Crossover has been the first UK conference/summit/showcase to position i-docs at the same level as linear documentaries. When Crossover started in 2009 (only 4 years ago) the message was very clear: there are cross-overs between the documentary world and the digital one. i-docs are more than promotional websites for films, they are a new form, and Sheffield Doc/Fest is taking them seriously. An overview of Crossover’s 2009 programme sets the tone: keynotes were given to BBC authorities, emphasis on digital Britain, new business models and creative economies.
Four years down the line, the message is changing, or maybe getting slightly blurred: this year the XO Summit showed more apps and physical computing projects than i-docs, which I found very confusing. Panels were all about the past (“we have done great projects and here is what we have learned”) and little about the future (very little inspirational new stuff was showed during the first day)… what has happened? How come everybody is saying that i-docs are booming and very little novelty is shown?
Here is my attempt to answer to my mild disappointment: Sheffield has diversified its proposition this year to reply to the growing complexity of the field… so it has expanded and spread throughout several days. As a result the Crossover Summit is not “the day” anymore, but just one of the many interactive propositions of the week:
1. as i-docs are growing in numbers Sheffield has made a space for an i-docs Crossover Market:
25 interactive projects were pitched to a variety of commissioners (to put it into context: 63 linear documentary projects are pitched at Sheffield’s MeetMarket this year). This is great news, although the array of commissioners are suspiciously coming from the broadcasting industry (are they still the right people to take innovative decisions when their own budgets got crashed by the crisis, and they are therefore pushed to take more conservative decisions?).
2. as i-docs are diversifying, Sheffield’s interactive proposition has been to offer different strands:
- the Crossover Market (pitching & financing)
- the one day XO Summit – which this year was focusing on Transformers (people who want to change the world and have moved from one platform to another to do so: filmmakers creating apps, doc producers moving to social platforms, app designers making hardware and video game developers making physical objects)
- a series of panels with the celebrities of the field (Arte, Ch4, Tribecca, Submarine Channel) sharing advice and lessons learned
- a Crossover Lounge space where a selection of projects were available on computers and where some authors got invited to show their projects
So effectively, if you have four days to spend in Sheffield (which I have not) you can manage to see a variety of projects at the Crossover Lounge (mainly outside of the XO Summit). This year’s mix is: The Defector Escape, Big River Rising, Alma a Tale of Violence, Highrise, Invisible Picture Show, Island, A journey of Insomnia, GELD.GR Money and the Greeks and Dadaab Stories (plus Blast Theory’s Game I’d Hide You).
But my problem with this is that if the XO Summit does not use its day to frame, expand, or go deeper, into the i-doc evolution, and the projects are all scattered around the festival… then it is very difficult to grasp what is currently going on in the i-docs world… and I see this as a missed opportunity – because this field is still too young, and people do come to this type of event to “understand”, or “get inspired” or “have a feel for what is next”.
Anyway, I had two confusing, but still enjoyable, days in Sheffield and I want to share some of the notes I took while in situ. By picking and choosing what I think is relevant I’ll might manage to understand what I learned myself!
1. There are three exciting big projects coming out soon:
- Highrise’s new baby A Short History of the Highrise: a webdoc, and 3 films, done in conjunction with the New York Times ( out in fall 2013)
- Submarine’s Unspeak – about manipulation of language by the media (out in two weeks time, see the trailer below)
- A new Arte & NFB & Toxa (Canada) co-production Fort McMoney: (launching this autumn)
2. Watch out for the massive Scandinavian docu-fiction-game-social Cloud Chamber by Investigate North (not sure what it is actually, a kind of sci-fi-emotional-educative transmedia project that received 1 million Euros, and that is looking for distribution partners?)
3. Lance Weiler’s Reboot Stories is working on MSiF, My Sky is Falling (but the project was not shown)
4. Hide and Seek (the very creative UK-NY based game company) wants to concentrate more on their own product (and work less for clients). They have created an App out of their Tiny Games idea (it contains games that are site specific to the type of situation you are in, rather than a physical place).
5. Channel 4 seems to put most of its interactive efforts in sexing up wildlife documentaries by adding a level of “liveness” to them: after asking people to track foxes in cities (Foxes Live), this year they have used the Easter period to turn webcams onto eggs and waited for them to open. Surprise surprise, Easter Eggs Live has had the second best web traffic ever for Channel 4 (after Big Brother’s eviction). Is this a sign of Eggs success or of Channel4’s unexciting i-docs offer?
6. Broadcasters and commissioners have learned their lesson with never ending and expensive collaborative projects: they now want to know if you have an exit strategy for your project and if you have worked out its life cycle.
And to conclude… one final and very personal comment that is getting clearer and clearer in my mind: I am getting quite sick of the standard panel format that is used in most conferences. It often boils down to the usual suspects chatting about how great their latest production was… and it is difficult to stay focused for more than half a day…
I know that it is difficult to cater for the different needs of an heterogeneous audience, but maybe one could respond to different needs by providing different propositions:
- for newcomers, or people looking for inspiration, one could offer quick and sleek 20 min Ted talks style presentations of current, or new, projects.
- For people in the industry one could offer longer in-depth sessions that zoom into how a specific project dealt with a defined issue (How many re-iterations of Out My Window’s interface have been done? Was there any testing and which one? What do you learn from the Google analytics of a project such as Channel 4’s Eggs?)
- To understand production opportunities one would have small collaborative workshops around specific topics (i-docs for NGOs and activism, methodologies for work with audiences etc.)
- For people with time to explore one could offer full-length authored screenings with Q&A.
OK, dream on, dream on… but then who knows… maybe we could offer something down these line here at i-Doc… food for thoughts…