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2016 Feature, Medium Newsroom finalist

Inheritance

Organization
FRONTLINE

Award
Feature, Medium Newsroom

Program
2016

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About the Project

A box of notebooks. Two cassette tapes. Thirty-six cents. These are items that filmmaker Ken Dornstein has kept since his brother, David’s death in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

The disaster left only fragments of David Dornstein’s life behind. His younger brother, Ken, inherited them, along with a lasting sense of responsibility to preserve what was left, gather up what was missing, and work to make sense of it all.

When Dornstein was completing “My Brother’s Bomber” his three-part, serial film investigating the Lockerbie bombing, FRONTLINE digital producer Michelle Mizner and media artist Jeff Soyk searched for a way to tell Dornstein’s personal story that would resonate with audiences beyond the broadcast.

Over the course of five months, Mizner and Soyk would dive into the exhaustive reporting of the case, but also deeper into Ken’s motivation, both as a brother and as a journalist. It was a story they wanted to tell digitally, allowing users to navigate at their own pace, either in a linear or non-linear format. The result was “Inheritance,” an emotional interactive experience combining video, audio, still images and written narrative.

Mizner and Soyk wanted audiences to feel like they were sitting at a table with Ken, talking about his life, his brother and what these items meant to them both. Tangible artifacts of their relationship serve as chapters of “Inheritance”: the items David had in his pockets when he boarded Flight 103, still dirty from the ground in Scotland; photographs of Ken and David together throughout their lives; a map showing where every person fell to their death; and David’s last letter home, which arrived in the United States after his death.

News reports from that fateful day, first-person accounts from Ken, and David’s own archived audio tapes help bring these items to life. Viewers hear first-hand Ken’s sense of conviction around identifying the suspects and whether that would bring him satisfaction. Audio throughout the interactive connects listeners to Ken’s 27-year search for closure and justice.

Inheritance includes a single screen reminding viewers of the stark reality of the Lockerbie bombing: the number of passengers killed- 263; flight time before the explosion- 38 minutes; the area upon which victims and debris were spread- 845 square miles. And lesser know statistics: years the flight’s captain had been a pilot- 32; the oldest passenger- 79 years old; the youngest- 2 months. Amidst an emotional exploration of David’s life and death, we are reminded of the impact and scale of the tragedy.

Published Oct. 29, 2015, Inheritance was optimized for both mobile and desktop. Viewers praised the content, calling it “heartbreaking but beautiful,” and “enormously powerful” and lauded it as an experiment in form: “just raised the bar in digital storytelling.”

By telling the narrative not only of the victim, but of those left behind, Inheritance intimately reflects on the lives forever changed by a terrorist attack. This experience, while uniquely personal, tells a universal story of loss and grief through an interactive and emotional journey.