How to ... make an interactive documentary

From Global development | The Guardian Wed Feb 27 2013, 16:48:59

Christian Aid's 'Big River Rising' documentary has been shortlisted for a digital media award. Emma Wigley shares her five top tips to get a similar project off the ground

Early last year I was given the rather daunting task of finding a creative way to make Christian Aid's resilient livelihoods and disaster risk reduction (DRR) work appealing to mainstream media. As important as this work is, resilient livelihoods and DRR are not exactly 'sexy' media terms. They don't have quite the same ring as, say, rehabilitating former child soldiers or inter-ethnic tensions in some distant fragile state.

Instead it usually involves introducing early warning systems, training search and rescue teams in areas prone to extreme flooding, or providing drought-resistant seeds to African or Asian farmers facing the impacts of climate change. Not activities that journalists generally fall over themselves to cover. Undeterred, I started to do a bit of research and found myself immersed in a subject that, as it turns out, is far more interesting than it sounds.

I came across a project in the Philippines, where scientists were training communities vulnerable to flooding during the monsoon and typhoon season, to understand their geological environment better and plan for disaster mitigation. Their work was innovative, but we wanted to present it in a way that would make a greater impact, than what a standard press release achieves. Working with a photographer colleague, Matthew Gonzalez Noda, we settled on the concept of an interactive documentary and Big River Rising was born.

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