Far Away From Far Away

Long-form narrative for the mobile phone

FAFFA is a story of Fogo Island, which came out of several in-person chats between celebrated Newfoundland author Michael Crummey and Zita Cobb, the entrepreneur behind a groundswell of change that's been transforming the island — and its presence on the world stage — over the past decade. Crummey said their sessions really started to move from interviews to discussions of real emotional depth when they began talking to one another about their fathers: this is a story about Cobb before the TED Talks, the Shorefast Foundation, the Inn... it's her childhood up until her first jobs as a yong adult. It describes the feeling of the place, and girlhood, and the shift from rural to urban and back.

With the story written, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) approached us to talk about how best to produce a half-hour experience for the mobile phone, integrating the text as audio with mixed interactions, provisionally relating to Instagram stories. The NFB's interactive division has an enviable mandate to make art for the web, so the project was to be interpretive, exploratory, and experimental.

Of course, any story of Fogo Island — especially when the National Film Board of Canada is involved — relates in one way or another with Challenge For Change, named for an activist documentarian project in the 1960s and 1970s. Filmmaker Colin Low and others from the Film Board and Memorial University lived on the island, filming locals from community to community, showing the films as they went, and gradually helping give rise to a cultural revolution of sorts. This method of using film to promote community collaboration and social change became known as the Fogo Process. You can watch many of Low's Fogo Island films here.

Collaborating on creative direction, the NFB's Jeremy Mendes and Bruce Alcock experimented over several months on designing the interactive and visual language. Questions abounded, like how explicitly to relate to Challenge for Change, how archival vs. new the imagery should be, how nostalgic the project should feel, or how self-consciously to riff on current internet tropes, down to nuts and bolts like the typographical identity of the piece. Surrounding all of these questions, there was always the project's authenticity, especially its relevance and acceptability to the people of Fogo Island (including Zita Cobb). Ultimately, it's about - and for - them, and presents them in yet another mediated mode to the wider world.

As Zita Cobb often says, it's not that the place is unique: it's that it's specific. The way FAFFA presents that specificity is, in the end, an unusual 21st century contribution to our wider sense of what Fogo Island is, and how it might have been to grow up there, leave, and return.

Far Way From Far Away: Making of NFB
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