Interactive Reality Conference 2013 – A personal overview

Here I explain my personal experience attending the Interactive Reality Conference 2013, from my point of view, one of the most interesting conferences on interactive documentary in the last three years.

Sarah Wolozin opened the conference with a presentation called “MIT Docubase“, which presented the new project base that the MIT Open Documentary Lab in collaboration with Upian and IDFA DocLab have recently produced. In the initial phase there are 140 projects that are linked to a set of keywords and meta-descriptions. Another strong point of the project base is that it has reproduction lists developed by experts in the field and which can be configured by the user.

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MIT Docubase, the last project produced by MIT Open Documentary Lab

The second presentation was given by Katerina Cizek from the National Film Board of Canada. She presented the project Highrise, and specifically two of the most suggestive interactions: One Millionth Tower and A short History of the Highrise. Cizek cited the department of the New York Times Op-Docs and The Morgue, a shadowy room with thousands of non-digitalized unpublished photos of a New York where skyscrapers began to be constructed. She announced that the next large collaboration will be with MIT Open Documentary Lab as she is currently a visiting artist in Boston.


A short story of the Highrise, the last iteration produced by NFB Highrise

Jason Brush, interactive designer at the agency Possible and lecturer at UCLA gave an interesting talk called “Filmmaking in software” in which he reflected on the evolution of the technology. He commented that the computer is a unique communication medium as it can be used to both produce and consume.

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Jason Brush

Vincent Morisset with his presentation called Widening the Spectrum of Possibilities, enlightened us with his projects, conceptually far from what we understand by interactive documentary but very inspirational. He began working artistically with the musical group Arcade Fire and later began collaborating with the NFB creating very successful projects like Bla Bla. This year in the IDFA DocLab competition he presented the project Just a Reflektor.

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Just a Reflektor, a combined project (Arcade Fire + Vincent Morrisset)

Kira Pollack, photography director of TIME magazine, focused on the importance of this magazine and the world of journalism and photography in general, which she believes will have even more weight in the interactive documentary panorama. Based on two revealing projects Beyond 9/11 and Healing Bobby she demonstrated the nascent possibilities of still images in the generation of interactive documentaries.

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Healing Bobby project

As the NFB had already had a turn and would repeat later, it was now the turn of the other major public broadcaster involved in the production of interactive documentaries, now from France, ARTE. Marianne Levy-LeBlond gave an overview of the production of recent webdocumentaries in which the German-French channel had played a part, such as Prison Valley, Alma, Fort McMoney, Type:Rider and Cinemacity, and Una Contrahistoria de Internet. In her inspirational talk she reviewed the differences between the two key media, television and the Internet, and the points that ARTE consider to be priorities for producing webdocs.


Marianne Levy-LeBlond

Next Brent Hoff explained his installation developed with fellow researcher Alexander Reben affiliated to the MIT Open Documentary Lab, an installation that allows the user to measure emotions with various devices and which has been the great sensation of this edition of DocLab.


The emotional arcade, an interactive installation by Brent Hoff and Alexander Reben, the sensation of the Doclab’s 2013 exhibition

It was now the turn of Doc Lao, which, with the a presentation called “From Radio to Drones”, discussed the interactive sound documentary, a very interesting modality that shows the current key moment of convergence between radio and the Web. They also presented a project called Circa 1940, a production in French in the development phase at the NFB.

Perhaps the most original and daring presentation was given by the only Latin person invited to speak at the conference, Paolo Cirio, called “Hacking Reality and Liberating the Big Data from the Giants”. I do not understand what this has to do with interactive documentary but then I understood the strategic change of the conference and DocLab program from “interactive documentary conference” to “interactive reality conference”. Cirio highlighted the concept of “power information” that can win a war for a government if it is managed effectively.

Cirio, with projects like Face to Facebook, aims to create a new order and generate a kind of revolution or war through the cybermedia, using the same tools as the large corporations. This year Cirio is competing with the project that finished off his talk Street Ghosts.

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Face to facebook, a provocative project by Paolo Cirio

There was also time to show three projects in the development stage by a young group of Dutch and Belgian producers. This year, for the first time, DocLab also held workshops and a brief summit for a select group of young producers, linked to Upian (Alexandre Brachet), the NFB (Hugues Sweeney) and Mozilla (Brett Gaylor).

At the end of the conference Ingrid Kopp, from the Tribeca Film Festival, and Adnaan Wasey, from POV Digital, gave a talk called “Five practical lessons from the weird world of Hackatons”. As Ingrid Kopp explained, the Hackatons are like “48 hour or longer hacker marathons”. The five tips they gave were:

– Only filmmakers open to collaborate make great projects

– Not all failures are good, but failure is essential

– If you don’t pursue big ideas, you will get small results

– It’s about process and product

– It’s possible

The conference was closed by Jonathan Harris, who was in a way the special guest in this sixth edition of DocLab.

The sessions called “Live Cinema events” – the two that I attended – were very interesting, among the most interesting that I have seen, and the conference was far better than the first held last year as the presentations were more logical and better prepared. There were even some magic moments, like when a robot with a bag came flying in to announce that it was time for lunch.

However, what disappointed me a little was the interactive exposition. Although I understand that last year, as part of the 5th anniversary, a lot of effort was put into this area, this year I felt there could have been more installations apart from the three classic ones. Added to this, the arrangement of computers to view the works didn’t leave much room to breathe. I also felt there should have been a printed program of the conference and more information about the speakers and the projects exhibited, more than that given on the website.

Dr. Arnau Gifreu

Researcher, producer and lecturer