A history lesson becomes immersive and exploratory via an interactive multimedia documentary on the Cuban missile crisis that went live this morning at CloudsOverCuba.com, 50 years to the date President John F. Kennedy learned through reconnaissance photos that the Soviets were building missile bases in Cuba.
The interactive film was conceptualized for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum by The Martin Agency, which has previously used technology to explain JFK’s legacy, most notably through 2009’s "We Choose the Moon" site, and produced by Tool Of North America.
Narrated by Matthew Modine and relying on archival footage, Clouds Over Cuba, directed by Tool’s Ben Tricklebank and Erich Joiner, guides viewers through the events of the Cuban missile crisis, which saw the U.S. and the Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war.
Multiple layers of information are provided, and the viewer can either watch the 26-minute documentary straight through for a condensed history of events or deviate from the narrative at will for more in-depth interviews on specific topics such as The Bay of Pigs with experts the likes of Sheldon M. Stern, a former historian at the JFK Presidential Library, and Sergei Khrushchev, son of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
A timeline running below the film, which is divided into chapters, tracks one’s place in the narrative.
"The timeline serves as the overarching structure," Tricklebank explains, noting, "Everything changes from chapter to chapter—one chapter covers a full year while the last chapter covers just three days. So we placed all the content in relation to that timeline to give the viewer a sense of cohesion and narrative flow."
There is additional material presented as the documentary progresses, including photos, documents and audio recordings, that is automatically saved to a digital dossier a viewer can access at any time, even by smartphone if they’ve linked their device to the film.
Going beyond history and into the realm of fiction, the experience also features a short film co-directed by Tricklebank and Joiner and shot by multiple Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson that imagines what life would be like today if the Cuban missile crisis had escalated into nuclear war.
"Apart from hoping that it’s a fascinating look at what 2012 might look like if the world had endured a nuclear exchange 50 years ago, the thinking behind the short film is that if we show how horrifyingly wrong events could have gone, viewers can gain an even sharper appreciation of JFK’s handling of this difficult situation," says The Martin Agency executive creative director Joe Alexander.
A real-time Clouds Over Cuba calendar is available, too, and those who opt to sync their iCal and Google calendars will be alerted to the 50-year anniversaries of the 13 most critical days of the crisis and allowed to virtually "attend" meetings held on those days between JFK and his advisors. They can also read communications shared by JFK and Khrushchev during that tense time.