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Sitting with Vancouver filmmakers Josephine Anderson and Brittany Baxter there’s a lot more sentence-finishing than I’m used to. But I suppose your relationship has to be complementary if you’re going to start an ambitious, interactive story-telling project about a discipline few people know about. Oh yeah, and if you’re going to do it with zero financing.
Baxter and Anderson, both just 25, are the driving forces behind “The Sticking Place”, a soon-to-be-released interactive documentary following the journey of women’s Olympic wrestling hopeful Leah Callahan. Working tirelessly over the past nine months, the pair are crafting a new type of film, pioneering in its subject matter, funding model and medium. At the heart of the project is the burgeoning concept of interactive storytelling – an online technique enabled by recent web technologies allowing the viewer to shape the experience.
“The main difference between an interactive documentary and just watching a movie is you have to give a piece of yourself to the story,” Baxter explains. “It mimics Leah’s journey making choices, and we hope it encourages people to look at their own lives and even decision-making in general.”
There are no experts in this type of filmmaking, Baxter and Anderson note, only pioneers. The National Film Board of Canada is one of them, having produced a number of groundbreaking digital works – among them, the highly contentious BLA BLA (directed by Vincent Morriset, the man responsible for Arcade Fire’s interactive website for “Sprawl II” and “Neon Bible”), and “Welcome to Pine Point”, an online, interactive documentary by Vancouver design duo Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge which explores the digital memories of the residents of a former northern mining town. Enamoured by the possibilities of the medium, the girls decided to use the web for their next film project. The selection of women’s Olympic wrestling – admittedly not the most popular sport in the world – came after Baxter attended the Canadian Nationals to watch Callahan compete.
“I’d never seen wrestling before,” Baxter explains. “It was in the worst little gym in Edmonton – it was freezing cold – but it was one of the most exciting things I’d ever seen. It was only two minutes long and I didn’t even know what was going on; I was trying to judge from how people were reacting.”
Despite how little she understood, Baxter was inspired by the commitment demonstrated by athletes of such an obscure discipline. She related the experience to Anderson and the two debated dropping their existing project for what they considered a more compelling story. It was Callahan’s plain-speaking manner that ultimately spurred their decision.
“I think the strongest reason I’m drawn to it is Leah’s character,” Anderson explains, “she’s so honest, blunt and raw. Going on this high-stakes journey with someone who is like that, to me, is an amazing story, especially doing it using an interactive framework.”
The decision to follow Callahan has proven a good one, with the 24-year-old wrestler upsetting her longtime rival and the national champ this past weekend to secure the spot on the Canadian Olympic team. Requiring only a few more routine victories, Callahan looks set to represent the Canadian women in London next summer. Now, with months of film on hand, Baxter and Anderson have moved on to the next stages of production: editing, design, animation, sound mixing and coding. While the pair are capable of much of this work themselves, some of the more technical tasks require outside assistance. For many on an indie budget this is the greatest hurdle.
Enter Kickstarter, a Manhattan-based “crowdfunding” site, where prospective fundraisers post a short video explaining their project and financial needs, and offer up rewards for donations over the internet. In the case of “The Sticking Place”, Baxter and Anderson have a goal of $20,000 for production expenses. In exchange for donations, they’re offering buttons, production credits and even a sweaty wrestling singlet worn by Callahan. As of this writing, “The Sticking Place” has raised just over 50% of its fundraising goal, with 11 days to go. Regardless of its outcome, the girls say the Kickstarter campaign has been a tremendous inspiration, and they’re adamant the film will be produced one way or another:
“Basically all those people who are pledging to support us are saying, ‘We believe in your creative vision, we believe that you’re going to get this project done and that you’re going to make something really cool and we are really excited to see it, so just do it’.”
Check out the full details of the project at The Sticking Place’s Kickstarter HQ.