Mapping Our Memories: Tributopia Launches Memorial Day

Posted on May 23, 2013

Tributopia, the project inspired by the ITVS-funded documentary The Grove, is a free iPhone app for creating virtual memorials and remembering lost loved ones by posting tributes on an interactive map. Tributopia invites engagement by connecting memories to a specific place. With the augmented reality feature, users looks through the viewfinder and can find virtual tributes overlaying the real world around them. Tributopia launches in conjunction with Memorial Day, just before Gay Pride Month.


Filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind the app and his take on the changing interactive media landscape: 

How did making The Grove inspire your idea for Tributopia? The AIDS Memorial Grove founders envisioned a nature-based memorial in which individuals could till their grief and find comfort in seeing their own human experience reflected in nature. While the stigma of AIDS created invisible victims and survivors often excluded from traditional rituals of burial and remembrance, having a special place to remember and share was especially important. While I was in the midst of production on The Grove, I vacationed in Mexico and witnessed scores of roadside memorials adorned with flowers, pictures, and photos. I was mesmerized and wanted to know what happened and whom it happened to. It was as if those shrines wanted to speak to me, to tell me their story. I began to realize how vital the connection was between memory and place, and between community and communication.  Hence, the idea for Tributopia was born: a way to use new media to tell stories of loss – to connect memories to place and join in a community of remembrance. 

What was the experience like, going from being a “traditional” documentary filmmaker to working in the interactive media space? Was there a large learning curve? There was an enormous learning curve. We tend to take for granted our mastery over our own craft. Suddenly I found myself facing a technology, terminology and business model that were alien to me. While we cling to the idea of "storytelling" as a unifying theme and comforting commonality, I really did feel like I was entering a brave new world!

Remember when we though the shift from linear to non-linear editing was such a giant step? That was a mere shuffle compared to this inexorable leap to non-linear storytelling. I guess I'm supposed to flow with it, but I still find myself rebelling. I don't think I want to give up the artistic control of the auteur. On the other hand, I enjoy the democracy and direct engagement that the interactive media space engenders. While often this tends to be quite shallow, I think our app provides a vehicle for some of the more meaningful reflection and empathy associated with the longer, linear documentary form. 

What did you take away from this experience? A really cool app that I hope can help alter the way we collectively mourn. 

Any advice you’d give to other filmmakers thinking of taking the leap into the world of apps? It's going to cost a lot more and take a lot more time than you think. And you thought filmmaking was expensive?! 

Tell us a bit about the app. The name Tributopia is a fun play on and combination of words: tribute, tribe, topia (Greek for "place"), utopia (no place). All these words, roots, and concepts are relevant to the app. In a simple sense, it's a place for tributes, but it also recognizes that a tribe that has "no place" still has to come together. In an increasingly sped-up, mobile, and fractured world, we've lost rituals and places for mourning. More and more, people are being cremated or live far from where loved ones are buried. Less and less we have places to mourn and a community to mourn with. And yet look at the spontaneous, makeshift, or cultivated memorials that appear where great tragedy befalls or a famous person dies: the Boston Marathon bombing, the Newtown Massacre, Steve Jobs, Lady Di – the National AIDS Memorial. Tributopia taps into a fundamental human need as an engaging, celebratory way to create virtual memorials by posting tributes on an interactive map. By connecting places to memories, we fill our world with stories of loss and remembrance that can be discovered, shared and, in a way, immortalized. 

With other memorial apps out there, what sets Tributopia apart? What sets Tributopia apart is its emphasis on connecting memories to place. Other memorial apps remain in a lofty, sentimental space of remembrance, often represented by clouds and distant heavens. Tributopia is participatory. It invites engagement and connection by bringing memories "down to earth" to the places they and we live, making those past lives more real and informing our own in the present. 

Of the many features included in the app, which is your favorite? My favorite is the augmented reality "Eye View" feature, whereby the user looks through the viewfinder and can find virtual tributes overlaying the real world around them. This really excites me: bringing the past into the present, and layering images and stories over the places we inhabit. It's a way of connecting with, remembering, and learning from those who came before us – our tribe. 

You decided to launch Tributopia around Memorial Day and just before Pride Month. Why?  The app took much longer to develop than expected. We had hoped to launch it in conjunction with the PBS premiere of The Grove on World AIDS Day. But in lieu of that, it seemed Memorial Day was the right choice. As a virtual memorial app that includes, but now goes far beyond the issue of AIDS, Tributopia's launch on Memorial Day, followed closely by Gay Pride Month, is a two-for-one punch. 

What plans do you have for the future? If we get enough financing there's so much more we could do with the app to help revolutionize our relationship with mourning and loss. But in the meantime, I'm making movies! 

Andy Abrahams Wilson is an award-winning producer and director of creative non-fiction films, including the acclaimed, Oscar-shortlisted Under Our Skin, the ITVS-funded and PBS broadcast The Grove, and the HBO documentary Bubbeh Lee & Me.  


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