When we first saw the interactive documentary "atterwasch" our whole team dropped everything and got sucked into the experience. It's a haunting cautionary tale about a tiny German town struggling to exist while a Swedish energy company threatens to demolish their village and strip-mine it to harvest brown coal. The story begins in the far future, imagining an apocalyptic world where the mining operations consume the landscape, then moves back in time to the earliest days of the town’s existence. We caught up with author and producer Frédéric Dubois for insights into how they made this gorgeous, cinematic story.
How did the Atterwasch project come about?
My pal photographer Marco del Pra' and myself were both completely blown away when we heard that villages were still being removed in Germany to make way for coal extraction. We couldn't believe it, and so we drove down from Berlin to the Lusatia region to get the story from the horse's mouth. There, we drove into Atterwasch and thought "wait a minute, this is it."
Clearly there was a sophisticated team in place, can you illuminate some details about the production process and timeline?
The project took 10 months to produce, from concept to delivery. Marco and I developed the storyline, worked out the storyboard with gifted illustrator Edith Carron and went into production with the coders at Honig Studios, sound designer Hannes Schulz and web designer Olivier Guillard. There were tons of iterations and many production steps, such as finding the funds, organizing the trips to Atterwasch and negotiating the interactive storytelling part.
Why did you chose to make this a scroll-down documentary and how did that shape your vision for the narrative?
We were clear on the fact that we wanted to confront the viewer with a village that has been removed and so we decided to start the experience in the future, making it possible to scroll back history, so to speak. We thought that this dramatic twist would work well with the story and the technology.
How does the interactive documentary form appeal to you as a storyteller?
Interactive documentaries are my passion. I used to work for the National Film Board in Montreal and developed the gusto there. Now I'm trying to make a living by authoring and producing internet-adapted documentaries. I believe in the internet as a place where we can tell long stories, where we can experiment and play. This is what I'm attracted to.
What would you recommend to people who would like to take on a large interactive documentary such as Atterwasch?
Do it. But do it by surrounding yourself with capable and complementary hard-working craftsmen and craftswomen. For me, web documentaries are a genre, not a trend of a fad.
And for fun: if you had to write a fortune cookie, what would it say?
You are a storyteller. Tell a story that matters.
Thanks Frédéric! Follow Frédéric on twitter at: http://twitter.com/fredericdubois