Basic distinction between representation, navigation and interaction modes. Interactive documentary modalities (I)

In this gender is not as important to attempt to portray reality as it would be interesting for the traditional documentary (the representation of reality was the original goal of linear documentary), but the way chosen by the author to interact with reality, to intervene through the filming, editing and display. This form, as is the case in the visual way to represent, is indicative of the ways of thinking about reality, and thus to forge it.

Setting this key distinction involves being able to identify the different logics of the documentation of reality and new modes of subjectivity possible by digital media. This involves a leap from the modes of representation of reality to new ways to navigate and interact with it, that is, from analyzing what you want to represent to how you want to represent it.

According to Gaudenzi (2009:9), the various forms provided by Bill Nichols (1991, 1994 and 2001) in recent years are not valid indicators to analyze how the interactive documentary exploits the possibilities of representation of reality. They are moving from an analysis focused on the different attitudes and logics that took the linear documentary filmmakers (documentary modes of representation) to different ways or scenarios that the interactive authors offer to their users through technology (nonlinear navigation and interaction modes). Particularly we propose modalities for navigation and interaction, and describe as follows:

1) These modalities are different ways to navigate and interact with reality

2) The basic distinction between types of navigation and interaction lies in the degree of interaction that the user has in the categories of non-linear navigation, due to them not being able to be seen as interactive because the user more than interacting (understood from the standpoint of leaving a fingerprint, giving the work to contribute something specific) navigate (understood from the point of view of movement and choice of a route based on specific interests) for different existing proposals. In the case of interaction, we propose from the perspective of exchange or action (cause) that creates a lasting effect in space and time.

3) The system is interactive because has an interface allowing communication with the user, but in the case of the navigation modalities we consider this interaction as weak or reactive (it can be performed with television command but applied to a multimedia context), and in the case of modes of interaction as strong (as in the generation and contribution to work itself).

While in the linear documentary the viewer is not responsible for any response in the stronger sense (only, if they will, a cognitive interpretation of what is being exposed and conclusions based on subjective perception of their own systems), in the case of interactive documentaries this negotiation happens necessarily for interactive navigation and interactivity and is articulated from the different types available.

Modes of representation show the attitude of the director in relation to the world. Examples would be the expositive, poetic, reflective, interactive, observational or performative form.

For its part, the navigation modes allow different ways to navigate and penetrate the reality, and set a non-linear multimodal deployment that does not exist in the modes of representation. Examples would be the types of temporal, spatial, symbolic, narrative branching, etc.

The types of interaction go one step further and propose a scenario in which the receiver becomes transmitter in a way, it could leave a mark or trace of its passage through the work. Examples would be the modalities of generative interaction or 2.0 applications interaction.

While it is true that a movie can mix different modes of representation, the viewer always ends up seeing the same images with a certain order. The navigation and interaction modalities, mixed, can bring different perspectives to the user and even can mix and match with the paths and options which are practically infinite, producing an immersive and interactive experience never imagined in traditional documentaries.

To sum up, we believe that the interactive documentary cannot be considered simply as an evolution of documentary films, since this is explanation is insufficient to demonstrate the nature and depth of the change. This is apparent if we consider how in the case that concerns us here, the modes of representation cannot be considered sufficient indicators for analyzing the new genre, while the new modes of non-linear navigation and digital interaction resulting from it can. The issues raised by this statement are based on the question of whether there is any continuity between the linear and the interactive documentary, whether the directors who are experimenting with the new media come from different specialized fields, and to what extent the media influence the end product.


Arnau Gifreu Castells

Researcher, Professor and Producer

Universitat Ramón Llull / Universitat de Vic



Gaudenzi , S. (2009), Digital interactive documentary: from representing reality to co-creating reality [draft PhD research]. Londres: University of London. Centre for Cultural Studies (CCS) of Goldsmiths.

Nichols, B. (1991), La representación de la realidad: Cuestiones y Conceptos sobre el Documental.  Barcelona: Paidós.

— (1994), Blurred Boundaries. Question of meaning in contemporary culture.  Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

— (2001), Introduction to documentary.  Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.


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 100-103.

Gifreu, Arnau (2010). The interactive multimedia documentary. A proposed model of analysis. [Research Pre PhD]. Department of Communication. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 100-103.


Other posts related (

1. Interesting ideas on i-docs

2. The docu-game. Towards the immersive mode

3. Interactivity technologies, key factor for the interactive documentary

4. The evolution of the Internet, key factor for the interactive documentary

5. The evolution of the Internet, key factor for the interactive documentary (II)

6. The interactive documentary during the evolution of the Internet: giving examples of the different phases. Assumptions about the technological future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. “Flows of the visible: the expansion of the documentary”, interesting masterclass by Professor Dr. Josep Maria Català (UAB)

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

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

17. Why Canada? Story of an amazing experience (I)

18. The i-docs’ “evolution”, in just 10 points ( + Sandra Gaudenzi)

19. Non-fiction games structure: a successful formula for the interactive documentary

20. Idea or technique? Interesting topics and technological simplicity: Honkytonk projects as case studies (I)