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World Press Photo multimedia winner takes viewers inside prison system

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World Press Photo multimedia winner takes viewers inside prison system

Lindsay Kalter | September 06, 2011

Cañon City, Colorado is "a prison town where even those living on the outside live on the inside." Now, through the multimedia documentary platform, internet audience members can see the inside, too.

"Prison Valley," a web documentary that takes a close look at the prison industry, lets visitors navigate the issue using methods including audio, photography, audience discussion and a one-hour linear video.

In May, the documentary -- which cost about €220,000 euro (about $US 284,000) to make -- won first place in the Interactive Production category at the World Press Photo 2011 Multimedia Contest in Amsterdam.

Philippe Brault, a photojournalist involved in the project, discusses in a Q&A with IJNet the Prison Valley project (his first web documentary) and the advantages of using this medium:

IJNet: How was the idea of Prison Valley conceived?

PB: Since the beginning, the question David Dufresne and I had was: How do we tell a story differently because the technology is there and because it’s high time?

How do you keep the feverish energy and rigor of journalism, but do something different with them because there’s no choice in the current journalistic crisis?

It began as an idea for an simple audio slideshow, in a Paris café in December 2008. Before we set out, we had a long, passionate discussions about the interactive form with Alexandre Brachet, our producer and Upian’s development team and Arte team. We showed the documentary in its traditional form at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam and the Sheffield Festival as well (November 2009).

IJNet: How do you think this medium, compared to other lower-tech platforms, helps communicate this issue to your audience?

PB: It invites you to go beyond the film, to take part in online debates and exchange emails with people who appear in the actual documentary. It is in three languages, exists as an iPhone application, a TV documentary and a book. In my opinion, its most innovative aspect is keeping the coherence of the story through the strategy of allowing access to different parts of the documentary only when you have seen the previous ones. And of course, another important aspect is the space for debating with other users and characters.

IJNet: What types of tools were used?

PB: I found out all the different things you could do with a hybrid camera like the Canon Mark II only a few months before the first shoot.

Initially, the only thing that interested me about this particular body was that it had manual release and that you could get quite a small depth of field because of its view camera sensor, which is equivalent to that of a 35mm camera. This camera revolutionized video film as well as the history of digital film. For the first time, it was possible to get high-quality results on a small or medium-sized budget. As a software we used Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.