An interview with Kat Cizek

I’ve written about the Interactive Emmy award winning Out my Window project here a couple of times (April 11, Nov 10)  so was pleased to get the chance to talk to the project’s very busy director, Kat Cizek, recently, via Skype.

In the interview which you can read here Kat describes her professional trajectory – from her formative experience covering the Oka Crisis (the “Wounded Knee of Canada”) as a student journalist, through directing Human Rights documentaries, to her first foray into non-linear production as National Film Board (NFB) Filmmaker in Residence. There her brief was to reinvent the innovative participatory project Challenge for Change for the digital age as a collaborative venture with an Inner City Toronto Hospital.

Cizek describes how she and Producer Gerry Flahive then developed the approach they took on that project to create Highrise – their “multi-year project to document the human experience in vertical suburbs.” It’s an iterative, multi-platform project and Cizek talks through the various manifestations of the project to date.

Cizek sees digital technology as offering the potential to,”crack open the range of possibilities in terms of the way a story is told, who tells it, what the story is…” and she describes how this is playing out in the evolution of the latest Highrise project.

The Millionth Tower is emerging out of a number of conversations – with a group of residents, with urban theorists and planners, with new media technologists – and Cizek uses the analogy of Remix Culture to explain how the ideas coming from these different directions are playing off each other and finding expression in an innovative documentary which is bringing 3D animation and HTML5 to bear in visualising residents re-imaginings of the tower blocks in which they live. Her account while in mid-production offers a fascinating insight into a collaborative process.

The form of the NFB commission – project rather than output based – allows Cizek and her team to work in a Lab environment and enables an agility in relation to emerging technological possibilities and a flexibility in terms of project realisation. It’s an ideal, arguably necessary, development environment for a collaborative, non-linear project and is paying off in terms of the innovation, quality and social importance of the work Cizek and her team are coming up with.

While deeply engaged in a collaborative process, Cizek sees editorial control as unequivocally with the production team. The director’s role for her is about a rigorous engagement with the subject at hand that takes full advantage of today’s storytelling opportunities. The creative technologies involved may be changing, but Cizek sees herself continuing a core historic role of documentary,”…really great documentary is about remaining open to what’s actually happening around you. It’s not about you deciding what happens and going and grabbing everything that’s going to prove your case… and this is just a continuation of that kind of approach, just in different media, and with different possibilities in terms of how to collaborate with people and open the process up. But in essence it’s the same practice – unscripted, and responsive to the world that we’re living in.”

Do check out the full interview and read more about The Millionth Tower, which launches in the Autumn, on the Highrise Director’s blog. Thanks to Kat for making the time to talk.