Thomas Hellum of production company NRK in Norway has created new form of documentary that pushes the boundaries of what is and what isn’t entertainment. This means filming quirky drawn out events such as real-time, live journeys in ferries and trains; along with knitting and wood-chopping events. Sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry, right?
Well nearly a third of all Norwegians tuned in to watch these weirdly fascinating films when they aired on TV. They were wildly popular despite their seemingly dull and monotonous content.
Here is a nine hour ride in the front cab of a train travelling from Trondheim to Bodø.
Here is an epic 12 hour channel boat trip on the Telemarkskanalen. The live transmission went to air on TV for 12 hours and 14 minutes reached 1.3 million Norwegians. Many thousands of people turned up in person along the boat’s course, waving Norwegian flags and creating a real sense of conviviality.
But why is this the case?
Slow TV is probably mistakenly attributed to other related trends in slow living, i.e: slow travel, slow cooking, slow exercise such as yoga and contemplative walking.
Although Slow TV works as a new cultural narrative for a couple of fascinating reasons, these are inextricably tied to the current state of technology and how we interact with each other online and offline.
7 Reasons Why Slow TV Works So Well
1. It doesn’t take itself too seriously!
Here’s a reality TV show they created featuring a tiny cafe where birds who are feeling “peckish” fraternise and eat together.
2. It’s a positive and benign exercise that promotes national pride, cultural identity and environmentalism
Having a train journey going through the most scenic and pristine parts of your country really stirs up a sense of pride and wonder at the natural beauty. It helps that Norway is incredibly beautiful too.
3. It’s supported and celebrated by a vast, passionately engaged social media community
With social media buzzing with conversation and the community gunning for more documentaries, the film-makers were able to ask the audience directly what they wanted to see in the next film, along with how they could improve to make it better next time.
4. It’s a relatable shared experience
Part of the reason that Slow TV is compelling is that going on a train or ferry journey or watching birds is a shared experience. It’s not exclusive to anyone and transcends space and time when it’s used in this medium.
5. It’s unpretentious storytelling
In fact it’s so unpretentious that the story itself doesn’t even exist! There is no contrivance of an existing narrative at all here. When you are presented with a changing landscape and changing figures in that landscape, the imagery becomes what you want it to be. You can project whatever emotions or stories onto the film that you like. Or the film could simply be blank and devoid of anything at all. This benign blankness is in itself soothing and hypnotic, like watching a fish tank.
6. Because Chemical Brothers
About a decade ago, the Chemical Brothers combined train cab journeys with syncopated electronica and created this riveting film clip.
7. It’s funny, quirky and droll.
They recently filmed at Norwegian Knitting Night, tracing wool from it’s origin on the back of a sheep, to knitted items that are ready to wear. This attracted an astonishing 1 million viewers in Norway when it aired on TV. Watch more of this riveting programme here