POV Delivers a Revolutionary Approach to Storytelling with Six New Interactive Documentary Shorts

Amazing news from POV yesterday with the announcement that they are further embracing interactive storytelling by launching six new projects on their site!

American television’s longest-running showcase for independent nonfiction films, is taking a bold leap into new forms of storytelling with the launch of these interactive shorts at pbs.org/pov/digital. Delving into topics about contemporary social issues, these web-native documentaries allow audiences to engage with documentaries on a deeper level using new technologies and new paradigms in storytelling.

“Documentaries are no longer confined by conventional linear narratives,” said Adnaan Wasey, executive producer of POV Digital. “By leveraging digital technology, we are able to elevate nonfiction content into a creative art form to connect with more audiences and tell stories on an entirely new level. And the short interactive documentary format gives creators more room for experimentation as this nascent field develops.”

Four of the six projects — 89 Steps: A Chapter of Living Los Sures; Empire; Fukushima: The Eternal Season; and Whiteness Project: Inside the White Caucasian Box—were created by alumni of POV Hackathon, POV’s weekend laboratory series that since 2012 has provided matchmaking and mentorship for inventive nonfiction media makers and technologists.

In addition to premiering the projects online, POV will also present three of the projects at the New York Film Festival’s Convergence program (Sept. 27-28, 2014), a premier showcase for new storytelling. The release of POV’s interactive films concludes a summer of independent short films distributed online and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts under the “PBS Indies” banner.

It’s great to see another large media organisation supporting interactive projects and further pushing the field into mainstream consciousness. Hopefully this framework will also provide inspiration to other organisations in the future.

Four films premiered yesterday, with 89 Steps coming soon and Whiteness Project: Inside the White Caucasian Box premiering Sept. 29. Below is a full run down of each of the projects:

“89 Steps: A Chapter of Living Los Sures” (Coming soon)

The 1984 documentary Los Sures featured Marta Avilés, a single mother of five struggling to make ends meet. 89 Steps is a chapter from Living Los Sures, a mixed-media documentary project from alumni of POV Hackathon about the south side of the Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood, known as “Los Sures,” and its Latino community.

LIVING LOS SURES TRAILER from UnionDocs on Vimeo.

In the late 1950s, Marta’s mother found refuge for her family in Williamsburg after leaving her village in Puerto Rico and enduring homelessness and hunger elsewhere in New York. When Marta became a single mother, she fought hard to stay in Los Sures. Now struggling to afford the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Marta must decide whether to stay or go. 89 Steps is an interactive experience that visits Los Sures. As the viewer explores, Marta’s voiceover reacts, providing guidance, descriptions and anecdotes. The project offers a deeper understanding of the pressures and incentives that force individuals to give up their homes and longstanding communities. #LivingLosSures @povdocs


An investigation into the aftershocks of the first global capitalist endeavor, Dutch colonialism, shot in 10 countries over four years.

Empire: Migrants trailer (the Empire project) from Jongsma + O’Neill on Vimeo.

Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill’s acclaimed documentary project Empire is an investigation into the aftershocks of the first global capitalist endeavor. In the 17th century, the colonists and mercenaries of the Dutch East and West India Companies laid claim to lands stretching from the Cape of Good Hope to the Indonesian archipelago, and from New York to South America’s Wild Coast. The impact of their actions can still be seen in the cultures–and bloodlines–of people and communities in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Empire tells the stories of individuals and communities whose lives are still in some way defined by Dutch colonialism. It is now available online as a series of four interactive experiences: Cradle, Legacy, Migrants and Periphery. #Empire @povdocs

“Fukushima: The Eternal Season”

Chronicling the ongoing recovery of the Tohoku region of Japan after the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in 2011.

Tomoko Kobayashi filling a watering can from a spigot that her father made and passed onto her. Credit: Jake Price.

Tomoko Kobayashi filling a watering can from a spigot that her father made and passed onto her. Credit: Jake Price.

Set three years after the calamitous meltdown, Fukushima: The Eternal Season, creates an impassioned portrait of a resident as she strives to hold on to her identity and ancestral heritage while the specter of nuclear fallout looms over her. By showing the beauty and loss in Fukushima, the short film brings into focus the potentially destructive power of nuclear energy and the choices people are forced to make. Fukushima: The Eternal Season is one chapter in a four-part feature-length documentary project with the working title “Unknown Spring Year 3.” #fukushima @povdocs

“Immigrant Nation”

A storytelling platform to watch, share and connect our personal stories of immigration. Theo Rigby won a Student Academy Award® for the short film Sin País (Without Country), which premiered on POV in 2012.

The Mayor: an iNation film (Trailer) from Theo Rigby on Vimeo.

Immigrant Nation is a new interactive storytelling project designed to document the United States’ diverse immigrant narratives and experiences and share them with the world. Through short documentary films, live events and an online Story Hub, the project aspires to shift and deepen the way that Americans understand themselves–and one another–one story at a time. These short films have screened at Cannes and other film festivals, appeared in the New York Times Op-Docs series and been featured on POV Digital. Nearly 500 powerful stories of immigration have been created and shared by users of the online Story Hub at www.immigrant-nation.com. #ination @povdocs

“The Most Northern Place”

A simple but powerful web documentary about a small town in Northern Greenland.

The Most Northern Place from UNIT9 on Vimeo.

The Most Northern Place tells of a clash of cultures and a conflict about territory during the run-up to the Cold War, which led to the forced relocation of the Inuit population native to the town of Thule by the U.S. Army, circa 1953. Visitors to the website take small steps to explore an empty village and its surrounding landscape; it is a place that is devoid of people, a beautiful but unforgiving environment. The viewer discovers what happened in Thule step-by-step through the memories of the people who lived there, all those years ago. #themostnorthernplace @povdocs

“Whiteness Project: Inside the White Caucasian Box” (Online: Monday, Sept. 29, 2014)

A cross-platform exploration of how white Americans experience their ethnicity. POV Hackathon alum Whitney Dow is the co-director of Two Towns of Jasper, a landmark 2003 POV documentary that examined race in the aftermath of the shocking murder of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas.

Filming The Whiteness Project in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Whitney Dow.

Filming The Whiteness Project in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Whitney Dow.

We take for granted that there is a “white” race in America, but rarely is the concept of whiteness itself investigated. What does it mean to be white? Can it be genetically defined? Is it a cultural construct? A state of mind? What privileges are exclusive to Caucasians? This last question is the subject of Whiteness Project: Inside the White Caucasian Box, an interactive look at how white people process their perceived advantages or disadvantages. The project is created from interviews shot in Buffalo, N.Y. that represent a cross-section of the city’s white population. An interactive graphic component uses demographic information to reveal how participants’ perceptions line up with the realities of their community. #whitenessproject @povdocs