Growing up in Dayton, "The neighborhood is what saved me," says Carol Coffey, "because I had this front door I could go out." To escape a home roiled by drinking and fighting, she just kept going—first to a machine shop job, and then to married life in the suburbs—but never quite felt like she fit in. Drawn back in after a friend brought her to a music festival, Carol now lives in the historic South Park neighborhood. "There was so much more life in the city than there was in suburbia," she says.
Over the last year, Localore producers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar have worked with a team of community producers at WYSO to surface such signs of life in Dayton—named by Forbes in the thick of the recession as one of America's "fastest-dying cities." Walking block-by-block, the award-winning filmmakers led staff and volunteers in asking residents to explain who they were before the bottom fell out, what happened next, and what they are becoming. Now, in collaboration with Zeega, they've released a groundbreaking interactive documentary tracing the stories of Carol and six other locals in the midst of reimagining themselves and their community.
This week's launch is just the start. Act I introduces each Daytonian, and reveals their answer to the question "Who Was I?" Viewers can watch these vignettes in sequence, or find their own way through the site. Subsequent acts, rolling out through early April, will allow users to discover what happened, and who each person is becoming.
What's more, the site opens participants up to exploring other stories via an interactive journey through the city, and then submitting their own answers to a series of questions about life in Dayton.
"Can an evolving web site become a living, breathing chronicle of one city's struggle and resurgence?" the producers ask. "Let's find out."
Venturing Into Unexplored Territory
Last spring, AIR's challenge to the Localore producer-station teams was to "go outside" and invent new storytelling forms that would extend their connections to community. The Reinvention Stories team has taken up the charge on many fronts.
For WYSO, it was a chance to build upon Community Voices, a citizen media training program led by the station's Sarah Buckingham. The project dovetailed with WYSO's move to new studios on the Antioch College campus, where staff and volunteers met with the filmmakers in a dedicated production space to review the stories they'd gathered, and craft an unprecedented series of weekly audio and video portraits of locals undergoing transformation. The series serves as a companion to the interactive site, featuring additional voices.
For Reichert and Bognar, producing the project involved profoundly re-examining their approach to storytelling. While the duo had previously explored Ohio's economic plight in the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, they had not previously worked in radio or developed interactive films. They describe the sometimes harrowing transition in this interview on the POV blog. "We knew how to gather stories and strong images and interview people, but going into the internet realm was a whole other world," says Bognar. While they were excited about the potential of new approaches, they did not want to incorporate interactivity just for the sake of experimentation. "We want the site to be a piece of art," Reichert says, "but also useful to our town in some way."
For Zeega too, the project offered a chance to continue to push the envelope of interactive storytelling, as they have with other Localore projects such as Austin Music Map and The Making Of.... In October, Zeega's Chief Creative Officer Kara Oehler joined Localore Executive Editor Noland Walker and the two filmmakers at the Sundance Institute's New Frontier Story Lab to hash through the nitty-gritty of the project's structure. Throughout, the Zeega team has worked hand-in-hand with the producers to develop the site, and to refine additional cutting-edge elements that will roll out in the coming weeks.
Check back here to discover what comes next!