First World War is an ambitious multilingual interactive documentary that seeks to take explanatory journalism to a new level by combining techniques from documentary film, sound design, interactive design and data mapping.
Despite being one of the most important, fascinating and tragic events of the twentieth century, the story of World War I is often told only from a British perspective – and in a complicated and unapproachable way dominated by military and diplomatic strategy. To mark the hundred-year anniversary of the start of the conflict, the Guardian wanted to give a more emotional, accessible and global perspective on a war in which millions died – from Canada and Turkey to India and Australia. The result was First World War.
At the core of the project are seven video chapters that combine rarely seen contemporary silent footage (source from the Imperial War Museum archives) with extended audio interviews with ten historians from ten different countries. Enriched with innovative sound design and specially commissioned music, these videos are framed around themes – from empire to slaughter – and presented in a beautiful full-window responsive web template. Archive letters and poems are interwoven with the historical analysis.
Each chapter is followed by an interactive where viewers can (optionally) dig deeper into the relevant theme. Based around a stunning custom-designed world relief map, these interactive sections offer data visualisations, newly commissioned writing, picture galleries, contemporary newspaper reports and more than two hours of additional audio. For instance, at the end of the chapter on the outbreak of the war, viewers can see step-by-step which countries entered the war, and when and why; at the end of the chapter on the end of the conflict, viewers can compare the map of Europe before and after. An uninterrupted soundscape ensures a seamless transition between video and interactive modes.
Partly because the aim is to provide a global perspective on the conflict, First World War is published in multiple languages. At launch, seven languages were included; these were selected for their relevance to the conflict and included Hindi and Arabic as well as Italian, French and German. After launch, we opened up the translation to crowdsourcing. Portuguese has already been added; Dutch and Indonesian are soon to follow. When the viewer chooses a language, the specially design multi-language system translates the template and interactives in addition to injecting subtitles into the videos – which, being generated on the fly, are perfectly rendered regardless for the viewer’s window size.
The First World War interactive documentary was created by the Guardian and interactive studio Kiln, in partnership with the Imperial War Museum.
Francesca Panetta (the project’s director) said:
The story of World War I is too often delivered through the eyes of a single country. Our aim was represent this global story editorially and technically. I hope this will be a resource people can use for years.
Duncan Clark (co-founder of Kiln) said:
Both Kiln and the Guardian are interested in pushing the boundaries of different media. This partnership aims do just that, seamlessly combining the high production values of traditional video and audio documentary with the interactivity and multiple languages made possible using the latest web technologies.