NFB online doc wins digital Emmy

National Film Board of Canada chair Tom Perlmutter reflects on the interactive documentary HIGHRISE/Out My Window that took the international Emmy for best digital program: non-fiction in Cannes this week.
April 5, 2011

For National Film Board of Canada chair Tom Perlmutter, it’s shaping up to be a good week on the interactive media front.

The public filmmaker’s interactive documentary HIGHRISE/Out My Window on Monday won the international Emmy for best digital program: non-fiction category at MIP-TV.

And the NFB has been shopping 14 interactive productions to international broadcasters at MIP Doc and MIPTV this week, for content and format licensing.

HIGHRISE, directed by filmmaker and digital media creator Katerina Cizek and produced by Gerry Flahive, uses interactive 360° photography, video, text and music in 49 vignettes to capture life in highrise apartments in 13 cities.

For Perlmutter, the MIPTV showcase of the NFB’s interactive media is confirmation that Canada’s public filmmaker is well on its way to making a long-standing, and at times painful, shift from a pure documentary, animation and feature film producer to a trailblazer in online digital media.

“When I came into the NFB at the time as head of English programming, it overwhelmed me. There was so much talent and excitement, but all that people knew about the film board was nostalgia,” Perlmutter told realscreen’s sister publication Playback Daily.

So he turned an NFB from an institution whose audience honored its past to one committed to next-generation story-telling on the Internet and other emerging digital platforms, including smartphones and tablets.

“It was to be about the future, about being connected and engaged and moving with the audience,” Perlmutter explained.

For Gerry Flahive, who championed HIGHRISE/Out My Window from his first collaboration with Cizek on a cross-media documentary about St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, interactive media is about making content distinct from TV or any other traditional media.

“That’s a conceptual leap for a lot of people in the industry,” he said.

“It’s about creating online productions from scratch. There’s no ambition to make a film. We’re not saying we wish we had more money. This is an incredible opportunity to reinvent story-telling,” Flahive added.

It’s been an award-winning collaboration for Cizek and Flahive.

The St. Michael’s Hospital online doc won a Webby for best documentary series, and HIGHRISE/Out My Window earlier earned an IDFA DocLab Award for digital storytelling in Amsterdam.

For Perlmutter, the challenge going forward is continuing to develop online productions with universal themes and overseas sales potential that also speak directly to Canadians.

“You’re entering a digital universe on its own. You’re a traveler, you’re voyaging over space, time and geography and cultural and language barriers,” he said.

“The big thing is to discover that the land you’re traveling in is your own,” Perlmutter added.

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