In the Spring of 2012, Emmy-winning, Oscar nominated filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar, along with about 15 other media artists, hit the streets of Dayton asking the question, “How is Dayton doing?” Engaging subjects in thoughtful interviews and creating compelling, non-fiction stories is nothing new for Reichert and Bognar – but it turns out that this project was much more difficult than anticipated.
“This was a really ambitious project,” said Bognar. “We were attempting to take the pulse of the whole city. And we did not know what the answers would be.”
After identifying a handful of focus neighborhoods, the group—which was a collaboration with WYSO 91.3 FM— split into teams. They began to find and interview people who were in the process of reinventing themselves. In addition, the group documented over 35 events throughout the city. After weeks and months of sifting through hundreds of hours of material (not to mention a whole different language of web design), the resulting efforts can now be seen on an interactive website – ReinventionStories.Org.
Upon logging on the site, the first thing you’ll see is a beautifully animated introduction featuring a vintage postcard of the city and various soundbytes from numerous interviews. This introduction leads into an 18-minute documentary featuring 7 individuals from various neighborhoods. Using a combination of still photography, audio interviews and video footage, users get a sense for who these people are and how they are in the process of reinventing themselves. Each piece ends with a sort of cliffhanger. This 18-minute piece is merely Act One of three. In the coming weeks, each of the seven characters’ stories will continue in Act Two and Three. Reichert says that as the stories unfold, more dramatic material will reveal itself. She said, “These stories fit together to tell a bigger story about the city. We wanted to capture our City’s life and diversity and to show that we’re not all that far from each other. We’re all in this together.”
Those ideas are conveyed even more as we “Drive the Road.” This section of the website takes the viewer down East 3rd Street. The voice of Carol Coffey, teller of one of the stories, asks: “ What signs of life do you see in Dayton?” While passing storefronts and houses, a series of bubbles appear that allow the user to watch short stories about events from over the summer, prompting the viewer to think about that question. One story is about the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus, another is about the Blessing of the Bikes, another, the World Soccer Tournament, sponsored by Welcome Dayton.
The storytellers want us to think about the fabric of the city…that all these very different events are happening in the same town.
In a third section of the site, the user is asked questions like “Where do you see signs of life in Dayton?” or “What city event do you most look forward to each year?” Once answered, the responses are broadcast via twitter. @ReinventDayton
In addition to new sections of the documentary, the coming months will see more coverage of events while “Driving Down the Road” and additional questions posed to users. The team also noted that “treasures have yet to be unveiled.”
The website went live in late February, but the idea is to let the website become a living, breathing site that will reveal more elements in time. The interactive part will rely on users to keep it fresh and alive. By April, Daytonians can upload their own stories of reinvention.
This project came about when WYSO director Neenah Ellis approached Reichert and Bognar regarding a national competition called LOCALORE – a new initiative of the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), in collaboration with Zeega (a group of people who want to push non-fiction storytelling into unchartered territory*). Hundreds of organizations applied for the competition – only 10 were selected.
Bognar said he had so much fun running around the city over the summer. He noted that there was so much to do and that events were all always well attended. “When we started, we weren’t really sure how the city was doing. But luckily for the project and for the community, a corner was turning as we hit the streets. People were taking risks, opening new businesses, forming groups,and we caught the wave.” Reichert added, “A year later, we can answer with certainty. Yes. The city is very much alive and growing.
*AUTHOR’S BONUS NOTE FOR CINEASTES – Bognar told me that Zeega is named after Dziga Vertov – director of the masterpiece MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. This is a great treat for film lovers. Vertov’s films and theories influenced the cinema verite movement…which pushed “non-fiction storytelling into unchartered territory.”