, in part, with grants from SSHRC, NSERC, GRAND NCE, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and MITACS NCE.

[12] In his 25 years with the National Film Board of Canada, Gerry Flahive has produced more than 30 films and new-media projects on a wide range of subjects—health care, cultural diversity, criminal justice, national identity, diplomacy, globalization, Aboriginal spirituality, racism and more.  He has been at the forefront of the NFB’s innovative work with new digital media, and he is the producer of the groundbreaking multi-platform Filmmaker-in-Residence project at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, winner of the 2007 Canadian New Media Award. Flahive is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, and his writing has been published in Time, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Toronto Star, Playback, Realscreen, Montage, P.O.V. and The Los Angeles Times. NFB Senior Producer Gerry Flahive has worked on more than 40 films, such as award-winners Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the 70s Generation and Manufactured Landscapes. Recent projects include the groundbreaking St. Michael’s Hospital/Filmmaker-in-Residence project, the epic Great Lakes documentary, Waterlife, and Paris 1919, inspired by Margaret MacMillan’s bestseller. A frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail, Flahive has also been published in Time and The New York Times.

[13] HIGHRISE Director Katerina Cizek is a documentary-maker working across many media platforms. Her work has documented the Digital Revolution, and has itself become part of the movement. For five years, she was the National Film Board of Canada’s Filmmaker-in-Residence at an inner-city hospital, in a many-media project that won a 2008 Webby Award (”The Internet’s Oscars”), a Banff Award, and a Canadian New Media Award. Her previous award-winning films includeSeeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News (2002, co-directed with Peter Wintonick). She teaches and presents around the world about her innovative approach to the documentary genre.

[14] Ana Serrano is the founding Director of CFC Media Lab, a world-renowned new media research, training and production think tank environment created in 1997 at the Canadian Film Centre (CFC).   As director of CFC Media Lab, she provides strategic and creative leadership for all of the Centre’s new media initiatives, including the development and production of a diverse range of critically acclaimed interactive narrative projects. In 2000, Ana produced Canada’s first user-generated personal storytelling project – the Great Canadian Story Engine, which has since influenced the development of other large-scale digital storytelling projects around the world. A three-time Canadian New Media Award-winner, including Visionary of the Year, Ana recently produced Late Fragment, North America’s first interactive dramatic feature film which premiered in September 2007 at the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In the Fall 2010, Ana launched a variety of projects including “What is Your Essential Cinema?” an interactive visualization for TIFF that premiered at the opening of the Bell Lightbox, and is currently developing properties for the i-platforms in collaboration with brands such as NBC Universal.


Other relevant actors I knew in Canada and have some relation to the topic:


Executive Producer Silva Basmajian’s more than 80 NFB films have garnered numerous awards and screened at such international festivals as Berlin, Toronto and Sundance. Ms. Basmajian is currently an Executive Producer at the NFB’s Ontario Centre. Recently, she co-produced the critically acclaimed Life With Murder and Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma. Since joining the NFB in 1976, Silva Basmajian has been associated as producer, writer or researcher with more than 60 productions. Her work has won numerous awards and appeared in over 200 international festivals, including Sundance, Berlin and Toronto. Her credits include My Father’s Camera, winner of a Peabody Award, and Rape: A Crime of War, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Banff Television Festival. Basmajian was instrumental in the development of North America’s first interactive dramatic feature film, Late Fragment, a co-production with the Canadian Film Centre that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.


HIGHRISE Project Coordinator Paramita Nath has toured the world’s film festivals with her first short film FOUND, after premiering at TIFF in 2009. She is currently in post-production on a BRAVO!-funded experimental short, and in development on a feature-length documentary about the small arms trade.After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Music, Paramita Nath moved to Toronto in 2000 spending the next few years studying music under concert pianist Andrew Burashko. Also being a painter, Paramita was interested in understanding the boundaries that connect and separate different art forms. This curiosity led her to explore modern dance, choreography, visual arts and film. In 2007, Paramita received an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts at York University, Toronto. As part of her graduate work, Paramita made her first documentary film entitled Journey into the Creative Process. The film explores creativity and the creative process by looking at Art of Time Ensemble, one of Toronto’s most innovative and interdisciplinary chamber music ensembles, featuring dancer/choreographer Andrea Nann, filmmaker Peter Mettler and Andrew Burashko.In 2006-07, Paramita worked under the mentorship of documentary filmmaker Larry Weinstein (Rhombus Media) where she worked on the development of the documentary feature Inside Hana’s Suitcase (CBC). In 2008-09 Paramita worked as an Associate Producer and Writer at Xenophile Media, a production company based in Toronto, working on Interactive New Media projects including Inside Hana’s Suitcase Online for CBC and Empire of the Word Online for TVO. Paramita was also a recipient of the 2008 CFTPA Telefilm Producer Trainee award.


The focus of John Greyson’s Future Cinema Lab research revolves around the use of fragmented screens to tell fragmented stories. Using a variety of exhibition modes (video billboard, video installation, performance/new media, and short and feature-length high-definition projects), he creates projects which often split, splice and divide up screens into layers of image and text. These then juxtapose fictional and documentary stories and voices to explore a range of urgent contemporary issues, including: AIDS activism, the bombing of the Baghdad film archives, free speech, gay marriage, police entrapment, and anti-G-8 activism.





























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)

17. Why Canada? Story of an amazing experience (I)