Image: Tasmanian Ghost Town Project (NZ)

In this year’s Melbourne WebFest Official Selection, there were three non-fiction web series that caught our attention and made us travel without leaving our couches. Through their various episodes, Life Underground (FRA), Misadventures (NZ) and Tasmanian Ghost Town Project (AUS) introduced us to different places and cultures.

Tasmanian Ghost Town Project takes us to the West Coast of Tasmania, where between the leafy forests and misty mountains, old forgotten mining towns can be found.

Dennis Samuelsson, director and co-writer of the series, and Gabbrielle Warren, producer and co-writer, were interested in the idea that urbanisation doesn’t always lead to a thriving community.

“We became intrigued with places that had become abandoned once their purpose had been taken,” says Warren and Samuelsson. “As we delved deeper into our research we found there was a concentration of Ghost Towns on the West Coast … [It] was rich in history yet sadly untouched, their stories needed telling.”

They focused their research on towns situated around Queenstown, a place of 1,700 inhabitants and the “last outpost for what once was the main seat of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway company” a couple of centuries ago.

The episodes unravel the stories of ghost town residents through beautiful cinematography and touching testimonials.

Samuelsson and Warren explained that it shattered them to see these towns disappearing in front of their eyes. They did their best to capture the essence of these towns before they vanished.

“We wanted to shine a light, hold up a mirror to today’s society and help them slow down and remember that our history and our communities are important,” says Warren and Samuelsson.

“Comparing a small community of 50 people alone to a large scale city like Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, one might want to question which one is the real Ghost Town,” Samuelsson added. “How many people in these urban areas could say they know their neighbour for example?”

Misadventures follows Josh Hall and Matt Earle around another island of the Pacific Ocean – New Zealand. The two friends and their cameraman, Tom Reed, decided to go on an adventure around the South Island in an old black van.

Their humour and extravagance make the series much more entertaining than a classic travel show. It is easy to relate to them, and the viewers will almost feel like they’re a part of the journey.

Along the way, they stopped in small cities in search of locals with unusual lifestyles. Hall, Earle and Reed explained to us that they used social media or simply the word of mouth to find them.

Image: Misadventures (NZ)

“The kind of interesting people we were looking for aren’t too tricky to find – everyone in a small town knows exactly where to point you as they’ve usually got a bit of a name for themselves!”

This resulted in rather uncommon encounters, each as touching and funny as the last. From the eccentric American loner Harmony, to Josh James the Kiwi Bushman, the two presenters share with their viewers their unique experiences.

One encounters that most marked them was with the ‘Flaming Sons of the South’ in the Catlins. The members of this society drink shot-glasses of the spiciest chilli sauces they can find as a hobby, and they made sure to find the hottest hot sauce in the country for Hall and Earle to chug.

“What followed was around 12 minutes of excruciating pain and fear. Our faces felt like they were melting off and everything went blurry and tingly … Finally, the pain subsided and the boys made us honorary ‘Flaming Sons of the South’ members,” the two travellers said.

Although they had to overcome a lot of challenges to make this web series happen – such as their van breaking down – Reed, Earle and Hall recommend to everyone with a thirst for adventure to stop hesitating and just do it.

“There is beauty, comedy and adventure anywhere you go – you just have to get on the road and make sure you open your eyes to see it,” they said.

If the best way to understand a foreign culture is to interact with the locals, where is the greatest place to meet them? Hervé Cohen, director and cinematographer of the series Life Underground just might have found the answer. He shot his entire web series in subways around the world.

So far, the French director has featured interviews with multiple people from 18 different cities across the globe, differing in age, sex, ethnicity and religion.

“The idea is to break the anonymity of the crowd and finding intimate connections with random passengers of all walks of life, wherever they are, whatever their language, background or culture are,” Cohen explains.

“Ultimately, I wanted people to feel that what we have in common is much larger and deeper than our differences.”

His documentary series is interactive and takes the viewers on board of various underground trains. Once on the website, they choose the country that they wish to visit and are then projected into the shoes of a passenger, listening to the stories of their fellow commuters.

Something striking about Life Underground is how genuine the confessions are. They confide their hopes and dreams, their fears and regrets to a stranger they only met a few minutes ago – Cohen.

Image: Life Underground (FRA)

“The fact that random people have confided in me such personal stories is still a mystery. One reason might be that if people feel that someone is really listening, they are ready to talk and to open up.”

The show has been translated into 10 languages and has been seen in many countries worldwide. Cohen would like his viewers to understand that beyond their differences, people have more in common than they think.

“I would be happy if the audience … could just get off their phone every once in a while and look around them and, inspired by a genuine curiosity, talk to their fellow passengers,” he said. “In these heightened times when fear, discrimination, and xenophobia are gaining ground, this feels more important than ever.”

Get your tickets to Melbourne WebFest 2019 here.

Life Underground


Tasmanian Ghost Town Project