Monday, January 31, 2011

Pine Point is Dead. Long Live 'Pine Point'

What's the best way to tell a story about a town that disappeared?

Pine Point was a northern Canadian mining town that closed in 1988. Evacuated. Demolished. Gone. Everyone moved away.

But the residents had to go somewhere. And wherever those families and individuals are, Pine Point is still alive -- tattooed on their hearts and souls and memories.

One former Pine Point resident painstakingly built and maintains a quaint Website commemorating the dead town, "Pine Point Revisited." He intends for it to be not just a scrapbook but also a watering hole for his former neighbors to share photos, mementos, and, yes, those memories.

And now there's a slick, polished, interactive and thoroughly engaging "Welcome to Pine Point" Website devoted to the story behind that "Pine Point Revisited" Website.

Complicated? Let us explain.

"Welcome to Pine Point" -- designed for everyone, not just former residents -- is the handiwork of The Goggles, a pair of award-winning creative directors best known for their work with Adbusters magazine: Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge.

The duo have conceptualized magazines, books, television spots, and produced major international advocacy campaigns. They are co-authors of "I Live Here," a book about four of the planet's most troubled cities.

So how did The Goggles come to create "Welcome to Pine Point," an interactive Web documentary for Canada's National Film Board (NFB)?

They were initially hooked when they stumbled across the "Pine Point Revisited" Website, the quintessential exercise in nostalgia that turns out to be managed by the former town's least likely character -- a key plot point to the project.

It seemed the site acted as a kind of public album, a touchstone for the people who lived there, but also, for those of us who didn't. It was unpretentious, honest, and represented a sentiment and perspective that we felt needed sharing...It could have been a book, but it probably makes more sense that it became this.
The end result is astonishingly visual, with lots of still images and video clips, and inventive use of audio.

Is it indeed the best way to tell Pine Point's story?

KobreGuide reader Ron Smith, who was among those who excitedly called the site to our attention, remarks: "This is really amazing. I spent 30 minutes reading about this town I have never been to, a town that is longer there, and I was so moved. Really touching stuff, and a way to tell stories that I've never seen before."

Tracy Boyer, over at Innovative Interactivity, wonders whether it's too Flash-heavy.
The animations, multimedia and interactivity throughout the massive step-through documentary are impressive, to say the least. But, as I took the time to click through to the end, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the site seemed overly flashy and cluttered... My personal preference is that of a cleaner layout.

All together, this site houses nearly 50 frames of multimedia content divided into 10 chapters. Up until 2008 all of my multimedia projects were done 100% in Flash. But the more I read about HTML5 and the inability to play Flash on Apple products, I’m beginning to wonder whether producers should start experimenting with other languages for the interactive component.

The producers spent a year working on it and designed everything in Photoshop before animating it in Flash. If it takes a year to produce something of this capacity, how is an interactive Flash site going to have competitive advantage in the longterm, and withstand the quicker and more scalable programming languages that help producers make something comparable in days or weeks?
Personally, we love all the clever sights and sounds, but wonder about something else.

Because its roots are in a book-publishing sensibility, it is also text-heavy. It's a delight to look at and listen to, and even all that text is smart and quirky and fun to read. But it compels us to ask: What if, instead of non-linear interactivity, "Welcome to Pine Point" was re-created as a single video story about the aftermath of a town's demise? What happened to all those people, where are they now, and how does their former hometown figure in their current lives and sensibilities? How would that narrative best be structured? Chronologically? Or starting in the present and looking back (in medias res)? Without giving away too much, one of the richest rewards is discovering what happened to the town's characters of yesteryear -- surprises that would be spoiled if they were introduced too early in the narrative.

Imagine you had stumbled across the original "Pine Point Revisted" Website, and thought, "Hey, this would make a great video story!" How would you go about shooting and editing it? How would you go about telling the story of the town that isn't there anymore?

"Pine Point Revisited":

"Welcome to Pine Point":

P.S. Visit the National Film Board of Canada Website for more fine documentary films and interactive stories.

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