A Case Study: Bell Fund Web Documentary Programme

The World in Ten Blocks is an interactive documentary that provides a glimpse into some of the hidden stories of sacrifice and triumph, hardship and joy behind the world’s most diverse city.

This case-study was commissioned by The Bell Fund to provide insight into the development process of a web-documentary project in support of the Web Docs Development Fund launched in Fall 2017.

The World in Ten Blocks Interactive, is created by Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal co-founders of Lost Time Media. The project was initiated when the childhood friends moved to Toronto in 2011 to begin a masters programme in Documentary Media at Ryerson University. As part of a collaborative film and thesis project the two creators were compelled to explore their local Toronto neighbourhood — Bloorcourt.

Welcome to Bloorcourt, the ten blocks of Bloor Street between Crawford and Dufferin, an area known for the incredible diversity of immigrant-owned small businesses that are the heart and soul of the neighbourhood. 

The web documentary is designed for users to explore Bloorcourt via a self-guided walking tour where audiences encounter up to ten small businesses and meet the individual business owners. Users navigate the web-doc via a scrolling mechanic to experience rich interactive media content that consists of short videos, audio, photos, graphics and text. Audiences can also encounter a number of “hotspots” that provide historical context about the neighbourhood.

Today, The World in Ten Blocks is comprised of a 34-min linear film, a web-based interactive documentary (featuring 90-minutes of content) and an education & curriculum guide.

From Short Film to Web Documentary

Inspired by new forms of storytelling through Ryerson’s MFA Documentary Media programme along with the industry buzz that came with the launch of critically lauded interactive documentary projects like Hollow (2013) and The NFB’s Welcome to Pine Point and Highrise: Out My Windowthe creators wrapped production on their thesis film but continued to spend time (5-years in total) deepening their relationship with their subjects, living in the community and fleshing out a concept for a stand-alone web based documentary.

One of the key questions the creators contemplated when conceiving the web-doc experience was “can we tell a substantial story about the residents of Bloorcourt in a few minutes”?

As creators, inclined to want audiences to see and contemplate the work — the act of measuring a potential project’s stickiness, the contemplation of latency and bounce-rates became a means to begin mapping the journey of how audiences will experience an interactive work. Thinking about the user, how they come to the experience, the reality of what devices they’d be using, the likelihood that they may not experience the project in its entirety were all important considerations in the overall design of the project.

Producing the 34-min linear film — the creators captured well over a hundred hours of footage of the ten subjects/locations and understood that one of the key challenges of creating meaningful interactive work was defining the user’s journey and online experience of the project at-large.

For Marc and Robinder the answer to the question “can we tell a substantial story about the residents of Bloorcourt in a few minutes” was “yes, yes we can”. They believed in the strength of their subject’s first-person interviews, the overarching narrative of this community to fundamentally understand how gentrification in the City of Toronto would make this community temporal — eventually. They believed that creating an interactive narrative framework to experience the stories collectively would work, it would resonate.

As the children of immigrants, many of the themes explored in the project have long been very close to our hearts ~ Marc Serpa Francoeur


Early 2012 Production begins on what becomes The World in Ten Blocks.

December 2012 The World in Ten Blocks is selected to be Ryerson University’s candidate in the inaugural round of the Telefilm Micro-Budget Production Program.

March 2013 Marc and Robinder are selected to participate with The World in Ten Blocks in the Doc Institute’s 2013 Breakthrough Program (then called the OMDC Doc Toronto Mentorship at Hot Docs), the first transmedia and co-direction project to be included in the program.

April 2013 The World in Ten Blocks wins The Cuban Hat’s Connect the Docs Transmedia Pitch Event at Hot Docs. The Cuban Hat Project is a participatory support contest with a prize made up of cash donations and goods & services from industry partners and sponsors. At this point, the project has not received any financing.

Spring 2014 As with most iterative web-doc project cycles, where the project evolves from sprint to sprint, it’s difficult to delineate exactly when the development process ends and more formalized production work begins. In Spring 2014, the creators began iterating through the use of various online interactive storytelling tools. In one iteration the project existed as a prototype on the proto.io platform wherein it utilized a chapter format (similar to the linear film) where a rough chronology of the ten stories was mapped out, which allowed the creators to iterate and evolve the interactive content experiences for the ten business owners/locations. Buoyed by this process, Marc and Robinder wrote an article highlighting key tools interactive documentary creators could utilize for prototyping their projects (it was Point of View Magazine’s most read article of 2014)!

May 2014 The World in Ten Blocks’ Interactive Prototype wins the Participants’ Choice award at PBS’ POV Hackathon 6 in Los Angeles.

The POV HACKATHON was important milestone — the project was accepted and the benefit of participating was that we left with a working prototype to move the project forward ~ Marc Serpa Francoeur

The hackathon provided the creators with an improved technical framework for the project, and confirmation that others found their first-person POV street navigation experience, similar to the interface that exists in the project today, to be compelling. The creators also decided to utilize scrolling as the one of the key navigational elements for the web-doc, as they wanted the experience to be simple and accessible for users who are not inherently technically savvy. The site’s technical evolution involved the use of Javascript, Howler.js, ScrollMagic and Tooltipster which allows for the web-doc to be responsive and experienced across all mobile iOS and Android devices.

APRIL 2015 The project receives a $10,000 grant through Ryerson University via the Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, which allows for the completion of The World in Ten Blocks Interactive.

