COM011 – Blog 6 : Lights On a Dark River

A long awaited event finally took place in our neighbourhood yesterday.

rideau_shorelineA pedestrian and cycling bridge crossing the Rideau River, connecting Sandy Hill and Vanier, had been under construction for two summers. We were all hoping for a fall opening, but as the weeks went by we resigned ourselves to using it next spring.

Then we learned that construction was complete and the official opening of the Adàwe Crossing would take place Friday, December 4 at 1:00 pm. Great – but not so great for us working folk eager to celebrate the new bridge.

I love neighbourhood gatherings and the conviviality they create. So, drawing on a family tradition of inviting friends and neighbours to carry lanterns into Strathcona Park on the night of the Winter Solstice, I decided to reroute that project to the evening of December 4th. I wanted to throw a wide net so that residents on both sides of the river would know that a celebration would be taking place in the dark… And I had six days to do it.

indexAnd that, of course, is where social media kicked in. We began by sending the message to several community email lists and our city councillor. Since Adàwe means “to trade” I suggested that everyone bring something to share – a snack, a drink, a song… A Vanier contact with connections to the music scene put me in touch with the head of the Vanier BIA. She got our invite too. After that, we hoped that social media would take over. And, not surprisingly it did.

A member of our community association posted the event on the community website. A biking activist I do not know tweeted that it was where « all the cool kids » would be. Safer Streets Ottawa got in touch with him, and he passed the contact on to me. And that resulted in a treasure trove of donated bike and pedestrian lights arriving on my doorstep. The Overbrook Community Association across the river posted on their website. Our councillor tweeted out the event.

Last night a few neighbours met us outside our house – lanterns and candles in hand. Our family was loaded down with thermoses of hot drinks, sparklers, matches, the aforementioned lights and tins of ginger snaps. We weren’t a big group, and I had no idea what to expect.


As we walked the few blocks to the bridge, we met neighbours with their lanterns and lights heading in the same direction. In the distance, we could see lights flashing on the bridge itself.

As we arrived, we saw that the social media promotion had been a great success. The new bridge was crowded with people from both sides of the river, with kids and dogs in tow, with snacks and drinks and other gifts to share. A bicycle was aglow with lights. IMG_20151204_195031

A parasol was trimmed with little bulbs. Someone gave me eucalyptus seeds from a distant land. An artist handed out cards depicting the Celtic Solstice Kings. A floating Chinese lantern drifted into the air.

The weather was gentle. People lingered and laughed. The black river rushed below us, and ducks quacked in the distant darkness.IMG_20151204_193545

Social media helped spread not just the where and what of the event, but also the spirit of it. We could each have made a first solitary visit to the bridge. Social media helped us do it as a community.

A Bear in a Haystack (Blog #5 COM011)

“Facebook encourages us to lose ourselves in the haystack of our own eyes” – Mary Walsh

Walsh-1A Mary Walsh rant is always a fine thing – and there she is on the NFB Interactive site  having a go at social media. Not that you couldn’t find a nice Mary Walsh rant using a simple Google search. But a rant about social media meshes nicely with the theme of this Blog.

I came across Mary while wandering in and out of a variety of titles available for viewing. The rant is part of an interactive documentary called The Seven Deadly Digital Sins. Mary Walsh represents the sin of Envy – and she has a good go at it, chewing up the scenery as she does her signature stream of conversation comedy. Much good advice and a fair amount of insight are to be had here.

The NFB Interactive website describes itself as: An evolving collection of innovative, interactive stories exploring the world – and our place in it – from uniquely Canadian points of view.


In keeping with their mandate, the NFB has encouraged experimentation with interactive storytelling that other producers cannot afford. NFB Interactive offers a lively range of productions which almost all have a documentary base. Some are simple, some layered and complex. It’s interesting to see all the elements that the creators have to play with – from the layout and architecture of their sites, to the way content is presented.

images-1Notwithstanding Mary Walsh’s entertaining presentation, The Seven Deadly Digital Sins does not break much ground formally. The seven individuals representing the seven sins can be observed one at a time, making their statements. The viewer can navigate between them at will, but there is little else in the structure or content of the piece that is “interactive”.

A distinct contrast can be found in another NFB Interactive project, Bear71. The project uses documentary wildlife footage and data from Banff National Park to tell the story of a specific mother bear’s life.


Bear71 draws on a far more interesting palate of visual material and a somewhat disorienting architecture. Navigating through the site is not self-evident, which is more intriguing and creates a more poetic interaction. This is not your conventional wildlife documentary, but a highly creative work that plays outside all kinds of traditional boundaries. Not as funny as Mary Walsh, but mighty stimulating.text and map-1

Have a look for yourself, and wander about the Interactive site. It might give you some good ideas for creative play in your own projects, whatever form they take.

COM0011 – Blog 4: Weaving a Crafty Story (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

This week, a friend came up from Toronto to participate in the Signatures Craft Show at the Shaw Centre. It was an experiment for her, as she is testing whether her work would sell in that context.

