“Can you imagine organizing on the internet to save your building, stop a war or start a labor movement?”
A digital 9-year-old girl urges viewers to consider the possibilities the “world-wide web” has to offer. This fictional character is one of three hosts in the interactive video “Universe Within,” the final piece of Katerina Cizek’s series of documentaries titled “Highrise.” Cizek directed the film, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and worked alongside Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scholars as a member of its Visiting Artist Program to gather data.
“Sherry Turkle at MIT has done some important work on the impact of technologies on children and youth but from a classical psychological perspective,” Cizek said. “We need a lot more research and discussion.”
Cizek works in many mediums of film, in which she often experiments with satellite imagery and a three-dimensional space. The two-time Emmy-winner from Canada will be the visiting Porter College artist at UC Santa Cruz on Jan. 25 and will speak about her style of filmmaking and most recent documentary project.
“Documentary is a different style of filmmaking,” said UCSC film student Julian Gomez. “You can easily tell someone’s story wrong — different from what they’re trying to say and what you want to say.”
The beginning page of Cizek’s video features the hosts, composed of the animated pixels, hovering across a night sky landscape. With the click of a mouse viewers have the freedom to choose a host to guide them through different parts of the interactive video tour. A host may ask viewers for their permission to talk or thank them for their attention during the array of video clips about cultures around the world that use technology for different purposes. The composition allows viewers to decipher these stories without a voice of authority.
“Interactive and nonlinear forms of documentary production match well with the evolving ways in which we process and look for information,” said Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, social documentation and assistant film and digital media professor at UCSC.
“Universe Within,” explores how technological advancements take shape within the lives of individuals who live in high-rise buildings in 20 different locations around the globe. These high-rises are often home to immense poverty in small and deteriorating quarters in the center of an urban setting.
“I began research, and met world-class urbanists in Toronto who are looking at how poverty is segregating not only this city, but all around the world,” Cizek said in an email.
Cizek tells stories ranging from a woman who migrated from Indonesia to Singapore for work, a woman subjected to dangerous working conditions including high-rise window cleaning, to a Chinese woman struggling with her sexuality. She explores how the world of digital media allows these individuals to find unity among social media outlets like Facebook. Similarly, these sites allow students at universities to circulate information and improve campus life.
Cizek circles around the rapid evolution of the digital world and the increase of vertical architecture — both inevitable developments that began to shift the dynamic of communities. The integration of these ideas demonstrates the lengths to which technology bolsters activism within these communities, yet hinders physical interaction between people.
“Kat summarizes that paradox quite well,” Maytorena Taylor said. “The ways in which we relate to technology have a lot to do with our underlining specific social practices, depending on where we live.”
The “Highrise” project reflects Civek’s curiosity of the digital media revolution around the different applications of technology in the hands of the current generation.
“It’s an infrastructure as any other, and vulnerable to corporate and dictatorial interests,” Cizek said. “The digital sphere is caught up in the same battles we face over keeping our cities, our climate and our communities democratic, just and fair.”
She sparks a conversation around the future of technology with an open mind without putting the possibilities in opposition.
“The tendency in this discussion is to polarize. There are two predominant ideologies: either technology is evil or redeeming,” Cizek said. “It’s more nuanced and complicated than that.”