The i-docs’ “evolution”, in just 10 points

While preparing for the forthcoming i-Docs conference, and thinking about what a great year 2011 has been for factual narratives, we started a discussion between Arnau Gifreu and myself to see if we agreed on the i-docs trends that are emerging just in front of our eyes.

Arnau proposed to come up with 10 points that could illustrate the trends and novelties that the years 2011-12 are bringing forward. I thought it was a brilliant idea. As i-docs are getting more established as a genre we are witnessing the emergence of more production companies,  more tools and more dedicated conferences around the world. So…where is this leading us?

Here are the 10 points we came up with. Please do reply to this post and add your own ideas to it. Or maybe… do even better: come to i-Docs 2012 (it’s happening in just a month time, on the 22nd and 23rd of March, in Bristol!) and… engage in a lively discussion with all of us!


 1. Tools and HTLM 5 as the next revolution for i-docs

New authoring tools have emerged in the last year. Those can use HTML 5 language with javascript frameworks (such popcorn.js), and other frameworks (as Zeega, Klynt  and 3WDOC) will allow the incorporation and handling of different types of multimedia elements within linear audiovisual documentary. Now… those tools are not made for i-docs only, of course, but they greatly open up the possibilities for i-docs producers.

Figure 1. New authoring multimedia tools

This is particularly true for the tools that make use of HTML5 because effectively they allow live data to be linked to a specific video frame. So… why making such a fuss about HTML5? Well… effectively it turns video into a hyperlink. You can now link every frame of your movie to live data that is somewhere else in the web. This could be a news feed, a weather report, a community of people that blog about your precise topic… or anything else you can think of!

Both the very well-known projects One Millionth Tower and 18 Days in Egypt have used Popcorn this year… and we are ready to bet that there will be many more next year! By the way, Jigar Metha (18 days in Egypt) and Kat Cizek (Highrise/One Millionth Tower) will both speak at i-Docs 2012!

Figure 2. 18 days in Egypt Website

 Figure 3. One Millionth Tower project


2. Finances

Finding money for i-doc production is not getting easier in an economy that is in crisis but, nevertheless, some new players are entering the i-doc world. Beyond the traditional producers in this area – Canada and France – who already have their own mechanisms to grant through the respective governments, broadcasters and other entities, it seems that 2011 was a key year for other countries to enter the game. In the USA  the Tribeca Film Institute and Sundance Institute have been very active – as they now have their own production grants. But also, newspapers such as the Time Magazine have produced big projects such as Beyond 9/11 showing that the press has no choice anymore but to produce its own interactive factual dossiers. We see newspapers and magazines as the new main entrants in the i-docs field… and this especially with the explosion of digital press via tablet computers and iPads.

Figure 4. Tribeca Film Institute Website

Figure 5. Sundance Institute Website

 Figure 6. Beyond 9/11 project


3. New  i-docs platforms 

Tablets computers are the new flavour of the month and, with them, comes the necessity to find appropriate content to make full use of the platform. This is potentially a new economic drive to create more i-docs and interactive factual narratives. A few start-ups have already tried to take advantage of this new market. Condition One is effectively shooting 360 degrees films and allowing the user to navigate them by moving his iPad around – as if he was part of the action. There is something very appealing – and at the same time very disturbing – in moving inside a film as if you were part of it. Other companies, such as Touch Press have taken a different approach. Instead of revolutionizing filming they try to re-invent the book. Touch Press makes tablet e-books that are so interactive that they are becoming interactive documentaries. Max Whitby, director of Touch Press and ex BBC producer, will be at i-Docs 2012 to share with us his strategic thinking.

Figure 7. Condition one project

 Figure 8. Example of Touch Press application / March of the Dinosaurs


4. Augmented reality and layered i-docs

While tablet computers are making i-docs consumable on the go, mobile phones are also being used for documentary content. Using GPS can lead you much further than Google Maps! Locative documentaries have been around for a while now but new strategic tools, such as Layar, make it easier for any producer to layer reality with documentary content (it could also be seen on the other way round). We see companies such as Dutch Layar  -which for now are tapping into a relatively commercial world of estate agents and shop retailers- as indicators that attaching audio, video and animations to a precise location is getting easier and easier. We forcast a new breed of layered-docs coming out of this strand. This is why i-Docs 2012 will have two panels totally dedicated to augmented and layered i-docs this year.

 Figure 9. Layar Website


5. i-docs as a new form of activism

Documentaries used to be good at informing about social issues, while activists where the people that were active on the field. Information could lead to the wish to react – but there was no direct link between the two. Now… Facebook, sms, twitter are all tools that have allowed both the diffusion of information and the coordination of events of the Iranian elections and the Arab spring. Social media offers the link between information and action.
Recent projects such as 18 days in Egypt – where an i-doc is the result of user generated content – pose the question of what form of activism is emerging through social media. Jigar Mehta, that has just launched18 days in Egypt on the 25th of January, and then raised new funding through Kickstarter to involve Egyptian students in his project, will share his first thoughts, and screens, at i-Docs 2012.

 Figure 10. Kisckstarter Website


6. Mixing fiction and non fiction: the trans-media way

Mixing documentary (non-fiction) and game (fiction) seems a strategy that many interactive documentary producers are considering at the moment, probably because they are being inspired by the current trans-media trend. Pandemic 1.0, by trans-media guru Lance Weiler, and Conspiracy for Good  are two examples of scary fiction plots that could well become real in a near future. This is where fiction and factual become blurry…Both those projects immerse the user in a plot where he needs to take a very active role. Mixing real locations with web investigations and group playing those projects show that there is a fine line between playing and re-enacting  real world events. We can see this trend entering more and more into the i-doc production world.

