Since the French version of Grozny has been released - soon followed by the English and Russian version - we asked Olga Kravets, Maria Morina and Oksana Yushko to tell us more about that project.
1. Can you tell us how it all began? Where does the idea comes from?
In 2008-2010 we, Olga Kravets, Maria Morina and Oksana Yushko, were part of Objective Reality online workshops for emerging photographers. Then we met offline, and later decided to do something together. The idea about Grozny came from Olga, and Maria came up with the concept of nine cities hidden in one. We discussed it and made our first trip to Grozny in November 2009.
2. How long did the production took and how did you financed it?
We have been shooting the project during the last 5 years. Most of the project was sel-funded. Sometimes we had assignments for different media, but mostly we planned our trips trying to attend the most meaningful events in that region during the year. Later we did a crowdfunding campain on emphas.is that allowed us to gather money for the next 2 trips to Chechnya. Also Olga Kravets received the grant from Magnum Emergency Fund that also covered part of the expenses.
3. What was the challenges that you faced during this production?
We discovered a new world of Muslim part of Russia with totally different mentality. During work we learned from each other. We tried to combine three different points of view trying to create more objective picture.
4. What kind of support did you receive all along these 4 years?
We received all kinds of support - our colleagues photographers helped us with shaping the idea and with contacts with the media. Yuri Kozyrev, an internationally acclaimed photographer from Noor, helped us a lot from the very beginning. He was our mentor and producer, and an editor for the first two years, helping us with the project when he had some time in his busy schedule. Lisa Faktor, Anna Zekria, Andrei Polikanov, Stenley Greene, and Anna Nemtsova, - all of them and many of our other friends helped us to make the project happen. We also worked closely with an NGO Joint Mobile Group, without which it would not be possible to tell the stories of victims of torture in Grozny. And we are glad that finally we teamed up with our curator, Anna Shpakova and Jose Bautista, who created a unique soundscape for the project.
5. What was your view on interactive documentaries, why did you choose to use that medium?
Telling the story of Chechnya in the right way would not be possible, if we would be just photographers. If you don’t have a photograph, you don’t have a story. In web-doc, each issue gets it’s own medium and it also helps you to protect your characters. We realized it during our first trip, while on the ground, in Chechnya, and it was the time when the first great web-docs were released, and ever since we worked on the project with the web-doc in mind.
Using all kinds of media - stills and moving images, texts and sounds - helps you to create a narrative that will engage viewer on different levels. And the web-documentary format allows you to attract the maximum amount of people to a ‘slow journalism’ project.
6. Do you think that photojournalism and long form stories can benefit from these new form of storytelling?
Absolutely. Especially long term projects with the massive amount of visual information. Web-documentary with its additional online tools gives you a new way to tell a complicated story. And maybe along with the evolvement of technologies, there will be more possibilities to engage audience.
I think what’s really important is to choose a medium that is suited for your very own story and material. Don’t do a web-doc, just because it’s trendy, think why you need it. With Grozny, I spent a lot of time explaining traditional broadcasters why I am not making a film, why it will be just what it is, an interactive doc. But my next project will be a film, which might not necessarily need a web-doc on top of it.
7. What do you think about the situation there, since you went back in october, are things changing?
The whole point of working on it for four years was to show Chechnya in transformation. Last time I went there, the republic was full of rumours of what is going to happen after the Olympics - opinions ranging from “nothing” to “all-Caucasus war”. People live in very uneasy expectations. And you can literally feel that tension in the air. And you get infected with this. Right from the last trip I went straight into the postproduction studio where I had to review all the work from the four years, so it’s actually very hard to slice it now into some separate impressions. I think the last trip really summed up everything for me. This is also where I have written the voiceover texts, which were heavily influenced by my daily meetings and impressions.
