Interactive Documentaries – an investigation in progress…

by stronged


In this article Arnau Gifreu Castells explains how the boundaries of authorship and control of the filmmaker in composing interactive documentaries is less important. This conjecture unsettles me as I believe that this style of narrative is still constructed by it’s creator. Even random interactive documentaries, where the user can jump from completely different locations within the narrative, are an assembly of refined video clips that the filmmaker has uploaded for specific reasons.

“The novelty of social and participative media is to include the viewer, the third level observer, and to give her agency in the feedback loops between media, content and environment. As a result the viewer participant engages differently in an interactive documentary than in a linear one. Her agency goes far beyond the act of interpretation or empathy, typical in linear films, and stretches as far as new modes of interaction can go. What is relevant in digital interactive forms is the degree of agency that the multiple participants have on the final product…” (Gaudenzi, 2009:97).

‘In interactive documentaries, the process does not stop, and by extension, they can be considered “living systems” that continue to change until while collaboration and participation is sustainable, or desired by the users or systems within it.’

This notion fascinates me. How a narrative can be it’s own living, evolving mechanism is an incredible accomplishment. The combination of the right ingredients can construct a fully autonomous system that you are able to react with in order to understand a) how it operates, and b) derive nourishment from the narrative that it offers.

‘many products are defined using different terminology: documentaries on new media, digital or web documentaries, interactive films, narrative databases, interactive explorations, virtual tours, digital essays, etc.’

Researcher Sandra Gaudenzi (2009)

‘Technological singularity is a theory that predicts that there will come a point in the near future when computers will be able to design other computers better than humans can. The theory states that we will reach a point at which we will lose control and the ability to understand how these new computers and complex systems develop. This is called “singularity” as an analogy to the singularity that physicists study. Within these singularities, the known laws of physics cease to be valid – such as the singularity inside black holes and the origin of the Big Bang – and it is impossible to engage in any speculation or prediction about what will happen afterwards. It is unknown territory. It is easier to understand the concept and what it entails by reading The singularity is near, by Raymond Kurzweil (2005).’

Flat Rate:

‘“As the bandwith of networks appoaches that of modern local devices, all the possible creative uses of interaction by means of multimedia elements must be able to be transferred seamlessly and without any problems to be enriched with the specific opportunities to update and relocate content and the opportunities for shared and immediate authorship or participation in networked interaction” (Ribas, 2000:9).’ – Ignasi Ribas

‘…interactive digital documentaries that not only use a digital format which could be any existing medium, from digital video to mobile phones or the Internet, but also require a physical-corporal type of interaction by the user-participant, an involvement that goes beyond the mental action of interpretation … with the aim of identifying different logics of documentation of reality and new modes of subjectivity” (Gaudenzi, 2009:4).’

‘“This is one of the differences between linear and interactive documentaries: digital interactive documentaries can be seen as “living systems” that continue to change themselves until collaboration and participation is sustainable, or wished by the users, or by the systems that compose it. In order to see the documentary as a system in constant relation with its environment, and to see it as “a living system” I propose in this research to use a Cybernetic approach, more precisely a Second Order Cybernetic approach, and to see the documentary as an autopoietic entity with different possible levels of openness, or closure, with its environment” (Gaudenzi, 2009:6)…The end result of the documentary (what it says) and the discoursive order (hot[sic] it says it) may end up assuming very different forms to those initially anticipated by the director or the script of the work.’ A form of technological singularity.

“Interactivity stands as a counterpart to participation. The two concepts cover much the same ground, requiring action on the part of the user and responsiveness on the part of the system. Both result in dynamic and individualized encounters … and each requires the other. The difference? Interactivity leans in a ‘readerly’ direction, and generally pertains to the encounter between the user and the textual world; participation leans in a ‘producerly’ direction, and often refers to gathering the building blocks for that world.”
William Uricchio

In a webdoc reality is more co-created rather than represented.

In a webdoc authorship is more about facilitating than about narrating.

collaboration between story / platform / design / storytelling together

a web doc is a mixed media concept and structure not a multimedia one

According to Screen Australia:

‘Interactive documentaries, also known as web documentaries or i-docs, are multimedia documentary projects distributed via the internet. They are defined by a number of characteristics:

  • Like film or television documentaries, they present a creative interpretation of actuality.
  • They generally feature video content as well as various other media such as images, text, audio, hyperlinks and user-generated content.
  • The user navigates through the components of the project autonomously and/or contributes, for example by uploading content.
  • They may be standalone projects, or launched in conjunction with broadcast documentary series, where substantial content is produced specifically for the interactive component of the project (as opposed to a companion website which may feature repurposed broadcast material or minimal original content.)
  • Interactive documentaries are distinguished from online archives or databases by the interpolation of media assets within an overarching narrative or point of view.
  • They generally display a consistent and distinctive visual style.

**Tribeca, Sundance and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam have begun to showcase interactive documentaries as part of their programs.

Aussie interactive Docos:

Reputable Internationals:

Creator of Korsakow’s (Florian Thalhofer) latest work:

Florian is quite the maestro. Obviously. The man created the software from scratch! Incredible. A great interactive doco about the Galata Bridge in Istanbul and it’s inhabitants. I like how the doco functions like hypertext, each subject presented when they are mentioned in the introductory clip. There are also little breaks woven within the narrative, clips that are simple montages of cut-aways to allow the user some breathing space before moving onto the next subject/clip.

Monika Kin Gagnon’s exploration of her father’s (artist Charles Gagnon’s) work:

The personal investigation of a father’s posthumous work by his daughter. It slightly annoys me that you are unable to manually manipulate the timeline for each clip in korsakow – I feel like the user should have more power to navigate through the footage. I really liked her use of self-reflection though. She commentates her experience of the environment as she video’s it,  describing her personal connection to it (eg. her fathers graveside). She has then added another layer of reflection through korsakow, adding subtitles to unpack her experience even further.

Another National Film Board of Canada interactive documentary that has incredible production standards. Love the design, interface and concept.

Pretty slick interactive doco stripping back the layers of characters involved in the American prison system – specifically situated around Cañon City, Colorado.

‘The participative options of digital media enhance our acting role and therefore allow us to mediate reality in a shape that is more attuned with our way of being in the world. We create reality while we collaborate in a social forum, we create knowledge while posting on Wikipedia, we document our world while posting on YouTube… It is not the filmmaker anymore that re-orders a reality by editing parts of his/her shooting experience, but it is the users that create a collaborative reality by documenting their own point of view in what then becomes a multiple reality.

The definition of what this multiple reality might be, and how this can be expressed – or visualized- via interactive documentaries…’

Sandra Gaudenzi’s visual haiku blog has given me an idea to look for natural systems around me. I need to become more observant to the organic, disordered or otherwise, systems that are created naturally and artificially around me. Without sounding too much like a deranged lunatic (ala Pi), I concur with Florian Thalhofer’s supposition that ‘linearity is basically a lie, that we have been using linear narratives to tell stories because there were no other technological ways to do it.’ Or perhaps not to such a dramatic extent. I feel there is more than one way to communicate a narrative. Cinema can only explore it passively (with the advent of multi-linear narratives) but once interactive narratives become mainstream it will allow all users to place a fingerprint on their own experience of a medium, creating their own unique narrative each time they experience the content.

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Generally, open source refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community. Open source sprouted in the technological community as a response to proprietary software owned by corporations. (