Polish Web Docs Take the Internet by Storm
#technology & innovation
#photography & visual arts
small, Polish Web Docs Take the Internet by Storm, ‘Miasto Archipelag’ (Archipelago City), photo: miastoarchipelag.pl, archipelag0.jpg
For the past decade, we’ve been observing a worldwide trend for applying the Internet’s potential and interactivity in non-fiction. Producers and creators of online content are competing to design interactive media, from simple maps to multimedia reportages and interactive documentaries. A lot is being produced in Poland, although it often gets lost in the abundance of information and visuals of our media reality.
‘Warsaw Rising 1944’
Undoubtedly the most widely famous and acclaimed Polish interactive documentary is Warsaw Rising 1944. It was commissioned by the Warsaw Rising Museum from a small studio, Bright Media, which received two Webby awards (Best Cultural Institution and the 2015 People’s Voice Award). The project is an on-screen adaptation of the Warsaw Rising 1944 exhibition, prepared by the museum in cooperation with the Topography of Terror Foundation from Berlin, for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.
Warsaw Rising 1944 is a real journey back through nearly a century of the capital’s history. We see the vibrant city of 1918, whose development was disrupted 21 years later by World War II. The focus here is on the period of the Uprising – a tragic event which transformed the former pre-war ‘Paris of the North’ into a desolate pile of rubble. The story ends on modern views of the city, with its new landscape, freedom and dynamics.
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The project blends unique video and audio footage (including from the National Film Archive, National Digital Archives and Polish Radio) with contemporary graphic design and an interactive format. The audience can immerse themselves in the city’s history and the atmosphere of the olden days, examining separate sections in any order, skipping some or paying closer attention to others of particular interest. Warsaw Rising 1944 offers each user a completely individual experience.
Reportages by Karol Gruszka & Maria Zawała
Karol Gruszka and Maria Zawała are indisputably among the pioneers of multimedia reportage storytelling in Poland. They jointly produced several such reportages for the daily Dziennik Zachodni (The Western Journal) in 2014, winning a Grand Press Digital award for their work. Śląsk za Szybami (Silesia through Glass) centres on the glass paintings of a retired miner, Marek Idziaszek, who has created a kind of a visual chronicle of the region’s history. The project offers a virtual tour of the artist’s paintings, featuring a conversation simulator that allows you to ask him questions.
In turn, Pokłady Pamięci (Memory Banks) is a story about Katowice’s oldest district and the Gottwald mine. But Śląski Szeryf (Silesian Sheriff) stands out as the most spectacular of the Gruszka-Zawała duo’s productions. It tells the story of Józef Kłyk of from Bojszów village near Pszczyna – an amateur filmmaker who has been directing incredibly authentic Westerns in his home village for almost 50 years. Kłyk has collected numerous props for his films, and turned one room of his house into a saloon-styled set. In his films, Bojszów’s meadows are a successful substitute for the sun-drenched Texas prairies, and the director’s neighbours play Silesian characters in the Wild West.
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Gruszka and Zawała introduce their audience to the life of this cinematographer and history enthusiast. We see Kłyk at work on a film set, and can visit his saloon (360° photo) as well as a virtual cinema that screens some of his films, including the most famous ones: Człowiek Znikąd (The Man from Nowhere), which won a journalists’ award at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, and Full Śmierci (Death Galore), which I consider a must-see.
The reportage is primarily composed of video footage and photographs, enhanced with a range of graphic elements. Text is scarce, which makes the interaction with Kłyk feel even livelier.
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‘Outriders‘, photo: outride.rs
While mentioning reportage and interactive journalism, I must include the traveller and journalist Jakub Górnicki’s nascent project Outriders, a portal for journalists that focusses on innovative interactive storytelling. Although launched only recently, the portal already hosts a number of reportages – including Magdalena Chodownik’s Lunik IX, about a Roma neighbourhood on the outskirts of Koszyce, and Wstrzymani (Suspended), co-written by Chodownik and Górnicki, about the situation of refugees waiting for asylum in Europe.
Its ascetic form, based on full-screen photographs supplemented with text and subtle graphic elements, set it apart from Maria Zawała and Karol Gruszka’s extensive, graphically lavish stories. Here, navigation involves swiping the touchscreen, rather than clicking: scroll down to read further, move on to the next section, or swipe sideways to explore more details and context. Outriders’ contributors design their reportages for both desktop and mobile users, creating two individual versions for computer and smartphone screens, with the same properties and features. These documentary stories are seemingly the fruit of attempts to prevent interactivity and technological bells and whistles from obscuring the actual message.
