#1339: “The School, a World” uses Web Documentary to Profile Changes in the Small Polish Town of Chlebiotki

I interviewed The School, a World creators Iga Łapińska & Krzysztof Pijarski at IDFA DocLab 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below. Here’s a link to the web documentary of The School, a World so that you can explore it yourself, run time is a bit over two and a half hours if you watch it all.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of special computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing on my series of looking at different immersive experiences from IFA DocLab 2023, this is episode number 14 of 19 in that series. So today we're covering a web documentary called The School, A World by Iga Lipińska and also one of the producers and the co-director of the Visual Narrative Lab in Poland, Krzysztof Piarski. So the school, a world is a web documentary in a web browser. And so, and in the spirit of the web, it is very accessible. So if you would like to experience the school, a world include a link in the description here that you can go check it out ahead of listening to this conversation. It could take two and a half hours if you're a completionist like myself, but just to get a little bit of a taste of this piece that we're talking about, or you could wait to the end and listen to it and see if you want to dive in and check it out. But. Definitely recommend go checking out ahead of time and then listening to this conversation. It's integrating both audio, podcast, narration, documentary, but it's also got a lot of photos and documents that you're navigating through, but also videos sprinkled throughout. So The School, A World is a web documentary that covers a small town in Poland called Hibliotki. So Hiplotki used to be around 200 people, now it's around 60 people. And through the lens of like seven or eight community members, it's a profile of the town. And the director, Iga, grew up there and her parents actually were involved with the school that was the center of the community. The community really come together to build up the school. And then over time, the people were moving away from the town and they had actually shut down the school just because there weren't enough students to justify it existing. And so it's kind of like the rise and fall of this small little town. And Iga goes back to this town after the pandemic and starts to reconnect to the people of this town and creates this whole web documentary interactive experience where there's a map that have different landmarks and it's a little bit of puzzling together of which of the seven or eight main characters are connected to each of these different landmarks and so you will enter into one of the individual people and then maybe you'll see a video or you'll see some photos of that person and start to hear like an audio interview with them. And so as you're kind of shifting through different photos, you're learning more about them. And then you can jump around between these different chapters and these different locations and different people. So it's this kind of interactive exploration where you're learning a lot about Ilabiyaki. And yeah, it's a very personal story for Iga, but also it's a story of a community and a profile of this ordinary living and the comedy within that, but also just telling the stories of the people who live in this town. and how an interactive web documentary like this is actually impacting a whole community as well. So we'll dive into all of that and more on today's episode of the Voices in VR podcast. So this interview with Iga and Khrushchev happened on Monday, November 13th, 2023 at IFADOC Lab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So with that, let's go ahead and dive in.

[00:03:20.708] Iga Łapińska: dive right in. I'm Iga Łapińska. I'm a director of the school award interactive documentary. And this is my first meeting with this form of expression. So I'm brand new in this area. And in this area, I thought I am nobody and I will stay nobody. But now I am very curious about these forms of expressions and I am thinking about new things maybe to do.

[00:03:53.652] Krzysztof Pijarski: Hello, my name is Krzysztof. I am Krzysztof Bijarski. I am director, co-director of the Visual Narratives Laboratory at the Film School in Łódź. which we established as a team five years ago, and which now runs its course, its first round of funding, so we are thinking about the future, what are we going to do next, and the School of World is our production, it was a great privilege to work with IGA, and apart from interactive documentaries, we have been producing also film essays and VR experiences. And one other VR experience, Close by Hanoma, that is also part of this year's IDFA Dog Lab.

[00:04:30.788] Kent Bye: Great, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into the space.

[00:04:36.189] Iga Łapińska: Yeah, I always think that I will be a traditional film director. And I was very interested in documentaries as a viewer, as a possible creator. And in the beginning, I was thinking about this story, like also as a traditional documentary movie. But then I found a lot of footage and archive materials which I think couldn't be used in that form. So I think this webdoc is the best. way to tell this story using all the materials and letting viewers to walk through all this map, collecting experiences, thoughts, maybe memories from their lives and building their own story based on my story.

[00:05:38.867] Krzysztof Pijarski: I'm a professor at the film school and I teach photography but I was always interested in the digital sphere and I always try to convince my colleagues photographers to actually experiment with photography on the web and they kept telling me it doesn't make any sense because the color reproduction is not right because we can't work with scale etc. etc. And for me this was the impulse because I wanted to prove them wrong in a way. And I always wanted to do digital photo books because I feel like the book is a format that's evolving. So that is basically what I've been also doing at the lab for the last couple of years. And when the opportunity presented itself, so a grant program came along that seemed suited for this kind of endeavor. And we had been talking with various colleagues, Jacek Nagłowski especially, who is the head of the VR studio at the lab. about doing something together and trying to find a way to do what we wanted to do. And then Katarzyna Boratyn, who is my partner in the Interactive Narrative Studio, and Kuba Mikurda, who was the head of the Film Essay Studio. That were the first persons we started talking with. And we wrote a grant. Luckily, we got the funding and in 2019, we started the Visual Narratives Laboratory, where we actually had the means and the program to really enter this space.

