Explore the Universe Within: Digital Lives in the Global Highrise

Today marks the launch of the final chapter of HIGHRISEthe National Film Board of Canada’s pioneering, multi-award-winning interactive documentary series.

Universe Within: Digital Lives in the Global Highrise, 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?

The multi-faceted HIGHRISE project – which has spawned more than 20 works of mixed media, interactive documentaries, mobile productions, live presentations, installations and film – has been a seven-year odyssey for digital creator and documentary maker Katerina Cizek, producer Gerry Flahive and the NFB. It has included collaborations with documentary makers, highrise residents, academics, creative technologists, theatre artists and the New York Times.

This latest instalment 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.

The result challenges our comfort in using digital technology to meaningfully engage with others

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 challenges our comfort in using digital technology to meaningfully engage with others—including those constructed solely of pixels.

Experience the Universe Within or check out the full HIGHRISE project here