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Those looking for a great example of a documentary-film concept successfully realized online should check out Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge’s Welcome to Pine Point, a powerfully melancholic about place, memory and the macro-economic forces that reshape both. The piece was developed in 2010, so I realize I’m quite late to the party on this one, but it’s quite extraordinary and worth your look. Music, Super-8 film clips, text on screen, and plenty of points of interaction allow you to explore the now-vanished Canadian town while feeling the creators’ ineffable nostalgia for it.

From an interview with the creators on Nieman Storyboard.

Where did the Pine Point project come from?

Simons: From us. We always have a dozen or more projects on the go. We stumbled across a website called “Pine Point Revisited.” Pine Point was a small town in the Northwest Territories that I had visited as a kid. I was about 9 years old and going to a hockey tournament, and it was the first place I went alone without my family. So I just looked it up one night when I remembered that I had been there, and it was gone. It wasn’t even on the map anymore. It had been removed from the earth in 1989. That was our starting point: what happened to this town?

The “Pine Point Revisited” site was made by one of the former residents. It had a real wealth of visual assets and tons of photos, and people who had lived there had contributed video and badges and all sorts of artifacts of the town. You could tell there was a deep-rooted community there. This was more than just a tribute to a town. There did seem to be a secondary or deeper community that was still existing.

That’s where we started from. How was this community preserved in this way that housed memory and what was the story behind why the town disappeared?

You mentioned this trip you made when you were 9. There were some other memories of your own that get woven into it – I remember you come back to your own past at one point in the story with the space junk. How did you approach the question of how much to make yourself part of the story?

Shoebridge: That was a back-and-forth as far as where the narrative voice would come in, and whether there would be a narrative voice. We started out actually not having Mike’s voice as the primary thing, and then as we moved further in and the more personal the story became, the more we realized it would be beneficial to just tell the story from that point, to give it a good beginning and also to give the readers somebody to compare themselves to. In the way that we like to identify with narrators, we felt this was a story people could identify with. We felt like having a person attached to that voice would help them do that.

Narrative can be a wide term. How did you think of this as a story?

Shoebridge: I don’t know if we were thinking of it in technical terms. I think we just told the story how we thought we could tell it. How it became what it is now was a function of the organic process. Because we wrote it together, and there are many of my experiences as well as Mike’s experiences woven into this single thing, I don’t think it’s a journalistic document. We think that it’s more part memoir for people growing up at that time and feeling things about what memory was to us, what tangible objects meant to us, and how memory gets flaky but interesting and romantic. Sometimes concrete and sometimes evocative.

For us, we kept writing the story around that and tried to keep it as intimate as possible. Because we were creating the visuals as part of it, we had the luxury of not having to hand it over to a cinematographer to realize the story. We were able to say, “This is where a picture would do better than words, and this is where words would do better than pictures.” And then to include sound as well. We were building the narrative room that we felt the story could take place in.

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