The 2008 web documentary Gaza Sderot: Life in Spite of Everything allowed viewers to choose how they followed real-life stories from both sides in the Middle East
By Rosie Lavan
PROJECT TITLE: GAZA SDEROT – LIFE IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING
SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: A series of two-minute films document the daily lives of ordinary people in Gaza (Palestinian territory) and Sderot (Israel) during 10 weeks in 2008. The films follow six individuals in each city as they go about routine activities, mark family occasions or dream of the future, posing implicit questions about shared experience in a divided region and demonstrating that even in the midst of notorious and bitter conflict life, in spite of everything, goes on.
FORMAT: Interactive documentary for web
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: ARTE (France/Germany); Alma Films/Trabelsi Productions (Israel) in cooperation with The Sapir College, Sderot; Ramattan Studios (Palestine); Bo Travail ! (France); Upian.com (France)
STATUS: Project completed
RELEASE DATES: Forty episodes broadcast online from October – December 2008; screened at SXSW 2009
AWARDS: Prix Europa Emergent Media; Prix Europa Berlin; European Broadcasting Union (EBU) documentary of the year; Révélation Nuit des médias 2009 prize; 2009 international Emmy nominee
For this politically engaged web documentary, Israeli and Palestinian crews filmed individuals in each city, five days a week for 10 weeks. The year 2008 was significant: 60 years since the creation of the state of Israel, marked by Palestinians as “nakba”, the catastrophe.
Unusually, the project was commissioned straight for the web. Early in 2008 ARTE was keen to boost its online presence and produce its own web content. Upian.com was responsible for the interactive aspects of the project and its website; Serge Gordey of Bo Travail ! was executive producer, and filming on the ground was carried out by the Israeli and Palestinian crews.
The website continued to respond to events in the region. Days after completion on 23 December 2008, Israeli air and missile strikes on Gaza prompted international condemnation and left an estimated 1,300 Palestinians dead. Sderot was hit by rockets launched from Gaza during the crisis. New viewers approach the original videos with the knowledge that these lives are about to be violently interrupted, and while the characters remain unaware of what is to come postings on the site’s blog bring viewers up to speed. As a direct consequence of the war, ARTE produced a television documentary using Gaza Sderot’s films.
Interactivity is fundamental to Gaza Sderot: the story is shaped entirely by the viewer’s participation. This is a new form of documentary filmmaking in which the audience piece together the story: viewers enter it at any time, from any point of view.
Its nonlinear structure leaves viewers free to choose what they watch and how they watch it – led by chronology, character, geography or theme. Those who followed it day-by-day in 2008 and those who have discovered it since can dip in and out; a great strength of the project is that a viewer who watches only one pair of films will still have a clear understanding of its essence and aims. This is strongly reinforced by the striking and engaging design of the easy-to-navigate website.
Gaza Sderot is based on the ARTE.tv site for the project. It has had almost 1 million visitors since its launch, and 4 million video viewings. Initially it was aimed at a European audience, specifically in ARTE’s base countries, France and Germany, and most viewers who followed the films day-by-day were European. English, Arabic and Hebrew subtitles were added subsequently. It was not seen widely in the Middle East, but the violence of December 2008 generated interest among viewers and media in Israel.
There are more than 3,000 links to Gaza Sderot and 25,000 video embeds on the internet. The project has a wider profile reflecting its international identity and global interest in its subject matter – this encompasses attention from established titles (e.g. Time, Variety) and it has stimulated discussion on blogs and social networks. Key partnerships were built with online media, including the website of the French magazine L’Express, and sites or publications with an interest in the topic were targeted. Facebook, just taking off in France at the time, also proved valuable.
The 52-minute documentary, edited together from the original web films, has been broadcast on terrestrial networks in the Netherlands, Israel, Sweden and Canada, in addition to its airing on ARTE in February 2009.
Crucially, Upian.com developed a new content management system – the back-office application for building the site – which enabled the films to be shot, edited, compressed and online for viewing within 24 hours. Followers of the series therefore watched these stories in real time, almost as they happened. The videos were also made readily available to embed on external sites, and this network of links on sites from individual blogs to Le Monde was of central importance in reaching the audience.