8. Can you tell us more about your next projects, are planning to continue your work on Chechnya?
Caucasus will be always my biggest passion, I assume. Currently I am working on a project about the Chechen diaspora abroad, trying to give another prospective to the same story. I do have few other projects in the bag, I’ve been just nominated for the Film Prize of Robert Bosch Stiftung in Germany with my future full-length film, but I can’t tell you the synopsis due to the sensitivity of the material.
We are planning to come back to Chechnya with some educational programs in art and photography. This year we made a trip with a humanitarian mission of clowns from The Gesundheit Institute to the Chechen hospitals, nursing homes, schools, orphanages. The feedback we received was so significant for all of us that we decided to do it again. Let’s see what will happen.
9. What was your experience working with Chewbahat?
Olga Kravets: I met Gerald at a World Press Photo multimedia brainstorming session in 2012 and it took us about a year to decide that we want to realise this project together, and I am really happy it did work out. At different times I was in touch with almost all key players in our very tiny industry about a co-production, and for different reasons we didn’t “click”, so to say, so it was a precious moment when we finally did click with Chewbahat. I think we were on the same page with most of the issues, and the amazing team of Racontr was on board with us too any time when we were attacking Gerald with new crazy ideas of what we can do with material. Pretty much everything is possible with these guys, I must say!
I’d like to thank the authors for this superb photographic work that inspired us to create this interactive documentary. Gerald from Chewbahat.
You can discover the French version of this interactive documentary on Mediapart for now here: http://ow.ly/tcObI
Before we start a new year, and a new wave of posts about interactive documentaries, we publish here a post that Gerald Holubowicz wrote a couple of years ago for i-docs.org.
(below, the now well known “Fort McMoney by David Dufresne)
The landscape of the web documentary in 2011 is still very limited. In little more than five years of existence, the “webdoc” has reached an unprecedented interest among photojournalists, new media producers and begins to spread across a wider audience. Yet it is already time to move on, it’s time to move to the ‘idoc.’
AT THE BEGINNING WAS THE DOCUMENTARY
The term “web-documentary” originates from the convergence of web technologies with a well-known film genre whose roots go back to the 1920s.
In the documentary, a point of view is expressed through a sequential editing of different medium – videos, pictures, sounds and comments. It aims to represent the world in its historical dimension. Traditionally, the documentary can take different kinds of intentions, from a simple catalog of events to the militant or political pamphlet, which remains identified as a representation of reality – that even filtered or curated – differs fundamentally from pure fiction. The American historian and theorist Bill Nichols, explains that documentaries have an intimate connection with world “History” and are driven by an informative logic that supports a vision of this world. The genre is based upon the narrowness of the link which connects the film to the historical reality, rather than a form of artificial narrative which would serve a fictional topic. The documentary is not organized around a main character but around an argument or logic whose roots go back in historical reality. Public expectations are also essential if you wish to define the genre. This is what the viewer perceives the relationship documentary has with reality, proximity and the Director’s POV that will establish with certainty the nature of a film documentary.
Lev Manovich, Professor of Visual Arts at the University of San Diego and new media theorist highlights, in the structure of the Web-based documentary or ‘webdoc’, the predominance of datasets over the narrative itself. Manovich distinguishes the “data”, that are used to construct the story (video, audio, graphics, texts, music etc.), and the “narrative”, that represents the virtual path linking these data with each other. The main difference between a documentary and webdoc is therefore the access the public has to this database and what it can do with that information.
The documentary consists of an extensive collection of content, refined and condensed by the filmmaker into a product for which the video interface (linear by nature) only allows limited navigation and doesn’t grant access to the peripheral data originally used by the documentary (cut scenes, texts, archives etc.) nor any kind of dynamic intervention by the public. On the other hand, in a webdoc, the public can manipulate randomly – through a sophisticated UI – the data (text, statistics, maps etc.), navigate through the content and search for specific information. They are able to select “on the go” items from the story in order to trace a new path in the narrative line which eventually will extend the user experience.
To summarize, the documentary is a finished and frozen product, delivered to an audience (passive group), when the webdoc is a modular and variable object, proposed to the public (active group).