Hugues Sweeney, a producer in the Interactive program at the National Film Board of Canada, is good at making slides. No, really. I don’t know what software he used for the job (although it probably wasn’t libre), but he does a nice-looking presentation. Of course, it helps that the work he shows off is frankly beautiful. The work produced by the Interactive section of the NFB in the last two years sets a high standard for both content and production.
Sweeney opened with a short film, produced for the the 70th anniversary of the NFB. While not under Sweeney’s mandate, the film served as an introduction to the work of the organization. With clips from Rip! A Remix Manifesto, Walking and Carts of Darkness, among others, it was an evocative opening, showcasing the sort of work that has made the NFB famous. With a mandate devoted to documentary and animation, the NFB has served Canada since the 1930s, advancing a multiplicity of Canadian perpectives. That was the look back. The remainder of Sweeney’s talk focused on the future.
Sweeney has a unique view of what may, increasingly, become the mandate of his organization. The projects he showed gave a glimpse of that future. A clear evolution is taking place in the output of the NFB’s interactive section. From Waterlife, the admittedly beautiful first effort of the section, the form and depth of projects has shifted. Waterlife, a project aimed at building awareness of issues surrounding the Great Lakes, was, according to Sweeney, produced from the progress documents and footage of a film of the same title. The web project, which has surpassed its film counterpart in reach, was not the first version of the story. Since then, however, projects in the interactive section have come into their own. Projects such as Barcode, which break out of the browser and into the physical world of the viewer, are a beautiful use of available technologies, with the camera phones of viewers serving as barcode readers. Upon reading the barcodes of objects in their environment, viewers are shown short videos which provide an alternate view on the everyday object. This sort of interaction point, according to Sweeney, is one we’ll see more of in the future.
The National Film Board, in its existence, has been a pioneer, originating styles, methods of production and technologies. According to Sweeney, it has made its name by being two steps ahead of everyone else. Except in the realm of interactive media. This is why, Sweeney says, the time is now to focus on the production of interactive projects. In this, the NFB is speeding its pace, running just a little to regain its place ahead of the pack.
[Disclosure: I have, in past, worked with the NFB to produce interactive projects.]