This Land

If you think traveling more than 2,000 kilometres on a snowmobile across Canada’s arctic with a group of soldiers, while facing temperatures as low as 50° C would be difficult, you’d be right. But that’s just what  Dianne Whelan (a self-described “gay, scotch-drinking, pot-smoking photographer-filmmaker”)  did. And she, with the help of the NFB, made the multimedia narrative This Land about her story. Whelan’s goal was to photograph Canada’s north, “to capture it somehow before it vanishes.” The convoy of military snowmobiles that patrol the high Arctic each year was her ticket there.

How It Works

This Land is divided into 16 chapters, one for each day of the journey. A timeline at the bottom of the screen does double duty as both a menu for navigation, as well as tracking the distance traveled, the number of daylight hours, and the temperature (-68° C at its lowest on day 12). This information is also given as text at the beginning of each chapter along with an introductory paragraph on the travel conditions of that day.

For each chapter, the user listens to a narrator tell the story (which they can also read, should they not like the sound of her voice). While the narrator speaks, the sound of the wind blows in the background with the occasional crunch of snow or snowmobile motor thrown in for good measure. While they listen, the user can browse through a mix of pictures and short, silent, looped videos from the trip. From time to time, short text selections appear on the screen, bit by bit, like falling snow. At the beginning of each chapter the distance traveled, daylight hours, and temperature are all listed.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Unlike more fragmented stories from the NFB like Out My Window, This Land presents a linear story with a definite beginning, middle, and end. This is just one person’s story, not a series of stories connected by a common theme. This has the advantage of allowing the user to stay with Whelan as she travels further north. The user learns about life in the arctic as she does and gets to know more about her and some of the soldiers in her party.

Most multimedia narratives are driven by a single form of media that tells the story with other forms of media supporting it. Here, that key form is audio. The narrator tells the story in a way that wouldn’t be possible with just text (although the text is also available) – her tone and rhythm, accompanied with the sound effects, makes the story more intimate. Even though it isn’t actually Whelan speaking, the user doesn’t know any different.

And while the user listens, the photos and videos are there to draw the eye. The photos are rather repetitive (a lot of snow as far as the eye can see), but they are broken up by seamlessly integrated videos, which add a further sense of movement (even if there is a loss of quality), and the bits of text that appear. Like the text used in the videos in Out My Window, these serve to emphasize telling bits – “It’s probably best that most of the men didn’t know I was a lesbian,” for example, or “the Komatik came to a stop inches from my face.” The photos/videos take up the entire screen, giving the user a sense of how vast, empty, and cold (especially when paired with the sound of a constantly blowing wind) Canada’s north is.

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