Gaza Sderot: life in spite of everthing
Gaza Sderot, a project by arte.tv, is a powerful, interactive online documentary about everyday life in two cities torn by war. We learn how the people’s lives are intertwined. It’s an important reminder and meaningful departure from the regular news of bloodshed in the region.
The amount of material would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the smart design and powerful storytelling. On the homepage, I notice immediately the different font types used for the words Gaza and Sderot. I push play and hear people from each city talk about their lives.
The idea of “life in spite of everything” had already drawn me in, but I enjoyed seeing and hearing from people who live in the towns immediately upon engaging with the project.
I was thrown off when I first hit play on the Sderot video. The beginning of the Sderot video felt jarring. It was so different stylistically and journalistically (at first) from what I had just watched in Gaza. For example, it was clear the people were answering a question posed in an interview—were they planning on leaving Sderot? I was glad to see this change about halfway through the video and hear more raw thoughts from those who live there.
At this point I notice that I’m on one of four tabs. This one is called Time. I like the title. It tells me I am hearing about their time—their everyday lives rather than those days that are exceptions. Or maybe every day is an exception.
When I click on Faces, I see a visualization of each of the people I had just watched on the videos. They’re separated by a subtle, fading dotted line.
Later, when I return to the homepage, I notice for the first time this same dotted line separating the videos. I also notice it is the icon for the website in the tab. The subtlety of this design, and how it becomes more prominent as I explore the project, creates a more powerful experience. I imagine the authors portraying the real line that exists between the two places but also showing that it is not solid, and perhaps fading. Maybe one of this project’s goals is to help it fade, if only slightly.
Dotted lines make another appearance in the progress bar below the videos, as a way to jump forward or backward. There are dates below the video, showing me that they were taken on the same day. This is an essential, powerful detail. While the entry page spelled it out for me, I didn’t notice it then. As a user, I would have liked to be reminded once I am engaged in the program that the two videos were filmed on the same day.
When I click on the “maps” tab, I’m not quite sure what to do. I see black circles, and I can zoom in, but nothing happens when I click on the circles as I expect it to. Perhaps it is my Internet speed, as I currently have no choice but to use the low bandwidth option. It would be great if all features were available even to people who don’t have access to high bandwidth. To be sure, offering low bandwidth was a smart decision either way.
When I finally get to the topics page, I see a word cloud for each city. Some words are larger than others, which I understand to mean were more often the topics of interviews or reporting. That said, the creators don’t explain this to me, so it is possible that they simply did more interviews with questions about “family.” As a user, I would like to know the precise significance of the word clouds.
When I click on a word, I am floored by the amount of material and eager to start watching. I appreciate how each video has a short but meaningful caption, such as “No entry for a pregnant woman” to help me decide where to start.
Upon hitting play, the word Gaza is amplified in bold and Sderot is faded. (The opposite happens when I watch a video from Sderot.) I like how the creators visually tell me I am in Gaza rather than using only words. That said, when I click on the faded “Sderot,” I expect to see videos from the city but instead, I am brought back to the initial entry page, where I need to click play and again choose from high or low bandwidth. As a user, I would prefer to remain within the program. That said, I eventually see how to navigate back and forth between the two—a small banner that says “Meanwhile in Gaza” or “Meanwhile in Sderot.” I enjoy this navigation tool, as it helps to tell the story and also reminds me that I am experiencing simultaneous everyday lives.
I like how, after I click on a word and see video options, I can hover over a video and see (not hear) a preview. This gives me some information to help me choose where to go next. As I click on words and watch videos, I am continuously impressed by the sheer amount of material. I am also moved by these short documentaries. The way I enter through a word keeps me engaged as I move from video to video.
On the video pages, I see the maps with black circles again, and they become more meaningful as the locations where the videos were filmed. There are also comments below the videos, and I can choose to read them in English, which is a great feature. The website offers a “Quick Tour,” which I find less appealing than exploring organically on my own, but I see the value in this for a project with so much powerful material.
Once I’m done exploring this rich project, I notice there is a link to “See the complete list of episodes.” It brings me to a timeline—again featuring fading dotted lines—that is perhaps the most clear and user friendly portion of the website. On this page, it is clear how the two videos are related. It’s easy to choose by date and not quite as overwhelming.
But with this important project, I was glad to be overwhelmed and immersed. It was a time commitment, but well worth it. A beautiful, powerful narrative with a subtle yet meaningful design.