At the 2015 Hot Docs Festival, the creators, who were attending a VR workshop, meet an editor from The Globe and Mail, who after previewing the latest prototype, bridged introductions with the Globe’s editorial team, who express interest in becoming a media partner for the project.

MAY 2015 The 34-min film The World in Ten Blocks is licensed to Bell TV1 and becomes available to all Fibe TV subscribers across Canada.

APRIL 2016 The World in Ten Blocks Interactive premieres at the DocX Installation at Hot Docs, an interdisciplinary section of the festival celebrating documentary work that lives outside of the traditional format.

November 2016 the project launches via The Globe and Mail homepage and over the course of four weeks the creators, along with their media partner, release weekly episodic content. Each instalment also includes hotspots that highlight various topics, including different immigrant communities in Bloorcourt and the immigration-rich history of the neighbourhood.

The project receives significant spikes in traffic upon launch on The Globe and Mail homepage and by having direct links in permanent sidebars on the Life, Arts and Toronto sections of The Globe and Mail website. Over the course of the four-week launch, individual video content pieces roll out across The Globe and Mail’s social media platforms.

June 2017, the project has its international premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest, where it was nominated for the “Doc/Fest Interactive Award”.The project was included in the “Interactive at Millennium Gallery” portion of theAlternate Realities exhibition

October 2017 — The creators produced The World in Ten BlocksEducator’s Guide to bring the entirety of the project (the film and interactive documentary) to secondary school students in Ontario and across Canada.

The creators hired educational consultants and subject matter experts to devise the guide that is free to download online for use with both the film and interactive project. The focus of the educator’s guide is to engage students intimately with “a range of subject-centred immigrant experience histories through multimedia, oral, and archival storytelling”. The guide is comprehensive as it identifies student learning outcomes, provides Canadian curriculum links, outlines classroom discussion questions, learning activities, media literacy activities, provides worksheets, a glossary, and a suggested reading list.

Educational licences for The World in Ten Blocks Film are available via the project homepage for schools (K-12), settlement agencies, and community organizations. In addition, a special edition DVD includes eleven short videos from the interactive documentary, as well as a previously unreleased video that explores the theme of diversity. Educational licences for The World in Ten Blocks Film for post-secondary institutions are available through the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC).

The World in Ten Blocks Interactive is presented in partnership with The Globe and Mail and The World in Ten Blocks Film is available on Bell Fibe TV1 and Vimeo On Demand (http://bit.ly/TenBlocksFilm).

A special “Thank-you” to Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal co-founders of Lost Time Media. Check-out and some of the Hotspots in The World in Ten Blocks Interactive listed below.

  • Language Diversity — An interactive infographic that visualizes the evolution of Canada’s language diversity from 1931 to 2011. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Language 
  • Ethiopians and Eritreans in Bloorcourt — Located outside Ossington Minimart, this hotspot features information about the history of the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities in Toronto. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Eritrean-Ethiopian-Community 
  • Greeks in Bloorcourt — Located outside a traditional-style kafeneion (which has since closed), this hotspot discusses the history of the Greek community in the area. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Greek-Community 
  • The Arts in Bloorcourt — This hotspot gives a glimpse at how quickly things change in the neighbourhood by contrasting the old and new murals on the wall adjacent to the Studio 835 artist collective, and describes the evolution of the neighbourhood’s artistic community. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Arts 
  • Public Transit in Bloorcourt — Set inside the Ossington Subway Station, this hotspot uses archival images to illustrate the rich history of public transit in Bloorcourt. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Transit 
  • Jews in Bloorcourt — Located outside Village Shoe Boutique, one of the oldest businesses in Bloorcourt, this hotpot features archival images that delve into the history of the Jewish community in the neighbourhood, including the infamous “Christie Pits Riot” of 1933, which remains one of Toronto’s worst race riots. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Jewish-Community 
  • Street Art in Bloorcourt — The “Rasta” mural in the alley approaching Wire’s is the access point for this hotspot, which features images of great street art from around the neighbourhood. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Street-Art 
  • The First World War in Bloorcourt — Accessed during an archival image overlay from 1919, this hotspot discusses the impact of the First World War on Bloorcourt and the changing immigration patterns of the early 20th century. Also includes images from the nearby Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. plant, where a mostly immigrant workforce manufactured airplanes during the war. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-WWI 
  • Movie Theatres in Bloorcourt — Located outside the shuttered Paradise Theatre, this hotspot features archival images that explores the history of movie theatres in Bloorcourt, including The Paradise, The Doric, and The Kenwood. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Theatres 
  • St. Anthony’s Church — This hotspot explains how the church evolved in response to the increasing diversity of its congregants, and now delivers mass in numerous languages. https://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Church 
  • Bloorcourt after the Second World War — Accessed during an archival image overlay from 1945, this hotspot discusses the post-Second World War immigration boom in the neighbourhood. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-WWII 
  • The Rosina Shopkeeper Project — This hotspot introduces the Rosina Project, an initiative that honours longtime businesses in the neighbourhood, which was spearheaded by the WWCC (see below), Bloorcourt BIA, and others. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Rosina 
  • Working Women Community Centre — This hotspot highlights the Working Women Community Centre (WWCC), a Bloorcourt-based non-profit organization that provides immigrant women with employment counselling and a host of other services. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-WWCC
  • Toronto Public Library — Located at a historical plaque in front of the Bloor/Gladstone library, this hotspot features an image of the building from the year of its completion (1913) and information about the Toronto Public Library, including the language diversity of its collections and the settlement services it offers for immigrants. http://bit.ly/TenBlocks-Library