I had a look at her website and blog to see how she was promoting herself, and particularly what story she was weaving for her audience. Was she thinking about her brand? Once I had explored and assessed her website, I decided to look at a sampling of other artisans, for comparison. Here’s what I found for the craftspeople who’s company started with the letter K:

Karizma Handcrafted Jewellery:

I get off to a slow start! The web link doesn’t work, and a Google search turns up a jeweller in Australia. That’s as far as I’m willing to dig…

KAZAK Leather, Recycled Fur & Wool Accessories:

« Founder of Kazak in 2008, Geneviève Paquette is a self-taught and eco-responsible designer from Montreal. A long journey in central Asia and encounters with Kazakh horsemen were a source of inspiration for her first line of hats as well as her brand name. »

That’s a good story – romantic, exotic… I want to know more.

« Her work in the field of costumes thus reflecting a combination of romance, ardour and modernity. »

There’s not much more, but it does pique my curiosity. I looked through her latest winter collection. The website is well-designed. The collection being modelled is handsome, elegant, a bit rugged – it mirrors her story, and yet I can feel that she has moved further as a designer. I plan to visit her booth.

Kokass par Céline Bouré Art Jewellery

The Kokass website has no story, no « About » page. There are lots of images of jewellery, and eventually I find a link to the jeweller’s Etsy page. Etsy is having technical difficulties, and I learn nothing more. I’m an impatient shopper, so she has lost me…

Katharine Asals Photography

The website has a good « About » page. The artist tells you something personal – photography helped her, as a shy person, to connect with other people. She talks about her interests and philosophy of photography. The site also links to a delicious blog. It’s full of beautiful photographic images, connected with simple, thoughtful commentary, sometimes personal, or poetic or maybe fictional.

Here, you feel like you are meeting an artist. When I look at the images in her portfolio, I feel a connection to the person, and a deeper interest.

Kania Couture Comfortable, Cotton Lycra & Bamboo

The designer behind Kania has a welcoming About page. She tells the story of how she moved from being a dancer to designing clothes that are stylish and easy to move in. That’s intriguing. She also has a page called Kania Life, which is a mix of fashion photos, promotional images and personal photos. This gives us another dimension of who she is. Her latest collection is small, only 3 items, but the images are enticing and I have a good look. The pieces look like they would be fun to try on. They cost more than I would normally pay, but now I feel a connection. I’ll visit her booth.

Krazy Lady Kreations Hand Designed Quilted Rugs

Krazy Lady’s website offers an “Our Story” page, but it includes only one image and 5 sentences. She quilts one-of-a-kind tapestries using layers of fabric. That’s about all. The images of the quilted rugs on the other pages of the website are lovely, but there is no explanation of her style, motivations, or choice of imagery. A missed opportunity!

What are the takeaways? Make sure your website is up and running when eyeballs are most likely to come your way, have various elements that a visitor can move between to discover more about you, use personal elements you feel comfortable sharing, remember that stories can be told in words and pictures and finally, let you’re personality come pouring through!

COM011 – Wapikoni Mobile: A Media Window On Many Voices

In the latest federal election, more Aboriginal Members of Parliament were elected than ever before. Over the last few years, the issues facing Aboriginal people in Canada have received important media attention. And yet, the general Canadian population still struggles to understand the situations Aboriginal people in Canada must deal with, and their day-to-day experiences.

Shooting My Uncle AntoineNot well-know outside Quebec, Wapikoni Mobile is a unique project that enables ordinary people in Aboriginal communities in that province to communicate whatever is on their mind through the production of video and music (

Established in 2004, Wapikoni Mobile sends mobile audio-visual studios to First Nations communities throughout Quebec, acting with both a social and a media vocation. Young community members have the opportunity to participate in musical recording or video production workshops. Wapikoni proudly lists their accomplishments over the last 10 years, including:

  • A Wapikoni Mobile mobile studio26 communities from 9 different nations, visited to date.
  • Since its initial stages, more than 3,000 youth trained or initiated to documentary film or musical recording, where 300 to 500 new participants are added on each year.
  • 50 short films and 30 musical recordings created every year in Canada and abroad.
  • A collection, unique of its kind in the world, featuring more than 750 films and 450 musical recordings; an exceptional First Nations cultural heritage.
  • 87 awards and mentions earned in prestigious national and international festivals.

The video workshop template that Wapikoni Mobile offers includes an Aboriginal coordinator and an assistant filmmaker hired in the community. The team is rounded out with two mentor-filmmaker professionals and a social worker. Together they guide youth through practical workshops that emphasize learning by doing – writing, directing, camerawork, sound recording and editing.

The month-long workshops result in the creationThe Old Man and the River of original, technically- proficient short films that are presented in the community and in other venues. Wapikoni’s website describes other special projects and spin-off training that have developed from this base.

