It is sleek and it works; is this enough?

Brèves de Trottoirs” (translatable as “Sidewalk Shorts”) is a 2010/2011 stylish French multi-platform documentary from writer Olivier Lambert and photojournalist Thomas Salva. The aim is to portray what they call “daily celebrities” living in  a complex city such as Paris. Their videos of Parisians with interesting backstories has appeared online and on television, and is in the process of becoming a full-length documentary film – even an i-Pad and i-phone version are now available. Does this explosion of platforms make it the latest French multi-platform project?

I personally think that this project is done with style and attention to the detail. The characters are interesting and emotionally grabbing (a 26 years old girl that invents the job of “explorer of flavours” , a homeless speculator, a papy dancer, a transvestite hairdresser…). The visual style is sleek (the use of photos to bridge between a video and another as a way to “stop time” is particularly effective). The graphic style is elaborate (an interface of Parisian street walls and posters allows the user to navigate within the project)… and the whole thing really works. (Yes, I did watch at least four stories and kept browsing for a good 30 minutes!)

And yet… is it really interactive? As authors Lambert and Salva said themselves in an interview for Nieman Storyboard “Brèves de Trottoirs is linear. You can’t create your own storytelling. That’s what we like to do. For that reason, our storytelling is not different from a traditional documentary”.

Although I like this project, because it really works, I am wondering what is new about it. In 1996 (15 years ago!) Janet H.Murray had already realised a very similar project at MIT:  Dans un Quartier de Paris. Murray’s project was done with a linguistic aim, but the idea was very similar: use digital technology (CD-ROM!) to simulate a walk in the street of Paris and discover its diversity through the glances of its inhabitants. Brèves de Trottoirs is obviously a thousand times more immersive and sleek than Dans un quartier de Paris: finally video can be full screen and good quality, and we can see that in 15 years graphic design has made miracles in inventing its own language – made of consistency, good video compression and fluidity. So… has the evolution of interactive media language made all the difference between those two projects?  And is the so called multi-platform aspect of Brèves de Trottoirs adding anything to it?

Basically, what I am asking is: have fifteen years of experiments in interactive documentary brought us to a new language, or just to a better user interface and user experience?