Departures Transcript

My name is Juan Davis. I’m the Director of Production of New Media at KCT PBS Television here in Los Angeles, and my project is Departures.

I would not say that we are a traditional shop covering arts and cultures, a critic, for example, that would go exhibition and write his or her own sort of view or perspective on this. I think that new media kind of forward is different, more participatory when it’s looking at culture and the intersections of arts and culture with the daily life of people.

Departures is an online documentary about different neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and what we have tried to do with Departures is sort of take these different stories that come from different perspectives, that come from the people that live there, the experts that know about this area and sort of give them equal ground and equal importance so that it can, like a mural, become sort of a collective narrative.

In the media, stories can be told in so many different ways, and the user becomes an ingredient, a participant in trying to put the story of this neighborhood together.

Each neighborhood is composed of an interactive panorama. The panorama is broken into eight sections, and each section, you can navigate left or right, and you’re going to find this sort of collage of the street. Within the panorama, you’re going to find hot spots. These hot spots can be either people or places. And when you click on the hot spot, the window is going to open, and you’re going to find a video portrait or a slide show, depending on what it is, and you’re going to have audio that is related to either this person or this place.

What we were trying to do was to meld or join what would be considered an offline experience, like a real physical experience of walking down in the neighborhood and meeting people and what it would be to have that experience online.

We started in Boyle Heights, and we took First Street in Boyle Heights from Boyle to Chicago. As we discovered Boyle Heights, we built Boyle Heights, basically, and that sort of allowed us to create sort of a template that we have followed from then on.

We went to Watts to do Central Avenue. Then we did Eagle Rock Boulevard in Eagle Rock, and we did our [magnetopause] so far, which has been the 52 miles of the LA River. We’re working on one in Venice, we’re working on one in Chinatown, and we’re also going to do one in Compton.

Web Stories was a multimedia online series about arts and culture in Southern California, and we tagged it “Cultural journalism in the Southland.” We always invited a partner or an expert or a community partner to work with us to develop and produce a content.

As part of Web Stories, we built Departures. I have thought a lot about the differences between producing a linear one-channel, one video — one channel video documentary about the LA River, let’s say, or about Boyle Heights and doing something like this, and I think that the big difference is it’s — of course you have the fact that you’re sort of tied to a linear narrative that you can escape, but I think that also an important aspect of it is that when you’re tied to a linear narrative, you’re tied to a point of view.

The educational programs around Departures, I think, are very important because a lot of the areas that we’re working with and a lot of the neighborhoods that were concentrated on are neighborhoods that normally have been under resourced to a certain degree, and we are trying to build a multimedia literacy program around the production of Departures that has sort of two areas. One of them is a teaching of multimedia production, and the other one, the teaching of the history of the place and the neighborhood that they’re in and then to get merged together, and each student becomes a producer of different hot spots that collectively between all the students creates sort of a collective student narrative of the neighborhood.

We have a curriculum that has been developed that has 14 workshops, and within these 14 workshops, we sort of have broken down all the production elements of the series, and we take the students into the same process that the producers of the series go through to produce the Departures.

We’re working with Venice High, for example, and we’re going to be working with 60 students there of — 11th grade [60] students for a period of three or four months, and what we’re going to do is have a selection of hot spots and people and places that the students vote on, and then the professional production is going to go and actually produce these hot spots with them so that they can be integrated into the final project.

It is very important to see as journalists, as producers our work not as a drive-by but rather as a two-way street. We are trying to build a national network around the series where there would be cities in the network, and within each city, there will be neighborhoods, and theoretically and hopefully, different PBS stations would take on the project, and they would cover their own neighborhoods and create this sort of social network around the neighborhoods and their cities.

Departures is a very dissident project, to a certain degree because it is so multimedia rich, right? The last Departures [inaudible] has over six hours of content if you look at all the video and if you hear all the interviews. But, really, the resources, the main sort of infrastructure that we build at the beginning was where a lot of the money was spent to build this sort of — a platform to hold the series.

After that, with very little money and very little resources, we have been able to sort of replicate the experience from area to area, and only after we had created three installments, Boyle Heights, Watts in Central Avenue, and Occidental College, we got a little bit more money through a grant from the [Adobe] Foundation to continue the series.

But we’re not talking about a lot of money. You know, a long time ago when photography was in infancy, you had to stand up one minute or two minutes, depending on the light, so that the plate could capture your light, and in a way, that forced the subject to really be aware of the act of being photographed, and that’s one of the things, also, that we’re doing with the people that we interview when we do these video portraits, where we tell them, “Could you please just stand two minutes still in front of the camera?”

If we see the community that we work with as collaborators, then they’re going to behave in a different way with us.

It’s almost a love letter to the city to try to discover ways in which you can belong in it, and that is my way to relate to LA, it’s my way to relate to the people, and hopefully, it’s a way to invite others to do the same.

post a comment
Please note that the NAJP editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.