Theo Rigby on Prototyping ‘Immigrant Nation’ at Hot Hacks (Part One)

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Theo Rigby

Theo Rigby, director of the Student Academy Award®-winning documentary Sin País (Without Country), is taking his next project to the web. In this post about his experience working with Mozilla developers at Hot Hacks, which is about to get underway at Hot Docs in Toronto.

An interactive demo for Theo Rigby's 'Immigrant Nation'

'Immigrant Nation,' is a web-based documentary project that Theo Rigby ('Sin Pais') is prototyping at Hot Hacks.

Like many other documentary filmmakers, I know how to update my film’s website, and that’s about it. I don’t know HTML, let alone HTML5. And the semantics of transmedia, cross-platform, interactive, new media, etc. makes my head spin. With a brand new project, untested ideas, and a whole lot of passion, my team and I will dive headfirst into the Hot Hacks event Mozilla is putting on at Hot Docs this weekend. We will be paired with Mozilla engineers for two caffeine-infused days to ‘hack’ together a prototype for the interactive element of a new project I am directing, tentatively titled Immigrant Nation.

The stories I tell are often intimate and emotional, deal with complex issues, and are in general, pretty heavy. My mom often asks me, “When are you going to make a comedy?” “Soon mom, soon,” I tell her.

The prospect of creating an emotionally and intellectually engaging storytelling experience on the web — a place where extremely cute kittens, flop-hair Justin Bieber, and astonishingly short attention spans reign supreme, is honestly a bit daunting. The last thing I want to do is put a huge amount of time, effort and resources into something that nobody will use.

Enter the hack: A quick way to make something that represents a proof of concept that uses relatively little resources to answer the questions: Will this idea work? Is this using the storytelling advantages of the web to the fullest? Will people want to use this? Are we on the right track? Is this cool?

The crux of Immigrant Nation is to make immigration issues personal by connecting users to their own immigration story. The working idea is to build the project out of a series of dynamic short documentary films that address immigration issues across the country, in addition to an interactive component where people can create and share their own immigration stories. Users will be able to plot their own immigration story on a data-rich timeline to see how their immigration story fits in with the immigration waves that have populated the United States. The idea behind this approach is to highlight the collective immigration story we all have in the United States in an effort to de-politicize hotly contested immigration issues, and shift the often vitriolic dialogue to a more personal, human and productive conversation. We have created a short demo for the interactive part of the project:

We’ve had a few brainstorming sessions with Mozilla this week, and will try to focus on one specific part of the project at the hack. Our ideas are constantly in motion, but the working plan is to put most of the time and energy into developing “The Wave,” where users can submit their own immigration stories, place themselves in the history of immigration to the United States and see immigration trends over many decades. We will arrive with prepared media from the recently finished first film of the project, The Caretaker, as well as still images from the project, design elements from the interactive demo we created, and U.S. census data of immigration numbers. On Saturday morning we meet our Mozilla engineer collaborators, and we have two days to make it happen.

I’m excited, kind of nervous, don’t really know what to expect, and definitely feel out of my element. I’m trying to let the optimist in me take over and tell myself that failure is not a possible outcome of this venture — whatever comes out of the weekend will be one step closer to creating a story-world that works.

Theo Rigby is the director of the Student Academy Award®-winning documentary Sin País (Without Country), an exploration of one family’s complex and emotional journey involving deportation that will air on POV this summer.

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POV Guest Blogger
POV Guest Blogger
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
  • Nancy Ghertner

    The promo video was easy to absorb, about the right length, and particularly good for younger people to hop around.

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  • Dr. J

    The amazing part of his illness is how it was hidden from the public and the 1st Amendment was suspended as the press and even common people had their film destroyed if they dared chronicle it. The SS goons he had to ensure the public never knew the truth about him was stunning.

  • Ellen M

    Just finished watching all seven episodes of The Roosevelts. I am so grateful to Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns for recording forever not just the history of these three incredible individuals but in showing their absolute dedication in the belief of the human spirit and their conviction that we humans can be better than we are right now. My admiration to Mr. Burns and Mr. Ward for making such an exceptionally fine film.

  • vicp

    Interesting perspective achieved on the 20th Century evolution of America and World sociology told around three major century figures and their families. As one born in 1954 incredible view of the world my parents grew up in since TR was age of their grandparents and FDR and Eleanor were the ate of their parents. Truly a great work of historical perspective.

  • Flyvapnet

    Mr. Roston, finding a forum for comments regarding PBS programming makes a snipe hunt seem easy; and although this isn’t exactly the forum I was hoping to find, it’s at least on line and your Web-log entries are interesting. I’m actually (and without any success so far) trying to discover what was censored in Episode 6 of “The Roosevelts”: About halfway through that episode, film of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s air attack on Naval Station Pearl Harbor was shown; then suddenly there was a black screen shown for three or four seconds, followed by an obvious jump cut (a clumsy scene change with no transition) to people standing around in Washington. If that cut was purposeful, it was certainly amateurish and confusing. Have you any idea what was censored, or why such an unprofessional cut was made? If not, do you know of any forums / message boards where comments about the series can be made or questions asked? Thank you very much for your attention to my inquiry.

    • Flyvapnet

      I’ve started receiving unwanted electronic-mail notifications of replies to others’ comments, so I’ll apparently have to stop all notifications from this Web site.

  • Graduate Student 24

    OK Mr. G. Ward. As a historian, I presume you’ve looked at FOX News since it began. Could please point out some examples of them
    “loving” to show a crippled man, as you suggested FOX would have done for FDR? I’ll be waiting for an answer…….don’t chicken out !