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idfa '08

Not having seen much of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam - except the morbid mafia of 'Necrobusiness' - luckily documentaries increasingly embrace the web, in a variety of hybrid forms...

'Gaza Sderot' (2008), subtitled 'Life in spite of everything', is an ambitious web doc portraying the daily life of twelve people in Gaza (Palestine) and Sderot (Israel), from October 26 to two days ago. The state of the art website, by Upian, let's you browse scenes by time, place, people and topics -- all the while visually emphasizing the border cutting through the two places.

Gaza Sderot

A more interactive example is 'Thanatorama' (2007), in which "you are the dead hero of the story". Composed of photographs and voice-over narration (in French with English subtitles), it presents an irreverent behind the scenes look at the funerary world.


Another web doc that borrows from adventure games is 'Journey to the End of Coal' (2008), a grimy investigation into China's coal mines in which you are the journalist exploring the post-apocalyptic Shanxi region, trying to talk to miners while avoiding the friendly officials who want to send you back to Beijing.

Journey to the End of Coal

See also the new IDFA section Doclab, "investigating the relationship between new media and documentary". With a focus on data visualization, they collected some classic examples, including Gapminder, Flight Patterns and The Dumpster.

congratulating loesje

Loesje, Holland's wittiest poster girl, turned 25 today. Since she first appeared in the streets of Arnhem in 1983, she quickly conquered the Netherlands with her subversively positive messages, and is now active in at least a dozen countries.

Here's a couple of international examples from her huge poster archive...

Loesje - 1

Loesje - 2

Loesje - 3


Auditorium is a very elegant puzzle game by cipher prime. In a kind of playful synesthysia, the goal is to create music by directing colored light beams. With a visually stunning interface and orchestrated music that doesn't get annoying (a real feat in an online game), Auditorium makes the process of tweaking the puzzles a rewarding experience.


Though the game already has over fifteen levels, it's still only a demo, with a full version promised in the near future. They're accepting beta testers for it too.

coptic egypt

At more than 10% of the population, the Copts are a sizable minority in Egypt, and in most towns church towers can be seen side by side with the mosque minarets.

Coptic Cairo - 1

The Coptic history is fascinating, stretching back to the evangelist Saint Mark, who travelled to Egypt to spread the Gospel and founded the Church of Alexandria in approximately 42 AD - making it one of the oldest churches in the Middle East, and certainly in Africa. (Later, the Coptic church would split off from the Roman Catholic Church after a long debate over what would seem to be theological hairsplitting, involving the divine vs. dual nature of Christ.)

The Copts' early presence in Egypt can be seen, for instance, in the graffiti they left in some of the Pharaonic tombs in the Valley of the Kings. (Again, check the Theban Mapping Project for images - particularly the tomb of Rameses IV.)

Coptic Cairo - 2

Another interesting piece of Coptic heritage is the Coptic script, an adaptation of Greek with the addition of six ancient Egyptian characters (from the Demotic, to be precise). Though nowadays only used in liturgic context, it can be said to retain the last trace of one of the oldest languages in the world: Egyptian.

modern egypt

For a glimpse of modern Egypt, look no further than the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the futuristic new incarnation of the great library of antiquity. A giant disc rising from the sea, inscribed with the various scripts of mankind, the library has space for 8 million books (but so far only holds about 5% of that). It also hosts a mirror of the Internet Archive.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina - 1

Bibliotheca Alexandrina - 2

Bibliotheca Alexandrina - 3

Bibliotheca Alexandrina - 4

ancient egypt

Herodotos was definitely right about the staggering number of ancient monuments to be found in Egypt. What's even more mindboggling is how well they are preserved, surviving millennia of sand and sun, robbers and tourists, often with their original colors intact.

Luxor - Valley of the Kings

Here's a quick tour of some of the most impressive sites, following the Nile from Cairo to Lake Nasser. Starting, of course, with the iconic Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx with its vandalized nose, built sometime in the third millennium BC.

Giza - the Great Sphinx

Moving south to Luxor, the former "hundred-gated" Thebes, with its ruins of the vast temple complex of Karnak (seen by day) and Luxor Temple (seen by night), both from the second millennium BC.

Luxor - Temple of Karnak - 1

Luxor - Temple of Karnak - 2

Luxor - Temple of Karnak - 3

Luxor - Luxor Temple - 1

Luxor - Luxor Temple - 2

Luxor - Luxor Temple - 3

On Luxor's West Bank, the Valley of the Kings contains some of the most awesome of all ancient Egyptian monuments: the exquisitely decorated pharaonic tombs. Unfortunately no photos of their interiors; the Theban Mapping Project is a great source of info and images.

Further south, nearing the Sudanese border, the temples of Abu Simbel provide another awe-inspiring site. These temples, along with the entire mountain they're carved out of, were relocated in the 1960's to prevent them from being submerged in Lake Nasser. They now guard the lake instead of the desert.

Abu Simbel - 1

Abu Simbel - 2