Simplicity & storytelling: Catch up on IDFA DocLab 2015

VR is the big showstopper at the moment, with a lot of festivals and conferences focusing on grappling with the issues of making non-fiction work in this new medium. In this whirlwind of hype, it feels as though projects using other methods of interactive storytelling are sidelined – or at least don’t receive the attention they deserve because they aren’t this years big thing.

This is no slight on Caspar Sonnen – the curator of IDFA DocLab – he did an incredible job of showcasing a huge variety of work at IDFA from a diverse selection of makers (also addressing the lack of female speakers at last years conference!). He hit everything really. And this is where the DocLab is really interesting, they recognise large trends like VR, give them space and stage time, but also challenge their dominance. A key voice for this is through the awards.

Last year Sarah Koenig and Julie Schneider scooped the Interactive Storytelling award with their podcast Serial, with this comment from the judges:

We greatly enjoyed the spirit of experimentation in the 15 projects, which integrated complex materials with interesting interfaces and interactions. Many are highly ambitious, others more simple delightful experiences. A central question we returned to was: How much to value technological innovation and novelty over storytelling? In some cases, we felt that the form or technique detracted from the content and emotional impact. On the other hand we saw projects that used innovative audience engagement and participatory activities. We are in a tremendously exciting period in the evolution of story telling and what matters most is not how we tell our stories, but what we have to say.

Above all, we were deeply impressed by the simplicity and the rigorous storytelling of the winner of this years IDFA Doclab competition.

A year on and a new award was created. The ‘Immersive non fiction award, won by Ant Hamptons’ surreal audio experience ‘Someone Else‘,  again elicited similar feedback from the jury:

For this new award, we chose a project that has simplicity at its heart. The tools used for this project are indeed state of the art: the real world and human imagination.

As the field of interactive documentary expands and more attention is drawn to it, I guess my call is to remember the diversity of approaches when it comes to interactive storytelling – virtual reality is just one medium and there are others out there too. Whilst i’m glad so much discussion is happening around VR production and new forms of documentary storytelling are being explored by the wider public, I think it’s also important to remember the IDFA jury comments when navigating this plethora of new work.
If, like me, you also missed out on IDFA DocLab this year, you can catch up with the highlights through this Storify: