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GDP: measuring the human side of the Canadian economic crisis

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By: NFB of Canada
Project type: collaborative Web


GDP is an attempt to react to the global economic crisis that has hit everybody in the last two years. The National Film Board of Canada has a long tradition of social documentary but this time it has launched a very ambitious project: the country’s first bilingual web documentary, a pan-Canadian project that bears witness to the far-reaching effects of the crisis in the lives and communities of Canadian people. Until September 2010 over 200 short documentaries and photo-essays, each about four minutes in length, will combine to create a mosaic of how Canadians are experiencing this crisis.  Under the direction of documentarian Hélène Choquette a team of eight field directors and eight photographers browse the country to document how Canadians cope with the crisis that is shaking convictions and lives.

Users/viewers are also encouraged to participate online with comments and photos as GDP wants to “tell the collective story of a country in transition”.

Find out more:

Browse GDP – Measuring the human side of the Canadian economic crisis

Read about the project

More about the NFB of Canada

My comments:

I think it is remarcable that the NFB embarcs in such an ambitious project. This type of docu-web is important for several reasons:

  1. it shows the potential of this form: the depth and breath of docu-webs is potentially much larger than a linear documentary because it is expandable at will
  2. GDP involves a big team of people and shows NFB’s financial commitment to the docu-web form
  3. the collaborative side of the project (people are asked to participate) is potentially the best suited way to portray a nation… who else could do so, if not the people themselves?
  4. the topic of GDP – a nation in crisis- is not only relevant but important: could this sort of project help in energising people? Can it help to regain a positive attitude?
  5. social documentaries tend to take a position… while GDP is more a mosaic than anything else… what are the political and social implications of such approach?

If I am quite impress with the project itself, I have to say that I find its navigation quite confusing… One can browse by stories, maps or themes but once you start watching a video the interface is not very clear: how do you move from here? where are the stories of the same theme? How do I find my character again? How do I get out of the main map? I have been reassured though that the project is being re-designed so… hopefully those little problems will be solved soon.

My last comment is about the audience: who are the browsers of GDP and what do they get out of it? If would be very interesting to have some user feedback on this type of project because what matters here is to know how such a social topic is received and by whom… Is this just an interesting portrait of a nation or is it a social tool for involvement and change? How is it used? Does it create a debate? what is the level of involvment?

It would be great to have a comment on this by the producers of GDP…. ;)

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

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  1. On April 20th, 2010 at 19:34 Marie-Claude Dupont wrote:

    I’am pleased that the GDP project has caught your attention. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on our project. As the National Film Board’s first major interactive documentary, it presents a fascinating set of creative and logistic challenges – and engages our team in a daily reflection on a new narrative form as it continues to evolve.

    In response to your remarks and questions, the project was co-initiated by the director generals of the NFB’s French and English-language programs, and was developed in 2009 by Hélène Choquette, a seasoned documentary filmmaker who went on to assume the role of coordinating director. She’s been working closely with a team of filmmakers and photographers – a team dispersed across the vast expanse of Canada, which may account for the mosaic effect you mention. From the outset our intention was to show the human face of the crisis – offering a distinct perspective from that presented in the Canadian mass media. Over the course of a year, our filmmakers are documenting how the crisis is playing out in the lives of our subjects – revealing not only hardship, but also a spirit of innovation and a capacity to seize new opportunities. In many respects we follow in a National Film Board’s tradition of producing social and observational documentaries, and as we explore the genre’s potential within the multiplatform universe, this tradition provides an invaluable touchstone.

    Our stories speak for themselves. As we proceed deeper into the project, they shed light on some of the critical issues that define this particular crisis: the growing gap between rich and poor; the erosion of the middle class; and the insecurity of workers in the face of greater business demands for labour flexibility. On one hand, we’re witnessing greed – but we’re also seeing great resilience and solidarity. As an interactive project, we’re able to participate in the vigorous ongoing debate on the values that underpin our economic system, and I like to think that the GDP project has played a role in nurturing this important public process.

    The GDP project is a choral piece – one that thrives on the many distinct voices of our subjects, of our filmmakers and photographers – but also on the active involvement of visitors to the site, who have been making their own contribution in the form of written comments and visual material. To date we have received over 250 user comments. Certain stories, like the one situated in Oshawa, a town hit hard by the crisis in the auto industry, have been generating lively interest within the communities in question.

    It was never our intention to create a comprehensive portrait of a nation – but rather to offer the kind of immediate participatory experience that conventional film documentaries cannot provide, and to address the complex subject of economics in a fresh people-centred manner that mainstream journalism rarely can do. In conceiving the project as a web-based production, the NFB aims to develop its historic conversation with Canadians and to inject it with new meaning. We’re only part way through the journey, so the conversation is not over! The GDP project continues until September 2010.

  2. On April 20th, 2010 at 19:38 Marie-Claude Dupont wrote:

    I forgot to mention that I’m GDP’s producer and that our headquarters are in Montreal, Canada.

  3. On May 3rd, 2010 at 00:48 Sandra wrote:

    thanks so much for taking the time to inform us about your project in such details. I am sure that lots of people are inspired from what you are doing and I hope they will use this website to continue the discussion!!!

  4. On May 16th, 2011 at 11:53 Entertainment News wrote:

    You made a number of fine points there. I did a search on the subject matter and found mainly persons will go along with with your blog. Thank’s for you inform.

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