[00:06:54.305] Kent Bye: And so were you a part of this film school or how did you get connected to this grant program to be able to have funding or like maybe could give a bit more context to both how the project came about and as well as a little bit about the project itself?

[00:07:05.803] Iga Łapińska: Now, earlier I have met Krzysztof and Kasia online during a process called a historical hackathon or history hackathon.

[00:07:19.154] Krzysztof Pijarski: So, it was a project that we did and we were invited by the CARTA. It's an institute, it's an historical institute that works with oral history. And they wanted to experiment, enter a new field, how to mediate history for young people. And the idea was to create interactive forms. And they invited us to do the hackathon together because we had just started as a lab. And it was an open call. And so IGA was one of the teams and it was one of the most interesting projects. And then when the Hackathon ran its course, Karta, they didn't get the funding, the production funding, so that was a pity. But a couple of very interesting teams came out of that and our goal from the very beginning was to do open calls, because, you know, we didn't feel like we have a history of doing these kind of things. So our basic premise was to learn by doing. So we wanted to engage in this field and invite other creators who have been active or have been searching for support in Poland in these new media and to help them and create these pieces with them. So Iga was one of the artists who answered to our call and we were super happy to work with her.

[00:08:26.769] Iga Łapińska: The first situation was very important for me because I haven't heard earlier about web docs and about these all forms and my friend Ewa Jarosz, who is my very important collaborator in this project, told me about it and she told me we should do this hackathon. And we created the project because it wasn't produced, but it won this hackathon. Actually, we invented a story about a teenage Jewish girl who came to Poland just before World War II. to a very small Polish Jewish town and everything there is new for her. But from the beginning, because I was responded for the story, as my another friend, our editor always calls me Amish, Namish, because I'm really not familiar with technology. That's why I'm really amazed that I'm here. Really, I don't know what happened. But the story was about a Jewish girl from the past, but I wanted to have a character very similar to teenagers today. And so she have much rage in herself and she was interested in photography. Oh, I forgot to tell that it was created as an Instagram series, short series created of photos, posts and movies. And she was our narrator and our guide in this city. Everything was new for her and everything was also new for our viewers. Teenage students from Polish schools, which are not very familiar with Jewish culture. and history of this society. And we wanted to give them perspective, the special perspective that before Holocaust was life in this country, which we share with other people. And this was us, not them. Yeah, yeah.

[00:10:48.058] Kent Bye: And so that sounds like the origins of the project, but the stuff that you're showing here sounds like it went through some other iterations. So maybe you could talk a bit about how the project that you're showing here at Ifadak Lab came out of this hackathon process of history and Instagram stories and transformed into this interactive web documentary and how the topic of this town came about.

[00:11:08.460] Iga Łapińska: When I joined this hackathon, I felt like I am in the laboratory. And during the whole process, which we share with Krzysztof and Katarzyna Boratyn, our very important co-author of this story, I wanted to say that earlier I planned to tell this story because this is about my own family and life we lived in the past in this village, which is the story about. But I didn't realize that it could be spoken in so vivid form. Earlier, I thought that it will be only a website with these old photos and written story about the village. I didn't know that there is a possibility to interact with these materials and with the story as much as we actually do now. And I didn't know that it could be important for anybody than me, my family and maybe a few people connected to this school and this village. And I must tell you why I had such doubts about it. Because we left the village many years ago And I've lost contact with these people for over 20 years because the school where my parents worked there as teachers was liquidated and there was a big conflict around this liquidation. which involved so many people and which hurt so many people that I felt that we lost this part of our life and that nobody wants us here in this village anymore. And my father is already dead. He was a social leader, a very charismatic person who always fought for something bigger than money or his own life or his family. And when the school was closed, he somehow lost the sense of his life. And when I started to think that I want to tell this story, I was during group therapy and I worked there on my relation with my unhappily absent father. very hard and also COVID began in that moment. So I was sitting in my very tiny flat in Warsaw, watching old photos, missing my father and trying to manage with it. it began this feeling which is probably just missing something. And I wanted to stay closer to him, like to reclaim and rework something and rebuild myself because we had a very difficult relationship. And I really needed to do it for myself, but I didn't know that it could be interesting for more people. But then, when COVID regulations were a bit softer, me, my mother and my sister visited the village for the first time after 20 years, and I've met all these people. And in that moment, the story changed because I fell in love with them and with this village. And from that moment, I was not only looking for my and my family past, but I was looking for the best ways to express this absurd and this beauty and this realism of their life. It's partly a very typical village, as we think about Poland, but also a very strange place because there is this specific amount of absurd and grotesque there. And I don't know if you could feel it watching the story, but I wanted to put in it also comedy elements. And I want to make a web doc, which is also an observational documentary, but partially a comedy, which I know that the sense of humour is very specific in different nations and I'm not sure if it could be translated to your sensitivity. I don't know if you felt that, but for me this place is so special because these characters are vivid. and are funny and also tragic sometimes. But why I focus so much on these comedy elements? Because I returned there with sadness. And when I saw them and this really ugly village full of tuyas and little elegant dogs, in barns, dirty barns, I felt that the situation has always right. There's one Polish poet, I like him very much, Miron Białoszewski, and he used to say, the situation has always right. The situation is always right. So sometimes something changes and we are not ready to eat. But I don't want to fight against the situation. I want to walk with it. And I saw that this is life. This is chlebiotki. And I felt that there is no sense of speaking only about the past, because it's only one layer in this reality. and I choose life and they are important. My mother and our story is only one of eight.

