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National Film Board doc offers glimpses into immigrants’ high-rise world

National Film Board doc offers glimpses into immigrants’ high-rise world

Documentary is affiliated with York's Global Suburbanisms Project

Take a glimpse into someone’s life that is otherwise invisible to most, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 5 in a story about the groundbreaking, web-based work Out My Window, by the National Film Board of Canada, that offers glimpses of lives within housing developments:

Zanillya Maria Farrell is a musician and the daughter of the recently deceased singer Bobby Farrell of the disco group Boney M. Many would label her part of the huge, immigrant community in a southeast corner of Amsterdam and stop there. But her story, although unique, symbolizes the dramatic changes happening in cities around the world.In the groundbreaking, Web-based work Out My Window by the National Film Board of Canada, Farrell’s story is one of 13 offering glimpses of lives within otherwise anonymous housing developments.

. . .

[Director Katerina] Cizek and [NFB producer Gerry] Flahive are also collaborating with academic research on how cities are changing, such as the multiyear Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century project at York University’s City Institute, which looks at how cities have inverted: The suburbs are now the lower-income peripheries and the inner city is the wealthier urban core.

Many people in this changing suburban periphery “don’t have cars. They’re not stereotypically suburban. ... They are invisible, to some extent politically invisible. But they are also physically invisible because they are not living in Chinatown or Little Italy. They are living in these anonymous high-rise blocks,” Flahive says.

“And that’s a really good place for documentaries,” he adds. “The overall Highrise project is not about architecture and urban planning. Primarily, it’s about how people live. The attempt is to peel back some of those stereotypes.”

The individual segments for Out My Window were made by local photographers and crews, with Cizek often directing the segments from thousands of kilometres away in Toronto via Skype, e-mails and phone calls.

Yet, for all of its emphasis on technology, Cizek and Flahive are actually going for something far older: A non-linear way of telling the story of people’s lives in the lower-income high-rises, doing so in the way people in the real world perceive things, in small dollops of information, rather than regular, documentary-length stories.

The Global Suburbanisms Project is led by Professor Roger Keil in the Faculty of Environmental Studies and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.