Professors Kim Nelson, Brent Lee and Rob Nelson rehearse presentation of their interactive documentary, 130-Year Road Trip.Professors Kim Nelson, Brent Lee and Rob Nelson rehearse presentation of their interactive documentary, 130-Year Road Trip.

Bespoke cinema experience to combine documentary film, music and live performance

A project debuting next week will combine film, music and history in an experience its organizers are calling “an interactive live documentary.”

“It’s exciting and it’s scary,” says film professor Kim Nelson, one of several UWindsor professors engaged in 130-Year Road Trip, which will premiere November 2 during the Windsor International Film Festival. “Like any live event, there is a frisson, because anything can happen.”

The work explores research by history professor Rob Nelson on the influence of Canadian settlement practices on Germany. He traces the 1883 journey of Max Sering, who was recruited to conduct a fact-finding mission on Canada’s settlement of its western territories.

Sering reported back to chancellor Otto von Bismarck that Canadian methods might be applicable to efforts to “Germanize” Slavic areas on the empire’s eastern borders — which became twisted by Nazi ideology into racial theories that culminated in the Holocaust.

To tell this story, the team assembled a film by Kim Nelson from visuals shot by film professor Min Bae and alumnus Eric Boucher, audiovisual event documentation by MFA student Svjetlana Oppen, narrated by Rob Nelson, with music and interactive programming in Max software by creative arts professor Brent Lee.

Following a screening, the live portion of the event comes into play, as questions from the audience will find response in additional footage, material and music both composed and improvised. It’s a “deconstructed documentary,” says Kim Nelson, with the discussion guiding the content and images.

“Instead of just answering the questions, we can crack open the film,” she says. “Instead of reading about how there are multiple perspectives, the audience will experience that.”

She says this new approach will result in a work that has never quite been done this way before and will never be performed quite the same way again.

“The hope is to engage the audience so that they are more than just viewers, but participants. It will allow people some agency, letting them into the editing phase of production.”

The live premiere of 130-Year Road Trip is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, November 2, in the Capitol’s Kelly Theatre, 121 University Avenue West. Find a trailer, details and ticket info on the festival’s website.