[00:18:20.828] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think it's a good moment to share some of my own experiences and talk a little bit about the broader structure of the piece, because you said that your story and your mother's story is one of eight stories. And so when you come to this website, there's eight different protagonists that you can go through. And then when you choose one, then you start to learn about them through different chapters. And each chapter has a series of photos or videos, but also usually audio that's overlaying it. So you hear the audio narration with them. giving some testimony or giving a little bit more context as their story, or maybe sometimes it starts with a video to introduce them, but then you have an opportunity to listen to their story, but also to flip through like a photo book. You have these little icons that you can click on to get captions and more information. Sometimes there's audio cues at play. So you click on a cat and it like meows. So there's these comedic elements that are infused throughout as well. But for me, it was a process of looking at each of those stories, but there's also a map. I actually started with the map. and I wanted to get a sense of the geographic space so I actually went through and clicked through all of the other buttons just to see what are the landmarks of this place, what's the geography that we're dealing with, it seems like a small town. You said that there was 200 people living there at some point and then now there's like 61 people. and that the centerpiece of this town seemed to be the school over the whole community banded together to build the school but then because of the diminishing nature of the town people have been moving away the school had to close down at some point so now we're looking at a town that is in a state of getting smaller and smaller over time because there aren't new people moving there. And so it's sort of a dying town in some ways, but there's still people that are part of the community. And so it was a bit of a puzzle to see how each person's story was intersecting with different landmarks in the place, but also a very personal story because you feature your mother and your parents and it's woven throughout. So you returning to your childhood history, but be able to tell a bit of your own story, but you're also telling the story of an entire community. through these seven other people other than your own mother, you're able to give a snapshot of what life is like in this little town in Poland. So I really enjoyed it. It said it was 45 minutes, but I think I spent probably two and a half hours in it.

[00:20:30.440] Iga Łapińska: We wanted to hide it because I was sure that it will kill everybody who will read it. And really, I want to thank you that you were so patient to watch it because it's like the life achievement. I don't know how you did it. Thank you. Thank you very much.

[00:20:51.859] Kent Bye: Yeah, it said it was 45 minutes and so I had budgeted 45 minutes and then it was like, well, I'm not even like halfway through this. And so I had to actually come back and watch the rest, but I was so captivated with all the different stories and strands. And I think, you know, there's another story here that does a time-based edition of a book. Borderline visible so it's a book. It's 233 pages, but he gives like an audio narration to it so that you go through it quickly But you get a sense of the arc and I felt like this was very similar where there were stories that were being presented but I was free to look around at different stuff and linger around on any photos or any and additional photos and then sometimes there'd be a little bit of a rabbit hole where there'd be like more videos or more stuff to kind of dig into. So I found myself listening to each of the narratives and then as I was clicking through sometimes there would be an audio clip that would actually disrupt the original narrative so I'd actually have to like come back to that. this is disrupting this other thread that I'm already in. And so I found like sometimes there were moments where I had to stop and the flow of the information was disrupted, but I felt like there was enough agency for me to choose what type of stuff to look at and what order, but also it's a bit of a puzzle to piece together. Like what is the story of this town? And you can't tell the story of the town just in one pass. You actually have to tell it through each of these individual people. And by focusing on each of those people, then you're able to dig into each of those stories and how they're all Connected to the end. So for me, it was a bit of like a puzzle trying to piece together the story and the history But I think I saw the story of your mother third So I was like, oh wow this took a whole turn that I realized at that moment that this was a very personal story that you were Digging into your past and you know, a lot of these photos actually you were a part of this history So yeah, I thought it was like a really well executed aggregation of all this stuff and just something I haven't really seen before of someone trying to tell a story of not only this town, but also your history.

