Riverside: Interactive exploration and reflection

Riverside “Time and a Clock” Bridge

Interactive documentaries are often at an advantage when it comes to effective storytelling owing to their interactivity feature. The interactive documentary platform is immersive and a near-perfect tool when it comes to location-specific storytelling,

For the past three months, us at Team Riverside have dedicated our days (and some nights) to bring our fascination with the Riverside neighbourhood to our fellow classmates in the form of short clips, pitches, and ultimately a finished interactive documentary. This journey and process began with an idea, which later became a team of four, and is now whatever you will be seeing in a few hours.

The Idea

Spending the past year working with the Riverside community as a part of my Communication Studies Field Placement gave me the opportunity to become a part of a local culture without having to actually live in that neighbourhood. I had access to an “outsider” perspective which later become more of an ethnographic experience for me- where I got to immerse myself into the local culture and practices, engage with the notable shop-owners, and feel almost as though I was a Riverside local, much like the individuals I engaged with on a day-to-day basis.

As someone who has engaged with the interactive documentary format extensively even prior to this course, my first thought upon learning about the coursework was to capture the essence of a neighbourhood through my work. Interactive documentaries give the viewer (could arguably be called a “user”) the opportunity to navigate through the storyline at their own pace, and therefore- to a certain extent- be in charge of the narrative experience they have. The reason why I felt as though it was the “perfect” structure for this type of content was because it created a virtual simulation of physically getting to explore a new neighbourhood.

I took on this documentary project to tell the stories of a few local store-owners, their businesses, how they felt about the community, and the changing face of this neighbourhood. I chose to focus on local businesses for a few reasons:

  • My work at Riverside helped me become familiar with the subjects I later went on to work with, therefore making scheduling and interviewing a smoother process than otherwise
  • The relationship that these business owners shared with the community and its members was deeply personal in nature; a fair amount of my inspiration came from often seeing store-owners greet customers by name, or ask about their family (dogs!), etc. I learned that the home-like atmosphere which prevailed in this neighbourhood is very much fostered by these local businesses.

One of the many charms of this neighbourhood lies in the individuals that occupy it- and by that I don’t just mean every other resident, but also those who make up the commercial side of this neighbourhood. Riverside is home to many local businesses- I mean- it was once home to the famous Toronto establishment known as Jilly’s (an adult entertainment establishment). Through these businesses, and the individuals who make these businesses, I wanted to set out on a journey to bring to screen(s) the warmth and vibrance of Riverside.

Queen Street East and Broadview Intersection (Riverside’s main intersection)

The Process

Exploring

When this project first started, I was the only semi-local in the team. A fair amount of the conceptual and background theory work had to be done and directed by me. One of the most notable points of this process was when I first took the team to Riverside. My passion for this project began to grow exponentially from that point onwards; seeing how the local store-owners interacted with my team, and made them feel at home truly made the team enjoy this area and this process more. My team was constantly surprised by how nice and welcoming each and every one of our subjects had been throughout the production process.

The interior of George’s 54 year-old barber shop.
Curating

During my time here, I have met a fair amount of notable individuals who would be be a great fit for our project. Narrowing them down to a handful had been quite the challenge. I often say that I wish I had a few more months with this project so I could incorporate more individuals, and even more stories. We started with George simply because of his unique personality, and because of how long he has been in this neighbourhood. I felt that he was definitely someone who could provide us with historical insight about this neighbourhood. We wanted to contrast George’s views with someone who was a little more new to the neighbourhood- which is why we got Jackie (Riverdale Trading Company), and the boys from Kaboom Chicken. We picked Alyssa because she brought a family-oriented perspective into the mix- which is quite unique given all the other individuals we had interviewed. Our final interview was with my boss, Jennifer Lay from the Riverside BIA. I personally felt that it was quite important for the film to address the role of the BIA in fostering the local culture and community.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I believe that one of the biggest strengths of our project and development process was our pre-existing relationship with the locals in this neighbourhood. One of the strengths we developed later on was building a personal relationship with the location. Throughout the last three months, the team has spent more than just a fair amount of time at different local establishments- sometimes out of convenience, and sometimes simply because we enjoyed this neighbourhood too much. By the end of it, all of Team Riverside became extremely accustomed to the neighbourhood. Our team also has a strong background in filming, photography, and editing- which made the film portion of this project visibly stronger than the rest.

Our overall weakness?

A video taken at 3am when Klynt was on the verge of breaking down, and so was I.

A large technical barrier in this project was an imbalance of responsibilities and work-load. While I had been immersed in the production, and the conceptual work- I had expected the rest of the team to spend some time overcoming the technological barrier posed by Klynt. The project and the experience, while extremely rewarding, did not live up to my expectations due to the lack of Klynt expertise in our team. I spent a fair amount of time building the project on Klynt, but my efforts on Klynt did not match my efforts on the other aspects of this project due to time-constraints.

Final words

This has been one of the most enjoyable, yet one of the most time-consuming projects I have worked on throughout my undergraduate career. I am pleased with the amount of good footage I have at my disposal, and this is definitely a project I wish to expand on in my own time. Being who I am, it is quite difficult to be satisfied with a final product that does not match my broader vision, so all I have to say is that I wish I could spend a little more time with this project.

Ever since I began exploring the streets of Toronto, one of my primary goals was to capture and show the uniqueness that surrounded each and every one of these neighbourhood enclaves. I am glad that this class gave me the incentive to get a head start on my overarching passion project.