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‘Miasto Archipelag’ (City of Archipelagos)
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‘Miasto Archipelag’, photo: miastoarchipelag.pl
Filip Springer’s book Miasto Archipelag (City of Archipelagos) about former provincial capitals was very well-received in Poland, but few people are aware that it was the outcome of a trans-media story that lasted for over a year – the first of its kind in Poland. The audience was able to follow this documentary experiment in different forms on several platforms simultaneously. The journalist posted travel reports to his blog and Instagram, and also talked on Polish Radio 3. Text, photographs and the spoken word had differing impacts via each of these media, so none of the reports were alike. Polityka (Politics) weekly also published a series of articles on former provincial capitals to provide broader context for the topic.
Springer’s colleagues – Olga Gitkiewicz and Kamil Bałuk – used the Internet’s potential to build up a community of contributors and followers around the project. Thanks to the cooperation of 70 regional correspondents, a Flipboard-based online magazine was created to cover local issues in those cities. A large number of the project’s enthusiasts and others interested in the subject followed its Facebook profile, which centralised all the activities: on the one hand, reporting on work in progress, on the other, stimulating interest among the project’s growing community by posting information and news from the cities. In this way, each channel provided a slightly different narrative, preserving the specifics of each media. The audience could follow them all or select their preferred channels.
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Karolina Sulich & Aleksandra Hirszfeld’s project
Karolina Sulich and Aleksandra Hirszfeld harnessed the Web’s potential in yet another way by launching their project on social media. The journalists visited the island of Lesbos a year after it had become an epicentre of the refugee crisis, taking in over half of the refugees arriving in Greece (approximately half a million people in total). The goal of the trip was to examine the situation and portray the people arriving on the island. Sulich and Hirszfeld interviewed volunteers working in camps, local residents, coastguard officials and Frontex. They broadcasted live on the daily Gazeta Wyborcza (The Electoral News)’s Snapchat, and later edited the recorded material into the first Polish Snapchat film.
The project was unique because Snapchat limits recordings to a maximum of 10 seconds. Content published on Snapchat is also fleeting – once posts have been automatically deleted from the server, they disappear from the Internet forever (but can be saved in the phone memory). The journalists also emphasised that filming with smartphones – everyday objects used by their interviewees themselves – turned out to be simpler than trying to talk while holding a large camera. Thus, media channels are changing in line with the equipment used by modern documentary filmmakers.
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‘Poranny Spacer: Audiowalk Przez Pole Mokotowskie’ (Morning Walk: Audiowalk through Pole Mokotowskie)
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‘Poranny Spacer: Audiowalk Przez Pole Mokotowskie’ (Morning Walk: Audiowalk through Pole Mokotowskie), photo: promotional materials
It is worth remembering that the Internet and technology are not only about images, but also sound. In their project for Ochota Theatre – Poranny Spacer: Audiowalk Przez Pole Mokotowskie – Eleonora Herder and Szymon Wróblewski invite you for a stroll through a Warsaw park. It is an adaptation of a Ryszard Kapusciński story, complemented by interviews and additional material gathered by the creators. Participants need a smartphone with the Radio Aporee app, as well as headphones and a map of the various routes. Using geolocation, the app launches the relevant audio files in specific places.
The audio narration provides a tour of Pole Mokotowskie on different timelines: telling the walker new stories and recalling old ones, all connected to spots along the route. The walk can be taken individually, but an organised event can be more interesting. Its participants are then given envelopes containing photographs to illustrate the history of the places visited. Herder and Wróblewski’s project is an example of what immersive audio storytelling can do – the narration emanating from the headphones allows walkers to drown out the surrounding noise and dive into a story which unfolds mostly in their imagination. All this is made possible thanks to the transparency of the technology.
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The modern user can sometimes get a bit lost, especially when confronted with a new interface or an imperfect application. Normally, however, they become engrossed in the story – forgetting all about their smartphones, applications and the Internet – and concentrate on what they are hearing.
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Visual element from ‘Buried Sun’, pixabay / creator: Michał Dąbrowski, Biennale Warszawa, 2020, photo: Biennale Warszawa promotional materials
A project of Biennale Warszawa curated and written by Ola Jach, Buried Sun is a web documentary devoted to the history and future of energy transitions across our planet. Audiences can listen to the story in chapters, which use narration and imagery to explore topics such as the history of coal mining in England, the development of car culture and the oil crises in the US, and the discrepancies in energy use between the Global North and the Global South. They can also click through to additional resources such as films, links and related news and research articles. The project premiered on 4th September 2020.
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Originally written in Polish by Katarzyna Boratyn, Jul 2017, updated by LD, Sep 2020