Roderick Coover and Scott Rettberg

Toxi•City is a computer-driven combinatory story in which viewers follow six fictional characters who live in a near-future landscape along the US eastern seaboard which was one of the first industrialized port districts in North America and is today is a center for oil and franking industries. The project asks what how conditions of life would change if repeated storm surges and tides flooded the densely populated lands with toxins from the hundreds of sea-level petrochemical industry sites and post-industrial brownfields. The fictions are interspersed with nonfictional accounts of deaths that occurred during recent storms in the area, most notably Hurricane Sandy.

A combinatory film uses computer code to draw fragments from a database in changing configurations every time it is shown.  About every 50 minutes, the computer arrays the sequences to produce a coherent narrative about 50 minutes in length with beginnings, middles and endings and then it refreshes to build a new narrative.

Just as with the conditions of ocean tides and tidal shores, the stories cycle and change without clear beginning or end. Rather, individuals grasp for meaning from fleeting conditions of a world in flux. These offer moments of resolution, contact and visions of the future, before the narratives are broken apart and a fresh cycle begins. It is a hybrid film in that it combines narrative elements with documentary imagery and elegiac nonfictional anecdotes, tying imagined futures to the realities of our contemporary condition.


Roderick Coover is the creator or co-creator of works of award-winning digital, interactive and emergent cinema such as Toxi•City, Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project, and The Theory of Time. He is also the maker of documentary films and interactive, documentary research projects such as The Unknown Territories Project, From Verite to Virtual: Conversations On The Frontiers Of Anthropology And Documentary Film, The Language of Wine: An Anthropology of Work Wine And The Senses and Cultures In Webs: Working In Hypermedia With The Documentary Image. His works are distributed by Video Data Bank, Documentary Educational Resources, Eastgate Systems, University of Chicago and CRchange, which is a production company he co-owns with Scott Rettberg. Coover is Professor of Film and Media Arts at Temple University and Founding Director of its MFA-PHD Program in Documentary Arts and Visual Research and its MA Program in mediaXarts: Cinema for New Technologies and Environments. He lives in Philadelphia.


Scott Rettberg is the author or coauthor of award-winning, novel-length works of electronic literature, films, and new media art projects including The Unknown, Kind of Blue, Implementation, Toxi•City, Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project and others. His creative work has been exhibited both online and at international art venues, including the Beall Center, the Slought Foundation, The Krannert Art Museum, the Chemical Heritage Foundation and others. Rettberg is the co-founder and served as the first executive director of the nonprofit Electronic Literature Organization, where he directed major projects funded by the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. He is the conference chair of the 2015 End(s) of Electronic Literature Conference and Festival. Rettberg is Professor of Digital Culture in the department of linguistic, literary, and aesthetic studies at the University of Bergen, Norway. Rettberg was the project leader of ELMCIP (Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice), a HERA-funded collaborative research project that ran from June 2010-June 2013.