The National Film Board of Canada’s interactive online documentary explores oil sands reserves .
The National Film Board of Canada has carved out an impressive niche for itself, making innovative, interactive web documentaries that bear little resemblance to traditional documentary filmmaking. “I’m totally convinced that the web can regenerate the documentary genre,” says the NFB’s David Dufresne, the creator of Fort McMoney, the film board’s latest project and a perfect example of their revolutionary approach. Fort McMoney is a combination web documentary and strategy-based video game about Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, the boomtown at the center of the Athabasca oil sands, which are the largest oil sands reserves in the world. The exploitation of these resources will be a major factor in the future of global energy, but few have a real understanding of the issues involved. “Gaming is a lever for raising awareness,” Dufresne says, and the game at the heart of Fort McMoney is essentially a lesson in civic engagement. Players have to figure out how to responsibly develop the oil sands, and to do so, they must do research, engage in public debates and vote. Traditional video elements are combined with user-directed exploration: players can take a virtual walk around town, and when they run into locals, they can stop and ask them questions, a remarkable feat that required production of 530 hours of footage. The melding of gaming and documentary is an entirely new approach to narration, at the center of which is freedom. Players are free to learn and explore as they choose, and free as well to raise their voices about key issues and play an active role in determining the future of the city. It is an experiential education that teaches not just facts but how to find facts, consider different perspectives, make choices and make changes—a truly revolutionary use of the web.