[00:22:46.857] Iga Łapińska: You know, yesterday I've met Sandra Gaudenzi here. She was one of our mentors during the development of this project. And I said, Sandra, I don't believe I'm here. Why did they choose it? There are so many brilliant and how to say it, ecstatic in the form projects and this one is so common and this is just a website and it needs so much patience to... it's like old internet comparing it to all of the stuff which is exhibited in this area and I have something like complex thinking about me and our project when I see the other ones and She said, I know, I also can't believe that they chose it because it's not this time when this kind of project is in fashion, yeah. And she said that she was very thrilled and very glad that they chose it. although it shouldn't happen. And when I asked her, why did it happen? She said, because it's good. And I really don't understand it still. I don't understand it, but it happens somehow. But I think that the other projects are so much away from my point now. When you told about this other history, Krzysztof told me about it and I will watch it today. I thought that this is not the same because our form is very discreet and very un-ecstatic, I could say.

[00:24:39.658] Kent Bye: The parallel that I was drawing between Borderline Invisible and your project is that in Borderline Visible, he's telling you a story, but you're also looking at a book and you're reading. And so in your project, I'm listening to the story, but I'm also looking at the pictures. There's captions, so I'm reading and listening at the same time. And so there's this multi-channel experience of using the web as a format. But I think the reason why I got Chose is it's just a really well-told story.

[00:25:03.617] Iga Łapińska: So I can tell why I chose this form, because earlier I wanted to make traditional documentary, but then I felt that there is something very interesting in it, because when I was developing another project with documentary artist, Artiste said me, where is the change? And in every story it should be the change. And here I understood that because there is no change, our daily life flows like that. The changes are invisible. We can see them only when we watch it from the distance. So I wanted to just stay in this village and let people be there for a while. Maybe not as long as you could stand. Just feel the place. And I want to add also that there are eight stories in our documentary, but somebody other could choose other people. and in this village live a community above 60 persons. So in life, in my perspective, chance is very important because this is my personal view and this cost by the chance because I walked this way and I've met someone and somebody wasn't walking this way at that time and every other artist need somebody else. But I think it's right. We have never a chance to be like everywhere and control everything. And for me it's very important and very interesting. And I like this lack of control in life and this awareness that they can't know everything. about a place, about a person. I could only be with somebody like in life, like with my father, for example, for a while. And it was this unique chance to meet him and to understand his fight. I couldn't do it because I was only a child, but after that you just can't do it. It's a unique chance in the universe and our role is, I think, to try to catch it and to agree with this impossibility.

[00:27:50.702] Krzysztof Pijarski: I think that One of the reasons, Iga, why you voiced these doubts is not about the form of your documentary, but its content, that it is about everyday life and that we feel somehow that everyday life is kind of, you know, lower than the big stories, the big conflicts of history, etc., because Borderline Invisible is about very important contemporary topic and delves into history, like big history, etc. But I think that this is something that is really amazing about this project, that it's unflinchingly concentrated on the everyday. And you mentioned Miron Białoszewski, who was the poet of the everyday, and he would really notice everyday objects, everyday relationships, the taste and the texture of life. And for me personally, I had this impetus or this kind of, I don't know, vision when you came with your project, that it is also something that is about the history in Poland, the transformation. And so I was trying to, you know, to kind of like eagerly remember that this is also about this. I mean, I think it's still there, this aspect. It is still there, but through this very, very intimate perspective, and I like it a lot, because, you know, the school that Iga is telling about, it was built in a grassroots initiative by the community in socialist Poland. And I myself, personally, I was very much interested in kind of reclaiming some of the history of socialist Poland, because, you know, the transformation was a very biased and unilateral movement, you know. Our political elite, they kind of said that everything that was before 89 was bad and that now we are in democracy and it equals freedom. But they mixed up democracy with capitalism, you know. So what we actually entered was capitalism and not really democracy. We're still struggling with that. I mean, you see it everywhere in Europe, actually. And I felt like the disintegration of that community and the fall of that school was kind of symbolic for what happened in Poland, you know, whole swaths of the society being, you know, left alone and then coming back as the voters for the Conservative Party that ruled for the last eight years, you know, and all this resentment that came back. So I felt like when I heard Iga's story, that it is also very much about that kind of, I don't know, disenchantment with the transformation and with this idea of freedom that was supposed to come. Whereas before, for normal people, it wasn't that bad actually, you know, and they felt much safer socially, yes? And that is something that we need to face. So telling the story also in a way, you know, you said about humor, which is super important in that story, but what for me is also very important is that your perspective is not paternalistic. It's not like you are the great director who comes and tells us the story of a village. but you implicate yourself in it and you are part of that story. You don't distance yourself from it and you see these people with love, but also in a very real way. And for me that was something that was super important and also what made the story such a strong story for us while we were working on it.

