Digital Story Critique #2: Bear 71
*I am currently working my way through my fourth semester of the Information and Learning Technologies master’s program at University of Colorado, Denver. This is the second post within a series of critiques on digital stories that I’ve been assigned to write for a course titled Digital Storytelling.
This week’s critique is on an interactive documentary titled Bear 71 that I found on the National Film Board of Canada’s website. It was created by Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison and was launched with a live, interactive art installation at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier Program. I chose to critique this interactive documentary purely because I wanted to see what an interactive documentary looked and felt like! I’ve never experienced such a thing and it sounded incredibly interesting to me. It did not disappoint. Not at all.
This interactive documentary, or storyworld as I’ve learned it can be called, is the true story of a female grizzly bear monitored by wildlife conservation officers from 2001-2009. Bear 71 reimagines the bear’s story from an omniscient narrative vantage point, speaking directly to the viewer. Participants explore and engage with the storyworld via animal role play, augmented reality, webcams, geolocation tracking, motion sensors, a microsite, social media channels (here and here), and a real bear trap in Park City.
To critique this piece, I used the following traits from Jason Ohler’s “Assessing digital stories, new media narrative“: 1.) story, 2.) research and 3.) originality, voice, and creativity.
- Story – The story behind this interactive documentary was absolutely phenomenal. Upon first launching the storyworld, I expected to learn about bears living in the wild, not about how human interaction has caused their downfall from reigning ruler of the prairies and forests. It begins by explaining how bears are tracked, caught, and tagged by rangers. The viewer is introduced to Bear 71, learns how she got her name, and realizes that it is her, Bear 71, narrating the story. Participants are then thrust into the bear’s world where voiced over narration continues to tell the story while animals run around the forest and participants can view video and images from throughout the woods. I was on the edge of my seat, constantly wondering where the story was taking me, wondering what was going to happen to Bear 71 amongst “the hashbrown laden fields”. The story flowed from the beginning to the end, it stayed on its very specific “message,” and it was extremely memorable and transformational for me, as the participant/viewer. So much so, that I made my husband sit down and watch it right away. The message of Bear 71 is one that I will take with me, everywhere I go.
- Research – After searching for the production date of this documentary (I was unable to find it and can only deduce it was between 2011 and 2012), I learned of the great extent of research done by the creators. They searched through thousands of images captured by webcams and watched hours upon hours of film footage. There are several statistics strategically placed throughout the story and real footage of Bear 71. The creators also worked in conjunction with Parks Canada, Alberta Provincial Parks, and Montana State University.
- Originality, voice, and creativity – The story of Bear 71 is told through computerized topographic imagery, animated text, full screen videos, interactive play using the mouse or keyboard, still images (photographs), short video clips (webcams), beautiful and haunting music, and finally and most importantly, through the perspective of the bear, and not a human (Hello original voice!). I am very new to this field of work – digital storytelling – but I do know creativity and originality when I see it. This storyworld was created over three years ago, so I imagine there are many more like it by this point. But I imagine that with all of the awards it received, it was quite innovative at the time! According to Wikipedia, Bear 71 won several awards: “In December 2012, Bear 71 was named the best non-fiction web series at the Digi Awards (formerly Canadian New Media Awards). On January 15, 2013, Bear 71 was named Site of the Year for 2012 by the Favourite Website Awards. On April 30, 2013, Bear 71 received the Webby Award for best net art. It also received Webby nominations for best public service and activism video, best use of interactive video and best green website.”
If you have twenty minutes to do anything with today, use it to interact with Bear 71. You won’t regret it.