Significant differences between the two models. New roles on the interactive documentary (II)

In All posts, Research Articles by Arnau Gifreu


We intend to emphasize in this second post of the series called New roles on the interactive documentary” some possible changes or “new ways of doing” in relation to this kind of narrative. In our view, some important differences in the three roles described in the first part of this series are:

–       From the standpoint of the issue (author) and production, the two main problems that we can see are first, the loss of control by the author mentioned in the previous post of this series and the problems at a subjective and discursive level that this entails; second, the need for a large team to produce an interactive documentary, as in the case of audiovisual genres – in this case there are two areas (audiovisual and interactive) that are very different and which are often beyond the knowledge of the director of the work. In a multimedia production team, there is sometimes a vast chasm between the people working in the audiovisual and the multimedia areas. Some directors play various roles in a documentary, e.g. scriptwriter, director, editor, still photographer, etc. – and this tends not to happen in the multimedia field (a content author in an interactive documentary does not know how to produce information architecture, a flow chart or how to design – much less program – the application). This often leads to problems in the design of the interactive documentary and misunderstandings in group communication, as the working methods and logics in the two media are very different.

–       From the standpoint of the discourse and type of narrative (text and script), having to consider a multi-deployment system could involve much more work for the team of scriptwriters and for the designers and programmers of the application. There is therefore a considerable increase in the volume of production (it could triple or quadruple the basic work involved in a linear story with a single story), for both the people producing the more audiovisual part (scriptwriters, those responsible for textual and audiovisual content, interviewers, etc.) and for those producing the more interactive art (information architects, graphic and multimedia designers, programmers, etc.). Furthermore, when producing a branched non-linear type of discourse, it is necessary to adopt a new narrative logic, which also requires special training and skills for successful work with this new discursive and narrative logic.

–       From the standpoint of the interactor (spectator) and reception, in some cases – but fewer – at a technological level the increase in bandwidth is not sufficient for navigation in these types of projects with the speed and comfort required. This means that it is necessary to wait for the different parts of the application to load (not only at the beginning, but also sometimes when we activate a specific type of navigational or interactive mode). All of this falls within the modern scenario, characterized by users that demand immediate gratification, which is a determining factor in favor of traditional viewing.

From a sociological perspective, related to the habits of the individual or user of the application, we believe that the failure of the interactive documentary format to achieve good results as a genre- at least before the explosion of the form at the end of the first decade of the present century – , has less to do with the technological limitations that the medium requires, but instead with a trend related to consumption and its individuals:

The mental (and physical) effort that the interactor is subjected to in an  interactive documentary is much greater than in traditional viewing. To put it in  other terms, it is much more effort to sit in front of a computer screen and make the effort to  navigate, find out how the system works and have to make decisions, than to sit in front of a  television screen and be able to manipulate content in a simple and linear way. The key factor  is that we are culturally accustomed to the latter option, and it is very difficult to change habits of reception.

 These specific habits, related to leisure and entertainment, are mentally understood as times  of relaxation – moments during which the individual, after a long day’s work and many hours  of concentration, will be unwilling to continue thinking and making decisions, or to  concentrate on a task that requires him to continue to do what he has spent the last eight  hours or the last eight days doing.

In addition, and regarding to interactivity,  without the prospect of a good interactive experience, the interactor may wonder why they have to interact with it. In short, without a specific narrative or perspective, experience can be boring and can lose its sense, being the film interactive or not.

The film, after all, works through its ability to organize a story in a way that is both informative and entertaining. And the interactive format, following the tradition, should try to offer similar experiences to efficiently mix an attractive proposal. Mixing these two aspects can be achieved by comparing the genre of nonfiction studied proposals to close to fiction. Alex Gibney (2009), film director, notes that the power of the documentary lies in its ability to take advantage of cinematic techniques to create intimate images that motivate people to not stop thinking about a topic after the movie ends. As said in an interview that was conducted with Connor Britain in October 2009: “This can’t be expressed in a paper or in an essay, which is the beauty of the documentary,” says Gibney. “It’s a narrative account of real life. It’s reality that rises to the mythic.”(Gibney, 2009)

In the current market of information and entertainment, the audience time has become the most appreciated issue by the media object. In Western society, people currently have sufficient financial resources to consume any media but, instead, has not the time for consumption. To ensure this time of consumption is a strategic goal for the media. Different authors define the current market information as an attention market (Salaverría, 2003:37). The film exists in an interactive environment where users spend an average of 56 seconds on any page, and thus, keeping users attention is not an easy task.

The responsibility is not just a fact that managers want to retain documents relating to his work to tell stories, but because such a strong narrative voice is what makes them so compelling documentaries. If the interaction cannot provide compelling experiences, the work will not meet its objectives as a documentary. Although it is clear that the digital medium attracts a wide audience, there seems to be a degree of responsibility and maintain a clear perspective, because the user experience lead to a good understanding of the subject (Britain, 2009:8).


It should be noted that this proposal is being reviewed in order to be presented as part of the theoretical framework on interactive documentary study, which may be subject to changes in the future (PhD defense:“The interactive documentary as a new audiovisual genre. Approach to proposed definition, taxonomy and analysis model for the evaluation, design and production”, UPF 2007-2012).


Recommended citation:

Gifreu, Arnau (2010), El documental multimèdia interactiu. Per un proposta de model d’anàlisi. [Treball de recerca]. Departament de Comunicació. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 143-146.

Gifreu, Arnau (2010). The interactive multimedia documentary. A proposed model of analysis. [Research Pre PhD]. Department of Communication. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 142-145.


Arnau Gifreu Castells

Researcher, Professor and Producer

Universitat Ramón Llull / Universitat de Vic



Britain, C. (2009), Raising Reality to the Mythic on the Web: The Future of Interactive Documentary Film. North Carolina: Elon University.

Díaz Noci, J. and  Salaverría, R. (2003). “Hipertexto periodístico: teoría y modelos”, 81-139. Manual de redacción ciberperiodística. Barcelona: Ariel.

Interview with Alex Gibney (2009) conducted by Connor Britain [October 2009]


Other interesting posts

For more information on the conceptual and methodological framework in relation to the interactive documentary, you can read my previous posts published on


–   Where we come from. Introduction and initial ingredients to build a correct taxonomic proposal

–   Research questions and compared methodology to establish a taxonomic study of the interactive documentary

–   Compared methodology to establish a taxonomic study of the interactive documentary (II)

–   Taxonomic discussions in the educational context: key issues in relation to interactive documentary (I)

–   Taxonomic discussions in the educational context: key issues in relation to interactive documentary (II)

–  Differences between linear and interactive documentaries. Featuring the interactive documentary (I)

–  Basic characteristics of the interactive documentary. Featuring the interactive documentary (II)

–  On the loss of control over the narrative. New roles on the interactive documentary (I)