[00:30:39.830] Iga Łapińska: Yeah, I know that I am so much different than them and I could try to make the change. And at the beginning, I was thinking about this project like about a more political piece, but then I felt that it should be existential, not political, but more existential thing. about life and there are these elements. There is the story of changes, political changes in Poland. There is capitalism and its empowering strength and also strength elements of it, but I choose life and I choose reality.

[00:31:29.957] Kent Bye: Yeah, you had mentioned earlier that a good story is about change and that there wasn't much change in this piece, but I actually think there's a whole lot of change that is in this piece, especially when you think about, you know, there's the modern times where people are living there and some of them have aspirations to maybe move away, so they're like thinking about changes they may want to make, but I think the most visceral experience of change in this piece is contrasting what this town is now and what it used to be in the past with this thriving school and community and a hundred kids at the school, whereas now the school is closed and there's maybe a handful of kids that have to get bused to another school district that you feature one of them, Camilla, who is kind of a representation of what the life of a teenager is now in this town. But if you go through so many different archival photos you have in this piece from when you were a child there with the different Christmas events and just much more of a thriving community rituals that would happen over the course of the year and other institutions that were existing in this place, but now have shut down. So if anything, this is looking at where things are at now and what were things in the past and the different people that were connected to the past and allowing you to dig up all these other archival photos that people can discover as they go through each of those chapters. So when I was going through it, I was really noticing the state of decay of this town like it was more of diminishing of energy rather than more people moving there and having kids and kind of like a future like it's a type of town that seems like in the map there's lots of empty houses is a another metaphor of showing of how many people have lived there but now have left so that for me was a way that I was experiencing the change and why I find it so interesting is just to see all the different ways that this town used to be and what it is now but also how that's very much tied to your own personal story of your parents being at the heart of this community and the school that with it shutting down was such a traumatic event both for the community and but also for your family.

[00:33:29.928] Iga Łapińska: I want to tell you about one more thing because I think that this process and this film was a great impact on the community living there and living in other places but raising in this school because we went to Chlebiotki with our team and with this project at the end of September and made a social event for them and with them, like it was in the past. Somebody brought something to eat, they helped to clean this big space, which now is mostly empty because there are no more weddings in the village, like in the past there were many of them during the year. And it was really amazing because we were sitting in the darkness and on the screen they were seeing a story, one story after one story. They were crying, they were laughing, they were calling themselves, Sławek, can you see him? It's your dad. Or, hey, do you remember it? We were there together. And then the next day, because it's really long, so we had to do it in two parts, the second day, I didn't expect it but before we started Ula and Krzysiek asked me to have a minute wanted to speak with microphone to everybody and they are people who earlier was fighting against themselves because she is supporting the priest and he is against the priest and in the village are two factions and they are really fighting with themselves and they are staying together and Ula has a piece of paper with a written statement and almost whole room of people was crying and I was crying and she was crying and she started like this, Ika welcome home. For this one evening, yesterday evening, you made our little chlebiodki the center of the world. We didn't realize that we are important and now the whole world knows about us. And then Krzysiek added from his heart he lost his parents, like my father died and his parents also built the school and they are in these photos and in one movie made from the wedding movies from 90s and he said for this unique while we were together again. These who aren't with us anymore, our dearest who are dead, and we who are living here now, we were together. And it's because of your film. And I asked them not to share the link or photos from this event nowhere on the internet because IDFA was very serious about this threat that they will exclude us if we will show it. somewhere before the festival and I was afraid because this hunger of sharing photos of themselves. I know that they really want to share it but nobody will publish any photos. And since that moment they many times send me wishes about the festival and they keep their fingers crossed for us. I'm trying to explain them that we have no chances here because we are so simple comparing to other projects, but they feel now their most important thing and... They can see, yes.

