Digital Studio Reframes the Art of Portraiture
The notion of portrait gallery is cast in a new light in Bread and Kabul Portraits — a pair of interactive projects nearing completion at the NFB’s Vancouver-based Digital Studio.
“No two interactives are alike,” says Loc Dao, executive producer of both projects. “The challenge is to see how technology can best serve any given project. At the same time, we’re always looking for ways to leverage the NFB’s historic strength in visual storytelling within the interactive environment, and both these projects integrate film-based content to interesting effect.”
Bread: Recipes for living
It’s one of the most ancient and basic of prepared foods, dating back to the earliest days of agriculture, with a cultural significance that goes well beyond nutrition. For artist and community worker Mariette Sluyter, celebrating the art of bread, in all its simplicity and diversity, becomes a way to validate the lives of women she’s met while working with Calgary Family Services.
“Mariette brought the project to Teri Snelgrove, an associate producer at the Pacific & Yukon Studio, and we immediately saw its appeal,” says Dao. “It’s a simple and beautiful concept, one that touches on a complex set of themes – aging, immigration, solitude, and the way history can shape our experience.”
Bread takes the form of an interactive gallery – six short film portraits of elderly women, each with her own story and recipe. Anchored within specific domestic spheres and familiar kitchen rituals, the gallery unfolds into a surprising multitude of narrative threads. Recipes for roti, Russian piroshki and classic white bread are woven gracefully into stirring personal stories of residential school, Prairie childhood and growing up in Nazi-occupied Holland.
Bread was written and created by Mariette Sluyter, developed by NFB interactive producer Dana Dansereau, and designed by Vancouver-based artist Tracey Lebedovich. Teri Snelgrove is associate producer, Dana Dansereau is interactive producer, and Loc Dao is executive producer. It’s produced by the NFB Digital Studio.
Kabul Portraits: When cities speak
Interactive portraiture evokes a very different time and place in Kabul Portraits, which offers a sharply etched and nuanced view of contemporary life in the Afghan capital.
The project is the brainchild of Afghan-Canadian filmmaker Ariel Nasr, producer of the Oscar-nominated short Buzkashi Boys. His previous work with the NFB includes the acclaimed docs Good Morning Kandahar and The Boxing Girls of Kabul, both produced by Annette Clarke who has teamed up again with Nasr on this project.
With Kabul Portraits, Nasr works with art director Jeremy Mendes to fashion portraits of six Afghan cultural workers. Among them: young feminist filmmaker Alka Sadat, seasoned newspaper editor Fahim Dashty, and American-born artist Amanullah Mojadidi, who creates provocative “conflict chic” artwork from decommissioned weaponry.
“Ariel has a deep knowledge and appreciation for Afghanistan and its people,” says Dao. “With Kabul Portraits he uses an interesting blend of moving and still images, evoking traditional Afghan art forms to immerse us in a city that he loves. It’s a fresh perspective, one that contrasts with simplistic representations often presented by western media.”
Among the most poignant of the Nasr’s portraits is Attuala Amanzeda, who makes a modest living as one of Kabul’s last street photographers – a metier destined to disappear as traditional photography is replaced by digital imagery.
Kabul Portraits was written by Ariel Nasr, who co-created the project with Jeremy Mendes. It was produced by Annette Clarke and the NFB Digital Studio.
Loc Dao is executive producer of both Bread and Kabul Portraits. His credits include acclaimed interactive productions like Welcome to Pine Point, Bear 71; the immersive art app Circa 1948, and Seven Digital Deadly Sins, produced in collaboration with The Guardian.
Bread and Kabul Portraits are scheduled for launch in the summer of 2015.