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96.10.03
The Library of Congress Exhibitions

We introduced our weekly review with a look at one of the country's -- and the Web's -- most extraordinary resources.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.

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October 9, 1996

Marshall McLuhan, referring to television in the late 1960s, observed that content no longer matters. Too often, when looking at innovative Web sites, it's tempting to concede the point. Before you do, though, have a good look at "Witness: Roads to Refuge," the first in a promised series of online documentaries co-produced by the photographer Gary Matoso and World Media Live in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The site recently won a 1996 International EMMA award for Interactive Approach in the category of Interactive Magazines.

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"Roads to Refuge" examines the plight of Bosnia's uprooted population in the aftermath of the Dayton peace accords and the recent elections and asks whether the country can now be mended. The documentary itself offers no explicit answer, just the testimony of some of those who have survived the war and are now struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives. These stories alone are enough to make the site worth visiting. Presented as they are, alongside Matoso's groundbreaking use of QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) photography, the site is a must see. QTVR gives viewers the ability to pan 360 degrees, creating the sensation of standing at the center of a scene and looking through the camera's lens as one turns in a circle. The effect is profound, if somewhat dizzying. Enter a bombed-out home in Mostar. Stand in the no-man's land between shattered apartment blocks and the former Serb lines in Sarajevo. Station yourself with American troops at an IFOR checkpoint near Brcko. The black-and-white QTVR images are grainy and somewhat blurred, but they are no less powerful for that. And lest the QTVR photography appear as a gimmick, Matoso has provided an old-fashioned black-and-white photo essay along with the documentary text. His sharply focused, unsentimental images are the most memorable part of the presentation.

This first "Witness" documentary is a serious effort to live up to the humanitarian potential of the global communications network called the World Wide Web. It is online journalism straining at the limits of what the medium can do, reminding us that the content of our communication matters more than ever.



Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.


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