[00:38:19.985] Krzysztof Pijarski: that the community feels seen through that piece and that's important because, and I think this is also something that speaks to this whole transformation story, because this was one of the big problems in the 90s that, you know, large parts of our society felt unacknowledged and unseen. And hence this whole resentment that bubbled up in the early 2000s, especially after this crash of the plane. And so seeing this happen in this small scale, that if you acknowledge people and see them, this is in many respects, it's actually enough to make them also... engage in really building a reality together again. And if there's like a moral from this story, I would say this is it. And I think it's a very positive one in this sense. And I really love that aspect that you just said about, you know, how this story changed the local community. Maybe one thing about the process, because when we developed the story, we collaborated closely with Sandra Gaudenzi and also Frederic Dubois. And for the development process we used a methodology that Sandra devised actually here at IDFA, if I'm not mistaken, the what-if process. And part of the process was to really understand and ask yourself the question, for whom we make these stories? Because this is this one myth about doing stuff on the net, that if you put something out there, everybody will see it, which is fundamentally not true. You have to speak to somebody, you have to envisage some kind of persons that you talk to. And in this process, what was very important for IGA from the very beginning is that it's for the people in Chlebiotki. And that was something that guided you. And I think this is something that gave the strength to the story that you did not focus on the world at large, but you wanted to talk to specific people and tell them about themselves. and then found an interface for like a wider audience and I think that that was super important. And maybe two more words about the process of creating the story because I think this is also something that is quite specific for your piece because when you do technology or media-based projects, they have to be well planned because of the cost of doing stuff. And so this development process is super important that you then just in the production moment you just do what you're supposed to do and there's not much wiggle room then left the farther you are in the process. But here we knew that it was going to be complicated so what we worked on is actually that we created a system for storytelling. In subsequent meetings we were thinking about okay what do you need, yes? So one of the things that was first is that audio is super important, that it's going to be storytelling, it's going to be the narration was going to lead us through the specific or personal stories and then there should be possibility to add films or pictures like you said picture books or like collections of pictures and things you could read through but the audio was supposed to lead us. So that was this kind of double layer and then it is all built out of building blocks so that IGA could manipulate with them. So there was a lot, a lot of tweaking. in the sense that when Iga created the first part and then, you know, you worked like for two years on it in the sense that, you know, adding material, rearranging material, like tweaking this and that and it was only possible because it was based on a CMS of sorts. It was like an editing table that Iga could sit down in front of her computer and then rearrange the story, you know, add, subtract from it, you know, and that process also made it, I think, such a mature story because, I mean, stories sometimes need that space to mature. It's not like you can just write it down and then it's done. It was like a constant rewriting and re-editing and I think this is why it's so dense.

[00:41:46.885] Iga Łapińska: And the sound was, as you said, the sound was important because I started from my conversations with them and I knew that these voices will be felt by other people because it's so strong, these stories, their intimacy in it and their honesty and their longing I felt that it's very unique for people, us people. And the sound is also important because it's my way of feeling the space and the space in the village is made of many sounds. And I even didn't realize before I started to work with Jacek Szczepanek, our sound editor, that it could be used so different when I brought him, recorded by Ania Rok, a very talented Polish sound recordist, very known in the film world, which we recorded in Chlebiotki. And I didn't realize that it is so much possibilities because you can hear it and with Jacek we created how you absorb it. So sometimes we recorded sound which the source of it was, for example, near us, but I felt that you need to feel it from the distance. We did it like that. So this is the space when distances between Things and sounds, sources are very important. I don't know if you can feel it here, but it's really complicated sound space.

[00:43:36.206] Kent Bye: Yeah, I definitely appreciated the sound design because at the baseline, if there's no audio track, there's like ambient sounds that are playing. And then a lot of times you'll be at the beginning of a chapter, you'll have an indication on the left that shows you an audio track and how much time it has. And then sometimes you'll click a button and it'll play a sound and it'll stop the sound, or you'll hit a video and then you have to hit back and then it'll automatically rewind by like three seconds to pick up where you were. I found in my experience of watching it that, like, I actually really appreciated getting maybe a little bit of video the very beginning but then to basically be introduced to them through the sound and the photos and at the end get rewarded with a video of them moving around. I felt like now I can actually see them in the space, I could see the full context of where they're at and what they're doing. But sometimes you had videos in the middle and it would sort of disrupt the audio flow that I felt like having the video at the beginning or end meant I could just pay attention to the video rather than because I'm a bit of a completionist admittedly I'd like to see all of it and so as I'm going through it when it gets disrupted I feel like sometimes there was a existing story that's getting disrupted by something that's more ambient that has an audio track so yeah I think that the placement of the videos I would like think about where they're placed in the context so that just thinking about the flow of the user if they're just going through that it's not disrupting the main thread of what they're saying. But I felt like because the way the piece is structured, you have a lot of indications for both how many photos are in this chapter, but also you have a navigation down at the bottom that you can kind of jump around, but also the overall like larger chapters that you can go in between. So I felt like I was giving a lot of indications for how stuff were. The only thing was at the very beginning you have the length of each of the chapters, which was probably cut by half or a third for how long it actually took me to get through each of them. the time estimations were a little off in terms of like how long it would actually take but other than that I feel like the experience of it was that it felt like this really rich way of sharing their stories and many different channels and I could really pick and choose how to experience it. I mean there's a lot of Polish that I can't read and some stuff that isn't necessarily translated some documents and stuff but I think a lot of times you gave a lot of context for dipping into the archival footage and photos and stuff and giving little captions. But sometimes I click on a button and it'd be an audio sound that would disrupt all the audio and then be like, ah, you know, like, I don't mind it when it's a cat meowing and it continues, but if it's an audio that disrupts the other things. So there's some conflicts that were in there that were a little bit of a friction that made it a little bit like I had to kind of work around some of the editing in order to really fully experience the full content of what was being said.