Figure 11. Pandemic 1.0 project

 Figure 12. Conspiracy for Good project (video frame)


7. Some new i-doc jewels

As the years 2011 and 2012 have seen a huge production of new i-docs it is very difficult to pick just a few and call them “jewels”… nevertheless, we have to take our hat off to Highrise that has kept experimenting and pushing the i-doc form for the last five years.

Figure 13. Highrise Website

Sandra’s heart has gone soft this year while listening the wonderfully touching story of Bear 71 – yet another NFB’s masterpiece (where, guess what, guru Lance Weiler was involved) and her French aesthetic sense has been cuddled by the wonderfully elegant and poetic Insitu (which, despite not being very interactive, has won IDFA’s DocLab this year).

Figure 14. Bear 71 project

Figure 15. Insitu project

Arnau, on the other hand, was fascinated by how effective the combination between personal history generation and real time technology can generate a narrative. For him the i-doc jewel that explored this path this year was Walking the edit, by Ulrich Fischer (2011). In this ambitious project the user can ‘walk a movie’. The interactor just walks through a neighbourhood while his iPhone App tracks his progress and translates the itinerary into a story (drawing from a multitude of virtual information held in the ‘augmented space’).

 Figure 16. Walking the edit Website

8. New  i-docs events and conferences

As i-docs are getting more and more recognised as a stand alone genre, new conferences are emerging throughout the world.

We have to plug i-Docs, of course, which is happening in Bristol, U.K., for the second year round – March 22-23. This year it will be longer and even more international than last year. We hope that i-Docs will evolve into a traveling conference, hosted by countries that want to host it around the world. But it is still early days…

DocShift Summit (Toronto, Canada) is also expected to run its second edition later in 2012. Our Canadian friends are so active in the i-doc world that it makes perfect sense to host an event from the homeland of the NFB!

Figure 17.  I-docs header (from online portal)

Figure 18. Docshift Summit (from Docshift website)

Several congresses/symposiums are including sections dedicated to interactive documentary. We highlight the ICIDS (International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, Vancouver, Canada, 28 November – 1 December, 2011); the DNA Symposium (Narrative Digital Archive, Montreal May 13 to 15, symposium), the Europrix Academic Network Conference (EADiM, European Academy of Digital Media, Graz, 10-13 November 2011) and the Crossmedia Forum (Power to the pixel, 11-14 October 2011, within the BFI London Film Festival, 12 to 27 October 2011).

9. new i-docs blogs and websites

A few new blogs have emerged this year showing, yet again, that a community of “i-dockers” want  to get active and be heard. Here are the main ones we have spotted…

This is the new French website of what used to be called Although it is all in French it is a very well documented site and it contains lots of videos and interviews to i-docs producers.

Figure 19. Website

The Docshift Index

A section of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) with an index file that contains more than one hundred examples of interactive documentaries distributed by category. An extremely useful resource!

Figure 20. Docshift Index (inside Docshift Website)

A website produced by researchers and producers of interactive documentaries. It has a good section on online resources.

Figure 21. Website

A web portal started by the people behind the i-Docs conference (with lots of contributing editors). It contains a useful resource section but also academic articles coming from specialists in the field. wants to be “a space for people that want to know more about interactive documentaries”, and generate discussion and exchanges within an i-doc community interested in critical analysis.


10. New i-docs training programmes

We have spotted a few new educational options that we feel we need to point out to you:

– The Documentary Organization of Canada (known as DOC) is the leading arts service organization dedicated to promoting, supporting and developing the art and business of documentary media in this country. DocSHIFT  is set up as a branch of DOC, which focuses on providing services related to the production of documentaries for new media. They offer courses, workshops and seminars, among others, but what stands out is the docSHIFT Institute, a program of four months, led by Richard Lachman and Diana Arruda. The program is designed to have innovative ideas and projects on interactive documentary and position them as hits by funding resulted in the consultation, counseling, workshops and project development. The mentors of this program are Mary Barroll, Ilona Posner, Kat Cizek, Lalita Krishna, Marc Greenspan and Christine McGlade.

– The CFC-NFB Documentary Program is a unique laboratory for the development of successful feature documentaries, mid-length documentaries and interactive documentaries. Up to four accomplished Canadian directors with viable concepts for creative documentary projects are selected to participate in this unique program, which began in November 2010.


Figure 22.  CFC NFB Documentary Program (inside Canadian Film Centre Website)

– In France  several “workshops”  have been organized by the CFPJ and l’INA.. There is also a 120 hrs course at “L’ecole des metiers de l’information“. Participants worked on and for example…

Although for now most of those educational centers are placed in Canada and France we really expect the rest of Europe to catch up. Or at least we promise that will do our best to push forward in our own universities new courses for interactive factual, and fictional, narratives. While the production world is moving ahead we believe it is essential that universities stop separating strands such as journalism, TV, cinema and new media… they should start creating bridges between all those creative media and offer to a new generation of born digital students a world where they can create their future!

This is all from us…. we will see in a few years if we spotted the right trends!

But for now… keep experimenting and creating new i-docs… and keep pushing the boundaries of storytelling!


Sandra Gaudenzi and Arnau Gifreu