Far Away From Far Away
Bruce Alcock and Jeremy Mendes
| 25 min
Selections and Awards
Technology and user experience
Far Away From Far Away is an interactive story inspired by the early life of visionary Zita Cobb. Written by Michael Crummey, it’s about a young girl growing up on Fogo Island with her father during the 1960s and ’70s. More than a historical retelling, it interprets its time and place, painting a vivid portrait of rural island life.
Designed exclusively for mobile devices, Far Away From Far Away uses simple, intuitive navigation to take us into rich, long-form storytelling.
As we travel through the radical upheaval in Fogo Island’s fishing industry, we witness a dramatic transformation of the local communities. With one foot in the past and the other in the future, you’ll tap and swipe through interactive prose, memories and stories.
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and led by creative directors Bruce Alcock and Jeremy Mendes. Filmed by Justin Simms, with assistance from Fogo Island high school students Bradley Broders, Liam Neil and Jessica Reid. Sound recordist Sacha Ratcliffe and sound designer Shawn Cole round out the key crew.
The National Film Board and Fogo Island – A brief history
Far Away From Far Away is a 25-minute mobile experience that blends elements of interactive storytelling and the audio podcast format, offering users a contemporary interpretation of the transformation of Fogo Island. Designed exclusively for touch screens and smartphones, its long-form storytelling serves to challenge the notion that hand-held devices aren’t suitable for deep and extended engagement.
The user experience is an intuitive one, borrowing from behaviour we’re already familiar with through our use of social media such as Instagram Stories and Snapchat. Creative director Jeremy Mendes explains, “By granting the user greater agency in controlling the narrative, they’re able to decide what to interact with, for how long, and in what order. For example, a longer push and hold will reveal a second layer of video. This allows for surprising moments for the user, which they wouldn’t find with straight video.”
The project was built in HTML 5. Even though it was designed for mobile devices, a conscious decision was made not to build an application that users would be forced to download. It’s an experimental project in that it’s a community-based media project made with the participation and support of Fogo Islanders, following closely in the footsteps of “the Fogo Process” and Challenge for Change.
Far Away From Far Away was written by Michael Crummey, based on conversations with Zita Cobb. Bruce Alcock and Jeremy Mendes served as creative directors, with Justin Simms as director of photography, assisted by Fogo Island high school students Bradley Broders, Liam Neil and Jessica Reid. Sound recordist Sacha Ratcliffe and sound designer Shawn Cole round out the key crew. Interactive programming was handled by Vancouver-based digital studio Intergalactic.
Far Away From Far Away marks the next phase in the National Film Board of Canada’s continuing relationship with the people of Fogo Island. More than 50 years ago, a film crew led by Colin Low headed to the island to shoot a series of short videos and films as part of a larger project known as Challenge for Change.
Challenge for Change was a landmark initiative for the NFB. Designed to put the tools to incite social change into the hands of the community, the program gave them a camera and a microphone, i.e., a voice, enabling them to express themselves and be understood by their neighbours as well as their government.
What later became known as “the Fogo Process” started out as a series of 27 films shot on the island by Low. By inviting islanders to speak on film, Low was able to reveal how similar their hopes and fears were, which resulted in real solutions for survival. It essentially put an end to a government plan to resettle the 10 Fogo Island communities. The Fogo Process became the linchpin of the Challenge for Change project and served as a model for community engagement around the world.
In 2010, the NFB returned to Fogo Island along with Zita Cobb’s Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Arts Corporation to open a brand-new, all-digital theatre. It was the first theatre to exist on the island.
With Far Away From Far Away, the NFB is once again revisiting the island, alongside Zita Cobb and two fellow Newfoundlanders—writer Michael Crummey and filmmaker Bruce Alcock—to create a unique mobile experience that connects us in new ways and reimagines the possibilities of an island and its people.
Michael Crummey is an award-winning poet and writer, born in 1965 in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. His distinct lyrical prose has moved the hearts of many Canadians, delving deeply into the stories of Newfoundland history and culture. After obtaining a BA in English from Memorial University, he earned his master’s at Queen’s University. He immediately dove into his writing career. His novels include Sweetland, The Wreckage and the Giller Prize-nominated River Thieves. His most recent novel, The Innocents, was also nominated for the Giller Prize, in 2019. Works of poetry include Under the Keel, Savage and Hard Light, which was made into a feature film of the same name with the National Film Board of Canada.