[00:46:09.333] Iga Łapińska: Yeah, I'm trying to cheer me up with these problems, telling myself that life can be controlled. So you just experience life, not very controlled, but vivid. But can we say a bit about our collaborators? Because they are really important in this process and this website was designed and programmed by two very talented people from the Rhythm Digital Studio. based in Poland and I really hope that as I speak their names and the name of the company it will be the beginning of its expansion to the world because I will repeat it. The Rytm Digital Studio from Warsaw and the programmer is Roman Kiel and the designer is Paweł Brzeziński, Roman Kiel, Rytm Digital from Warsaw. My first collaborator is Ewa Jarosz, my friend, who told me that there is in the world something like WebDocs because I wasn't aware of it and she with me twice of this process from the beginning. And people who came with me to Chlebiotki and fell in love with this story, but not necessarily fell in love with the amount of work we shared there, but now are happy. And one of them is Ania Rock, Anna Rock, the sound recordist. and two cinematographers, Magdalena Bojdo, who is at the festival with us, and Michał Łuka, sound editor Jacek Szczepanek, editors Aga Bożym, Ania Łuka, me, myself, and Kasia Śpioch, who helped us with the trailer, and Paweł Zajonkowa who worked with me helping me choose these photos because after every return from Chlebiotki we had like 3,000 photos and we were there more than 10 times so it's a big archive and They are very good, Magda made them, but I wanted to choose them wisely, so Paweł was my very important collaborator. Of course, I want to mention again Krzysztof, Krzysztof Pijarski from VN Lab and Katarzyna Boratyn. Katarzyna, who isn't with us now. She told me that in Chlebiotki was this one person who chose our project and believed in this story from the beginning when we were trying to join the program of Wien Lab. And I would like to add a word about this system of working, because I think it's a unique place in Poland. because they are like a laboratory and I felt like I was like a first grade student who came to the laboratory and saw all these glass tools and I didn't know how to use it. and they let me a very big space of freedom and let me make mistakes and seek and sometimes the way I chose wasn't the best but then we were looking for the better and I think that this dynamic which you Krzysztof and Kasia created was very helpful to this process.

[00:50:14.964] Kent Bye: Just to start to wrap things up I'd love to hear what you think the ultimate potential of these types of immersive and interactive media might be and what it might be able to enable.

[00:50:25.242] Iga Łapińska: I really don't know the answer for your question, because I really don't understand what happened. Why we are here? We applied for Trebeka and they didn't want us. So, you know, I'm a shy person from Chlebiadki. I don't have a lot of self-esteem, so I thought that maybe it isn't needed. Maybe we did it for ourselves, for people from Kraków, for us. But two persons cried watching this story. and then they hugged me and I tried to speak to them and the opening night was very overwhelming for me because I just couldn't go anywhere else. I was sitting on the floor and watching people watching our documentary and looking at their faces. seeing them laughing or crying, and it was so amazing. And I was constantly sending photos and films to Chlebiotki, to people who are our protagonists, to share this experience with them, because they were also overwhelmed and thrilled that this is happening. And I don't know what is happening here, but it's wonderful.

[00:51:48.178] Kent Bye: What about you? What do you think the ultimate potential of these media coming together might be and what they might be able to enable?

