If you knew your neighbours’ stories, would you relate to them differently?

That’s the question at the core of a new multi-platform web project, Inside Stories, dedicated to Vancouver’s South Hill neighbourhood, a diverse community whose residents have lived isolated from each other in part due to the many different languages they speak. The idea for the project came from a group of neighbours dedicated to breaking down barriers between each other.

When documentary film maker Nettie Wild was first approached to do a documentary about South Hill, she wasn’t convinced film was the right medium to tell the story.

“As an artist I wanted to take a creative leap off a cliff to do something I had done something I’d never done before. I thought we could create a piece of art on the web that embraces the complexity of the neighbourhood and find a way to get behind closed doors.”

What better than an art project to get people talking to each other when they meet on the street?

For two years, the creative team behind the project have worked to capture South Hill’s stories and build what they call an “online web experience” — providing a window into the community. Through it, we’re introduced to some of its neighbours, and learn how they arrived to the neighbourhood:

Ben Kwan, the local tailor, was born in China in 1937 — the same year Japan invaded China — and he survived eight years of famine during the Japanese occupation. He came to Canada as a young man, via Hong Kong, and opened up a shop on Fraser Street where he’s been practicing his trade for 20 years.

Johal Jinder arrived to Canada as an eight-year-old, and there met her father for the first time. Johal’s father had immigrated to Canada when Johal was a baby. Struggling to understand her new country, Johal turned to books at the local library for comfort during the early years. She now works as a librarian for the South Hill branch.

For Wild, it was refreshing to be freed from the rigid, linear structure of documentary film and work on a multi-platform story.

“As you’re making a film you’re cutting stuff out to keep the story linear. The advantage of a multi-platform story if that you can keep in more of the complexity of the story.”

Following the soft launch of the website in May, the boundaries of the project were extended beyond the virtual realm — literally. Wild and her team blew up photographic stills from the project into ten by eight foot poster size images that neighbours then plastered in the neighbourhood.

“Just in the act of the neighbours pasting up these photos, all of a sudden the neighbourhood is transformed into a giant art gallery,” Wild said.

The hope now is that the project will draw an audience — and neighbours — from beyond South Hill to tell their own stories and join the virtual block.

Learn more about the site at its launch tonight at Vancouver’s Central Public Library . Full details on the launch here.

Visit Inside Stories online and the Facebook page.

Alex Samur

Alex Samur

Alexandra Samur was’s managing editor from 2010 to 2012, books and blogs editor from 2007 to 2012. Alex’s career in independent media spans more than a decade and includes stints...