Newfoundland-born, Vancouver-based Bruce Alcock is an award-winning multimedia filmmaker and creative director. Fascinated by animation since he was a young boy, Alcock started making short films in his teens. Throughout his education, he explored many artistic interests, including music and art. He studied Music in Performance at the University of Toronto in 1985, then completed a BA in Literary Studies in 1990, but in the end returned to his true love, animation. In addition to films like Impromptu, 54 Hours and At the Quinte Hotel, Alcock has also directed more than 500 commercials and co-founded three animation studios: Cuppa Coffee (Toronto), Tricky Pictures (Chicago), and Global Mechanic (Vancouver). Working in a mix of all physical and digital techniques, Alcock is above all an experimental artist. He enjoys pushing the boundaries, trying new things, and creating meaningful new work.
Photo : Adam Gilmer
Jeremy Mendes is an artist focusing on interactive design, storytelling and creative conceptual work. He is also skilled in information design, motion design, brand development and advertising. A graduate of Emily Carr University, he specializes in art direction, creative design, design and illustration. A multiple Webby Award winner, he has enjoyed much success with several interactive projects produced by the NFB, including The Seven Digital Sins (with The Guardian), The Last Hunt, The Devil’s Toy Redux and This Land.
Producer and Executive Producer
Photo : Dave Howells
An accomplished producer committed to collaborating with artists to craft transformative stories, Annette’s select producer credits include The Boxing Girls of Kabul (2011, IDFA and CSA for best documentary short), Hard Light (2012, FIFA Jury Award), Danny (2014, Hot Docs Big Ideas series), 54 Hours (2014, Yorkton Founder’s Award), Gun Runners (2015, Hot Docs), Theater of Life (2016, Berlin), Hand. Line. Cod. (2016, TIFF), Love, Scott (2018, Hot Docs, BFI Flare, Inside Out, One World) and Assholes, a theory (CPHDOX). In addition to Conviction, her current productions reflect on the human condition through the eyes of a twelve year old Yazidi boy arriving in Canada, and inside the lives of resilient women along the Brazilian Amazon. As executive producer for NFB’s Quebec Atlantic studio, Annette envisions a potent and ambitious slate of short form and feature documentaries, animation, and interactive story telling across a rich and large territory.
Rob McLaughlin is a Canadian producer and journalist most known for his work in digital media. He is currently the Executive Producer and Head of the National Film Board of Canada’s Digital Studio in Vancouver. From 2008 to 2011, he was the Director of Digital Content and Strategy at the NFB, where he led the development of the institution’s digital programming strategy and pioneering interactive documentary work, including Welcome to Pine Point and Bear 71. His most recent credits include the VR projects Homestay and Biidaaban: First Light.
From 2011 to 2015, he was an editor, publisher and senior executive at Canada’s largest newspaper chain, responsible for leading newsroom staff through a time of radical transformation in the newspaper industry.
Prior to working at the NFB, Rob was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. There he focused on developing new forms of audiovisual content designed to attract new audiences for public broadcasting, including the interactive radio service CBC Radio 3. He also served as the CBC’s director of digital programming, responsible for the creative development of digital platforms in the areas of documentaries, arts and entertainment shows for television and network radio programming.
A former tree planter and fishing guide from small-town Saskatchewan, Rob now lives in North Vancouver with his wife and the world’s two most brilliant girls, aged 10 and 14.
From conversations with Zita Cobb
Bruce Alcock and Jeremy Mendes
Director of Photography
UX and Visual Design
Featuring Music by
Footage from the installation,
From the Lion’s Den,
appears courtesy of
Studio Operations Manager
Senior Production Coordinator
Leslie Anne Poyntz
Sergiu Raul Suciu
Additional Video Editing
Michelle van Beusekom
Special Thanks to
The Cobb Family
Fogo Island Arts
Fogo Island Central Academy
Lane House Museum
Mary Queen of the World
The generous people of Fogo Island
About the NFB
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is one of the world’s leading digital content hubs, creating groundbreaking interactive documentaries and animation, mobile content, installations and participatory experiences. NFB interactive productions and digital platforms have won over 100 awards, including 21 Webbys. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.