Learning on the job with Inside Disaster Haiti

International Support


Toronto – My behind-the-scenes article on the production of Inside Disaster Haiti is published in this month’s POV Magazine (use password POVdigitalsub to read the digital edition — then subscribe!).

The magazine’s interactive issue is packed with great content, including articles on Kat Cizek’s Highrise, and the exciting work going on at Mozilla Drumbeat’s Web Made Movies.

I tried to use the article to provide a big-picture of view of how the project came together, the great team and advisory board behind it, and some of the lessons I learned along the way.  Among them:

  1. It’s better to be relevant than to be perfect — get your website up at the beginning of production, not the end.
  2. Sharing your content through a Creative Commons license can lead to surprising and beautiful outcomes (all our Haiti photos are available through a CC license).
  3. Love and cherish your documentary film collaborators; their work makes your work possible.

UN soldiers ordering the crowd to sit down

Here’s the introduction to the article; you can check out the full piece here:

Five hours after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, the email arrived in my inbox.  The subject line was short and to the point: “We’re going.”

This was day one of Inside Disaster Haiti, an ambitious multi-platform documentary project about humanitarian relief in disaster zones.  As the project’s Interactive Producer, my job was to launch the Inside Disaster website and prepare for incoming reports from our website’s Field Director, Nicolas Jolliet, who would be working alongside the documentary crew in Haiti.

The documentary’s director and producer, Nadine Pequeneza, had spent over a year negotiating unprecedented access to the International Red Cross’ Field Assessment and Coordination Teams (FACT), elite disaster managers drawn from over 70 countries with experience in relief, logistics, health, sanitation, and more.

With producers PTV Productions and lead broadcaster TVO on board, the film had been green-lit in September 2009, with the understanding that the documentary and web crew would be following the Red Cross FACT on their next major natural disaster response.  On January 12th, after four months of waiting, planning, and false alarms, that day had arrived.

Launching the Haiti blog was the first big step in creating the interactive component of Inside Disaster Haiti, which would eventually include a wide-ranging educational website about humanitarian work and the earthquake, as well as a first-person simulation that used documentary footage to allow users to “experience” the disaster’s aftermath from the point of view of a journalist, survivor, or aid worker.

For me, it would become the opportunity of a lifetime, combining my love of research, storytelling, global issues, technology, team-building, and social activism.  By the time it launched, the Inside Disaster interactive project would involve over thirty collaborators from Canada and Haiti, cost close to half a million dollars, and win multiple educational and gaming awards.

But that wouldn’t happen for a long, long time.  On January 12, 2010, I was as close as you could come to having no idea what I was doing.

Interview 1

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