[00:51:55.119] Krzysztof Pijarski: That is a good question. I don't think that anybody has a good answer for that. I mean, we believe that it's worth it doing web-based storytelling because it's the most inclusive channel still and it is great to explore VR, which we've also been doing, but we always have the feeling that it's very limited in its reach. At the same time, we all know that interactive web-based stories, they don't have that kind of reach that they could have. So this is the big question. I remember this conversation I had with a producer during Venice Immersive. He was like, oh yeah, you're doing this lab, so what are you doing? Yeah, we are doing interactive documentaries. Oh, well, yeah, good for you. I was doing this like 15 years ago, you know. And with this perspective, nobody does that anymore. And last year during the conference that was summing up our activities, we had a public discussion about this with Lena Thiele and Frédéric Dubois. and we were wondering whether it is worth it doing these kind of stories. But we do believe that it makes sense because this is the space where you can actually freely combine audio, text, image, moving image, and where you can really experiment in putting together all these modalities of storytelling. So even as a kind of experiential or experimental space, I think it's super important. Because when you do that kind of stuff, for example, in VR, it's again a whole... I mean, you can do it there, but it takes a lot more effort. So you have to know what you're doing. But how can you know what you're doing if you haven't experimented with it freely? So, I think its potential is far from used up and I hope it will be more visible. I mean, it's a hope, in the sense that when we look at today's internet, it's getting more and more closed in platforms. There was this moment when everybody was okay, so if everybody's on the platforms, let's do storytelling for platforms, let's do Instagram series or these kind of things. But maybe we will find a space to open up the web a little bit more, where you can have autonomous objects that are whole experiences and not only participating in some kind of huge platform. This is also what we hope for books. We do believe that there is a space for web publications as a legitimate object that can be experienced, that can be specific, not looking like everything else, because this is also a problem. So I think that these spaces, I mean, call them pockets of resistance. We can try to do engaging and high quality storytelling and publications on the web to show what the potential of the space is and how we can use it to connect to the world rather than keep us smoothly scrolling through all the stuff that comes our way because it's too much. So it would be great to work towards that.

[00:54:34.564] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I know this is like the 17th edition of DocLab, and there have been different phases of emerging media. There's a whole transmedia phase where I think web-based documentaries were very hot and popular, and there were a lot of them here at DocLab in those early years. But it is something that has been mostly focused on emerging technologies like VR, AR, artificial intelligence. But I have been coming to DocLab since 2018, and there's been a web-based documentary, one or two of them, for each of the years for the past number of years. It's something that's still there and I think there's still a lot that's valuable in the form and I think in your case in particular the reason why it's here is this is a really well told story and I think it's very deserving to be here and I'm really glad to have the opportunity to be able to go through it and see it. So thanks again for taking the time to help share a little bit more about your story and to talk about your process and yeah for creating it in the first place. So thanks again.

[00:55:26.258] Iga Łapińska: Thank you for having us and thank you for watching this story. Thank you for your kindness to Chlebiotki and to us.

[00:55:35.486] Krzysztof Pijarski: Thank you. It was great being here.

[00:55:38.250] Kent Bye: So that was Iga Lipińska, the director of School A World and as well as the co-director of the Visual Narratives Labs in Poland, Krzysztof Piotrski. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, there's a lot of talk about the form of web documentary, and it's something that we don't see a lot of these days. There's certainly been at least one or two over all the different years that I've gone to if a doc lab since 2018. But I think at the very beginning of doc lab, it was something that was really starting to explore how people could use web technologies to blend together all these modalities from photos and videos and audio. I feel like there's a lot of maturation of each of these different formats. I mean, like you think about podcasts and when it came about and start to add different podcast dimensions and then just like photojournalistic aspects, but they're all kind of like overlaid on top of each other as you're able to have the agency to explore around. I think the baseline is that there's these audio interviews that are overplaying as you explore around either different photos or different documents, There's a lot of puzzling together as to like what the story is in this piece Like who are these individual people you learn about the people but as you learn about the people you're also learning about How they're connected to different landmarks and locations in this small little town You also get a sense of like the past so you're looking a lot of archival material, but also what's happening now So there's a lot of juxtaposition meditating on the changes that this community has gone through but also a lot of these quirky characters that are in this town and like Iga said she came back and really fell in love with the people and fell in love with the town and hadn't really gone to her hometown in over 20 years but was really digging in this archaeological process of all these media artifacts to not only like reflect upon this town and the identity of the town through the context of the school, but how her parents were also connected to that and reflecting upon her family's connection to the community through the lens of the school. So yeah, lots of interesting ways that the web documentary starts to blend together the process of looking at these photos and listening to the stories. And also there's videos in there, but also giving bit of a spatial context and architecture for you to explore around in the town. So yeah, just really fascinating to hear the impact of a piece like this has on a town that has around 60 people that live in Kibiatki. So yeah, really happy to have a chance to see it all. It took around, you know, a little over two hours or so to see everything. Like I said at the top, I'll include a link to the website so you could go check it out for yourself and have your own experience. And as you start to break down and reflect upon how the medium of the web is very accessible as Khrushchev was saying, and it's something that is not used as much in terms of what we're seeing. I don't think there's a web documentary that's really like, You know, we think about the podcasting medium and how the serial podcast really took podcasting to another level in terms of storytelling, but I'm sure if I could think of like a web documentary that's done the same thing, that's really put it onto the radar for the large swaths of the public using the web as a form of documentary. You see a lot of experimentations within what different newspaper companies are doing, but beyond that, yeah, I'm sure there's a historian of web documentary that's out there that could give the canonical list of different pieces, and maybe there's some of them that I've seen, but there's nothing immediately coming to mind right now. So, yeah, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listen-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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