Digging deeper into the IDFA 2015 Doclab selection

Fifteen projects are competing for the IDFA 2016 DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling this November – some are playful experimentations, others explore complex situations and all employ new techniques to tell a story.

Here’s a run-down of them all, with handy links to each project (if available):

The Deeper They Bury Me by Ted Biggs/Angad Bhalla (Canada, 2015)

An NFB project, The Deeper They Bury Me is an interactive encounter with Herman Wallace, an infamous political prisoner in the US, who spent 40 years living in solitary confinement.

It was inspired by by Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace’s art project The House that Herman Built and Angad Singh Bhalla’s film Herman’s House.

DMZ: Memories of No Man’s Land by Hayoun Kwon (South Korea, 2015, 20 min.)

It was only a matter of time before VR was used to take a user inside North Korea, a place which is generally inaccessible to the majority of the rest of the world. This project explores the Korean Demilitarized Zone (D.M.Z) – a strip of land about 248 km long and 4 km wide that separates North Korea from South Korea – through the memory of a former soldier.

Drawing Room by Jan Rothuizen (The Netherlands, 2015, 7 min.)

Step into the sketched 360 world created by artist Jan Rothuizen.

Exhausting a Crowd by Kyle McDonald (USA, 2015, 720 min.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 2.28.59 pm

Commissioned by the V&A for an exhibition earlier this year, Exhausting a Crowd is:

A crowdsourced description of 12 hours in Piccadilly Circus, London, inspired by the classic 60-page piece of experimental literature from Georges Perec, “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris”, written from a bench over three days in 1974.

Go and play with this project now.

Imperial Courts by Eefje Blankevoort/Dana Lixenberg (The Netherlands, 2015)

Unfortunately I can’t find out much about this specific project online, aside from it’s an interactive documentary collaboration with photographer Dana Lixenberg, who undertook a 22 year photographic project on a South Central LA housing project called Imperial Courts. Interested to see the outcome of this collaboration!

You can find out more about the Imperial Courts project in this interview with Dana.

Lahore Landing by Jeremy Ho (Singapore, 2015)

Lahore Landing Teaser from Lahore Landing on Vimeo.

Lahore Landing is an initiative by four students, Taahira, Jeremy, Jemimah and Andre from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  It was posted about in the i-Docs Facebook group a while ago and it’s great to see this student project gain international recognition!

The project is an interactive documentary that looks beyond the headlines to explore the lives of Pakistanis.

Life on Hold by Reem Haddad/Dima Gharbawi Shaibani (Qatar, 2015)

An important AJ interactive piece that highlights the plight of Syrian refugees. You can read more about the project in my interview with producers Reem Haddad and Dima Shaibani.

LoVR by Aaron Bradbury (England, 2014, 5 min.)

More VR 360 storytelling, this time: A story of love, told through neural activity captured over 4 seconds. Plus loads of mind-bending visualisations and music from Jon Hopkins.

Network Effect by Jonathan Harris/Greg Hochmuth (USA, 2015)

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 1.38.26 pm

Two years on from I Love Your Work Jonathan Harris has released his latest interactive offering and there’s a lot to take in. Unfortunately (and intentionally) you’re only given a certain amount of time to explore the site until you’re kicked off for 24 hours. Harris has commented “It’s total information overload,” and that’s the point.


The Quipu Project, Talking Knots by Maria Court/Rosemarie Lerner (Peru/England, 2015)

It’s always great to see another iteration of The Quipu Project, which we have followed since it’s inception at the REACT Future Documentary Sandbox.

A transmedia documentary project that will make visible the stories of 300,000 women and 20,000 men who were sterilised in Peru in the mid-1990s.

You can read more about projects’ participatory documentary techniques here.

RecoVR Mosul: A Collective Reconstruction by Ziv Schneider/Laura Chen (USA, 2015)

Struggling to find much about this specific piece, but it seems to be a collaboration between this awesome project The Museum of Stolen Art and another crowdsourcing project called Project Mosul – both looking to preserve artworks that have either been destroyed or stolen during conflicts.

Unknown Photographer by Bertrand Carrière (Canada, 2015)

Again, sadly finding it difficult to get much information about this project online. However after researching Carrière’s previous works, I am assuming it’s a follow up to a photographic exhibition entitled Unknown Photographer, in which he retraced the footsteps of an unknown World War I photographer introduced to him through a photo album he discovered by chance. Would be interested to find out more!

Waves of Grace by Gabo Arora (USA, 2015)


Following in the footsteps of Clouds over Sidra, this 360 VR film also created by Chris Milk and Gabo Arora, forms part of the larger UN initiative to fight donor fatigue.

Waves of Grace calls attention to the formidable obstacles that Ebola survivors still face, despite having survived and recovered from the disease.  The film transports viewers to West Point, the most populous slum in the capital of Liberia, and follows the experience of Decontee Davis, an Ebola survivor who uses her immunity to help others affected by the disease.

Witness 360: 7/7 by Darren Emerson (England, 2015, 13 min.)

Great to see not one but three UK projects in the mix this year! This VR film uses the 360 video to tell the story of 7/7 survivor Jacqui Putnam’s experiences before, during, and after the terrorist attacks that hit London in 2005.

word.camera by Ross Goodwin (USA, 2015)

A portion of the text that came from my picture

A portion of the text that came from my picture

This project drew my attention immediately, I think perhaps because of the ambiguous url. Anyway, it did not disappoint – clever coding using convolutional neural networks extract concept words from an image. It’s still in development, so expect a few bugs, but overall I could play with this for a long time…