The video work, which I am most familiar with, ranges from very personal documentaries and political analysis to short dramas and experimental projects. The pieces reflect a spectrum of ability, and are imbued with the energy and vitality of creators eager to grab hold of the tools of digital expression. Some of them are jewels that have received deserved notice in national and international film festivals.

A few of my favorites, to name but a few,  include:Correcting the Chalkboard

There is a cumulative effect for anyone who takes just a little time to dip into the more than 750 short films available for screening on the website. The people telling their stories begin to lift away from the stereotypes, the two-dimensional portrayals, and the theoretical persectives that many of us work with when we consider Aboriginal peoples’ issues.Workshop in progress

Wapikoni Mobile doesn’t offer all-encompassing analysis or a monolithic view – just the many voices of many ordinary people, voices that aren’t often heard anywhere else. If you want to get to know some of the experiences, stories and opinions of some Aboriginal people, I invite you to watch their short films.

COM011 – Storytelling – Drawing from Documentary

I’m interested in the parallels between good storytelling in documentary film and the challenges of creating a vibrant brand when using social media.

In the documentary world, there are many ways of telling stories. In every case, a great film uses the strengths inherent in the medium of film to tell the story.

The CorporationI have watched documentary films that should have been magazine articles. These films are made up of interviews where people say things intercut with some beautiful and appropriate footage. But all these could equally well have been texts and photographs on a page.

A good filmmaker thinks about where to start the story, what to shoot so that the images best express the content, how to create a mood or an emotion through images, and how to structure the film so that the story intrinsic in the subject engages the viewer and draws them in and through the material.

I think the craft of good storytelling can be useful in building a social media brand. Just as the act of shooting footage with a camera doesn’t necessarily make a good film, so blogging or tweeting in itself will not necessarily create a compelling brand or identity.

Of course, a film has a finite form and a reasonably captive audience, whereas a social media presence or persona is more open-ended. But I think it is an interesting exercise to imagine how storytelling techniques can be adapted to a social media project.

Sheila Curran BernardSheila Curran Bernard presents these ideas about documentary storytelling (

  • Tell a chronological story, but not necessarily in chronological order.
  • Use shots and sequences to tell a story.
  • Present information when it best serves the story.
  • Enter late, exit early.

Ken Burns looked at the same task and broke it down in this way (

  • Find a story that moves you
  • Find the format in the story
  • The drama and the characters are there – find them and let them speak
  • Tell the story your way

Stories We Tell

Many of the key tips in these articles can not only be applied to a social media project but could well enrich it, creating more layers and nuance.

Imagine stepping back and thinking about how to tell your story – creating an interesting hook, refining your core theme, finding the drama in your project or organization, hunting down the interesting characters in your business, thinking about the most appropriate medium to use (visual or text or moving images) and structuring your posts or tweets or input so that they create a story arc your audience wants to follow.

Social media may be a new way of communicating to an audience, but the classic elements of storytelling (that go back well beyond filmmaking) will still be at the core of a good social media campaign.

COM0011 – Desperately seeking Social Media

I was finding it a bit hard to blog about Social Media when I have so little personal experience interacting with it. So to get started, I cast around to see if I could find some effects of Social Media in my own back yard…

Here we have consumption of traditional Media. But not Social and not very sociable either:


This looked like a solitary sort of media activity…

Version 2

…but, it ended up quite sociable. Sociable Media:

IMG_20150808_194220 (1)

Ah ha! – this is the classic Social Media image – all wired up with that healthy electronic glow:


Here’s some Traditional Media production that will no doubt get promoted on Social Media:


Television is the kind of Media I’ve worked with. I’ve been on both sides of the television industry fence – I worked in documentary film production for television, and then jumped over to the other side, to buy programming.IMG_20150923_154008

Poor old Television – left behind in the wild tidal wave of Fragmentation and Multi-Platforms, Digital Divides and Discoverability, Cord-Cutting and Over-the-Top Television.

I’ve watched as the new and nimble platforms for media consumption displace the industry I’ve worked in for 20 years. In the world of documentary film production, filmmakers and producers took pride in being thoughtful and thorough. During a golden window, resources existed to take time, and to research in depth. However, at the same time formats were more rigid and the paths to distribution were narrow.

Social media platforms such as You Tube and Kickstarter created a whole new way to imagine distribution and audience, and to monetize production. The strict formats and lengths dictated by television are slipping away and the production cycles are faster.

IMG_20150923_153941The stability of the old system has been lost, and fewer people can make a living in documentary film production. On the broadcast side, as eyeballs turn away to other screens, the whole economic structure that television is based on teeters. Advertisers notice the drop in viewers, and are beginning to shift their dollars elsewhere.

It remains to be seen how and if the new structures will allow filmmakers the luxury of making a living from the venerable craft of documentary story-telling. We are living through a media revolution. And social media has played a big part in the turning of the wheel.

While I dabble my toes in the little Social Media puddles in my backyard, wondering how they can be relevant to me, I’ve also been whirled about in that tidal wave sweeping away the old foundations.