There is no doubt that digital media is pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. When it comes to documentaries, web docs leave linear narratives behind and allow viewers to experience a more engaging connection with the story portrayed.
Very often they are large-scale projects with very consistent budgets, but who said you can’t achieve immersive outcomes with more intimate and local stories, simpler ideas and the efforts of a dedicated creative/technological team who works on a voluntary basis?
When I heard of The Most Northern Place, an interactive documentary developed using HTML5 and WebRTC, I could not but want to learn more about a story that, according to the official synopsis, sounded very intriguing: “This webdoc follows the true story of an event in 1953 that saw an entire Inuit community uprooted by the U.S. Army and relocated 67 miles North in just 4 days.”
So I reached out to the creator, Anrick Bregman, to discover more about his project.
Prominent Monkey: Hi Anrick, thank you for sharing some insights and behind the scenes of The Most Northern Place. First of all, tell me about yourself. What is your background?
Anrick Bregman: I come from the world of animation. Writing and directing animation was my first job, and I did it for a long time. It was fun and challenging at the same time. It’s great to learn a craft working with something that is lighthearted. But my fascination with code and interactive goes way back, since I started coding when I was around 12, on my father’s computer.
In those early days I was just messing around in basic. I followed up with the Amiga and ended up playing a lot of games all through my teens, then hacking them or trying to break open the source files that made up the game. I remember discovering the sprite sheets, it was a revelation! It was so exciting to see inside. When I was growing up games and animation combined pretty perfectly, as I started to learn coding in Flash. That led me to become an Interactive Director at UNIT9.
P. M.: How did you adapt the story by collaborating with Nicole Paglia and what do you think this project adds to her linear film Qaanaaq?
A.B.: I think Qaanaaq and The Most Northern Place form a very good pair. In essence they are the same film in two different formats, in the sense that they tell the same basic story. The big difference lies in the way you experience the story of Thule, and what happened there in 1953. A traditional documentary like Qaanaaq is a story being told to you, while The Most Northern Place is a story you discover, slowly, by yourself.
The other big difference between the two is that The Most Northern Place is a more fictionalised approach to documentary filmmaking. We took all of the footage, and we spent some time erasing people from the different locations we wanted to feature. So the fact that you do not see anyone is deliberate: we took them out to create an environment which feels like it has been deserted. It creates a sense of isolation and helps viewers get a sense of the experience of being there right after the events that took place all those years ago, rather than seeing people today talking about the past.
P. M.: Why did you approach this story and how did you get in touch with the partners who helped you shape it?
A. B.: Nicole and I used to be colleagues. We’ve always stayed in touch and I’ve always loved her fascination with conspiracy theories and secret government programmes. One day she told me about Thule and it really stuck with as a great source for an interactive project. When she ended up going out there to shoot on a research trip, I told her I’d love to help her to bring the project to the screen.
The project did not receive any funds from official bodies and we covered all the costs. The whole team at Roll Studio and UNIT9 was involved on a voluntary basis: an amazing group of talented people that dedicated some of their time to the final piece.
End of Part 1. Stay tuned: Part 2 will be online tomorrow.