Two Canadian companies have collaborated to create an interactive documentary that gives users an inside look at the experience and risks faced by North Korean defectors. Fathom Film Group and director Ann Shin’s new film The Defector: Escape from North Korea follow two women on an life-threatening escape to China, only to be forced to face a whole new set of challenges.
Shin told Fast Company, “While developing the documentary I realized no one understands what it’s actually like to live inside North Korea, or the risks involved in attempting to escape. Of course not, it’s a crazy rogue state that only allows carefully guided tours of the country. I wanted to create something that would take people inside North Korea and give them unfettered access to their reality.”
To do that beyond the feature doc, Shin enlisted Toronto-based digital production and design agency Jam3 to create a unique online companion to the film. The agency is no stranger to cutting edge digital story-telling, having won awards for previous efforts made with the National Film Board like Bear 71 and Waterlife. This time, the firm used actual images and hidden camera footage from the streets, prisons and jungles of North Korea, along with interviews with real North Korean defectors taken from the film, to give us a better sense of the fear and consequences faced by those who try to escape.
Jam3 partner and creative director Adrian Belina says the goal for interactive docs is always two-fold, to promote and elevate the stature of the film but also to raise awareness of the subject matter. “Target markets for film and digital are wide and varied so its really about covering as much ground as possible and ensuring that the topic found within either the film or digital versions of The Defector is seen,” says Belina. “Access to a digital documentary is unrestricted and easy to see, anyone can share the link and watch it on their computer in the comfort of their home.”
Given the tendency of any interactive entertainment endeavour to go heavy on flashy style, Belina says one of the biggest challenges putting the digital documentary together was to deal with the subject matter in a tasteful way. “As creative and technical people we sometimes want to interject new forms of user interface design, which in the case of Bear 71 worked really well,” he says. “For the Defector we didn’t want to detract from the serious nature of their personal experiences. We wanted to create an emotional POV experience that was completely visual so we worked hand-in-hand with Fathom Film Group to create an immersive experience void of any unnecessary bells and whistles or technical gimmicks.”