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New interactive documentary empowers rape victims and viewers

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Be ready to be a witness. The interactive web documentary The Space We Hold is all about sharing with the audience. The documentary is about three former “comfort women” and their testimonies of being forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII.

It starts with the change of the title, from ‘I’ to ‘you’ to ‘we’, underlining that this will be a shared experience. This interaction creates an immediate emotion in the viewer. The sound is very powerful, intense and painful as is the content of the story. Through continuous interaction, viewers must scroll through text to find out more.

Viewers are then given a choice to whether they want to listen to the survivors’ stories. This is clever because it ties into the crucial issue: women, who are raped, do not have a choice. Viewers must hold the spacebar to listen. They are fully immersed in the experience. The experience is shared. Viewers have the power to allow these women to speak or to silence them. David Oppenheim, a producer on the project, agrees. He says that holding the space, in a literal sense, gives meaning to allowing women to speak. It gives them room to speak. The intent of the viewer becomes a metaphor.

After listening to the survivors, viewers are thanked and invited to add text responses. Text responses of users, who chose to listen and also not to listen, are displayed. Thus, making the viewers’ reactions part of the content of the documentary.

What worked well for me is that the documentary required a full commitment of the viewer. The viewer was unconsciously in an emotional contract with the survivors by scrolling, clicking and holding. Although the contract was limited, as interviews could not be skipped or selected, the viewer was still fully engaged. The space we hold as viewers built the narrative. The space we hold allowed survivors to share their stories and empowered us, the viewer, to empower them. I thought this was very powerful as it maintained the integrity of the survivors and their stories.

The Space We Hold was created by Toronto filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung, Chris Kang, and producers Patricia Lee and David Oppenheim.

The Space We Hold can be viewed for free at http://spacewehold.nfb.ca

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