I have just returned from delivering the i-Docs Lab to twenty up and coming i-docs professionals in Switzerland. This was a five-day workshop, aimed at audiovisual professionals from across Europe to help them to innovate their productions, to keep up-to-date with the evolution of audience behaviour and to raise competitiveness. My role was to introduce the concept of interactive documentary to the participants and to moderate the case studies. Other members of the i-Docs team were also present at the workshop, with Arnau Gifrau delivering an additional session on context and Mandy Rose participating as a mentor to the projects in development. Here are some thoughts on my contribution while they are still fresh.
The workshop provided further evidence that the reach of interactive documentary continues to spread, with the participants representing countries as diverse as Poland, Italy, France Croatia, Portugal, Romania, Germany and Switzerland. The workshop was billed as ‘a project development programme for expanded documentaries’, although it soon became evident that i-docs are still generally seen as being synonymous with web-docs. I was at pains to stress that locative media, tablet-based work, live performance and installation can all be part of the i-docs family. This was a theme that I also pushed through the case studies, with a view to creating a more genuinely expansive view of new possibilities for documentary making.
The four case studies that I moderated were presentations from Alexandre Brachet on Alma, Yasmin Elayat on 18 days in Egypt, Jeremy Mendes on Bear 71 and Gerry Flahive on Highrise. Four top-flight productions presented by those closest to their development. The participants were hugely privileged to gain invaluable insights into the processes behind these productions. Each case study was presented in-depth and with much generosity of spirit, with up to two hours being allocated for each session.
Alexandre talked extensively about his responsibilities as a producer both to his documentary subjects and to his audience. This involves maintaining full involvement in the process from beginning to end, conversing directly with his audience and having a strong hand in orchestrating the development of the content. Although he was insistent that he is not the one who has the original ideas, the effect of his hands-on approach on the work produced is more than evident. No stone is left unturned in his productions and the growing audience figures for his projects year on year is an impressive testimony to the quality of the work produced. Although Alma was not specifically designed for tablet media, he always had this platform in mind. However, interactive documentary is a far from commonly understood concept as yet in places like the App Store, so it is still early days on this particular front.
Jeremy talked in depth about the processes involved in creating the approach to story and interface for Bear 71. He showed the participants various iterations of the interactive map of Banff National Park that the audience can explore and discuss the importance of developing a clear design document to avoid mission creep on projects of this nature. Again, the clarity of his vision as co-creator on this project was impressive. The fact that the interface design for an interactive documentary is an integral part of the content was made very evident. Although designed primarily for the web, Jeremy also talked about other ways in which the project has reached its audience. For example, he has created an installation and put on performances of the work with a live orchestra at film festivals such as Sundance. In particular he has worked with a cellist to help achieve emotional resonance with the work.
Yasmin talked about the processes involved in engaging with Egyptian people to encourage participation in her project. Whilst we may think that social media was a key driver behind the 2011 revolution, the reality is that less than 25% of people in Egypt are online and even less are interested in documenting their own history in the making. Her presentation was very illuminating, in terms of describing how evolving collaborative projects such as 18 days can be hard to manage and difficult to anticipate. The project has now been opened up to documenting the ongoing situation, as opposed to just focusing on the original 18 days, with her and her co-creator no longer actively curating the content. This led to a fascinating discussion around copyright and ethics – key questions in relation to on-line platforms and user generated content for future producers to be considering.
And finally, Gerry’s presentation on Highrise paid testimony to the Canadian National Film Board’s long and distinguished track record in documentary making. It also stressed the benefits of doing a range of smaller projects well, rather than trying to shoehorn too many ideas into one large unwieldy project. As a transmedia project, Highrise has several component parts, each of which has been manageable and deliverable on it’s own terms but which collectively creates an impressive body of work around a common theme. The clear sense of ongoing engagement both with audience and documentary subjects shines through in this work. In particular One Millionth Tower used a community participation model to help empower a neighbourhood in Toronto to improve their local environment. This involved putting on public events and screenings to encourage engagement with the process. In this sense, the process of creating the work is as important as the actual work itself –a recurring theme with interactive documentary.
I left this workshop to return to Bristol on the third day, just as the mentoring process for the projects in development was getting underway under the capable supervision of Susanna Lotz. I did however have the privilege of meeting the participants and talking through some of their ideas informally. I was impressed with the level of commitment and passion coming through and look forward to hearing more about their projects in the future. This was the first i-Doc workshop – with the next being planned for 2014. Congratulations to Jean-Pierre Candeloro and Elisabetta Lazzaroni for securing the funding and organising such a great event. For more information about it go to: http://www.idoc.supsi.ch/
Next stop for i-Docs Lab is Sandra Gaudenzi’s curation of a day long conference in early May as part of WebDox 2013 in Belgium: http://webdox2013.wordpress.com/
I will also be taking the i-Docs Lab to the Freiburger Film festival in Germany, where I will deliver a workshop alongside Florian Thalhofer: http://www.freiburger-filmforum.de/eng.html – /english/