Digital Bristol Week – Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi & Mandy Rose at BBC Bristol
Digital Bristol Week – Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi & Mandy Rose at BBC Bristol
The call is out for the REACT Hub Future Documentary Ideas Labs – a unique opportunity to develop ideas in emerging documentary.
“We’re bringing together creative companies and arts and humanities academics who share a passion for telling stories to explore how the internet, user generated content and changing audience expectations are transforming what we understand by documentary media. The process of application to REACT involves participation in one of these three half-day workshops followed by a written application. Places are limited and so will be issued on a first come first served basis. To find out more about the call, about the REACT Hub, and see what kinds of projects have been produced within REACT to date, take a look at http://www.react-hub.org.uk/ Hurry. Spaces are filling up fast.
1. “Bear 71 – haunting, terrific interactive doc”
The new year saw the launch of one of the best interactive documentaries I’ve experienced - a bear’s memoir of life and death in Canada’s Banff National Park! If you haven’t seen Bear 71 give it twenty minutes of your time today. You’ll be rewarded with Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes’ engrossing, sad, smart meditation on the tension that results “where the wild world ends and the wired world begins.” It’s a perfect marriage of platform, theme, and realisation. (Review January.)
2. “ i-Docs – a stellar lineup, a five minutes cycle ride from home.”
The second i-Docs Symposium took place in March. Brett Gaylor, Martha Ladly, Brian Winston, Sharon Daniel, Max Whitby were just some of the names in a terrific programme convened by Judith Aston and Sandra Gaudenzi in my new home town of Bristol. I have to declare an interest, as the event is hosted by the Digital Cultures Research Centre where I’m a fellow, and I’m a contributing editor to the i-Docs website. But the Symposium was a major event in this field, and 2012 has seen i-Docs grow into a substantial international community and thriving website which I’m proud to be part of. For a balanced view, read Brian Winston’s review of the symposium here - it’s the account of a sceptic about interactivity. Follow i-Docs on Twitter or subscribe to the site for all the latest news and upcoming events.
3. “Watching this Mad (Wo)Men remix, again.”
This terrific piece builds a collective voice of defiance from private incidents of gender conflict in Mad Men. Enjoy!
4. “The power of dialogue – Question Bridge”
At Sheffield Doc Fest in June I saw the Question Bridge installation. Question Bridge is a transmedia work about black American life and identity comprised of questions suggested and answered by participating black men. The installation works by positioning the visitor among the participants’ talking heads. Addressed as if a member of the community, you are called on to imagine and hear from many varied perspectives how the world looks through African American mens’ eyes. It’s profound and affecting. I had heard about this project back in March when producer Chris Johnson presented it at the inaugural event of MIT’s Open Doc Lab. I was knocked out by the powerful simplicity of the idea, which you can see in the web version. Do catch the installation if it’s in your area.
5. “Sue Clayton’s remarkable Hamedullah – The Road Home”
In June Hamedullah – The Road Home screened at the very special Cube cinema in Bristol. Sue Clayton was there to introduce the film, which tells the story of Hamedullah Hassany, a young asylum seeker returned ‘home’ to Kabul by the British immigration system at 18, after growing up in the UK. It’s a remarkable piece of work made from video fragments which Hamedullah Hassany shot on a camera smuggled to him by Clayton when he was in detention prior to being deported. The film starts with the statement that while the UK government deports young people it has never tracked what has happened to one of them on their return to supposedly safe environments. Through the bits and pieces of video that Hassany has managed to shoot and send back to Clayton the film tracks his return and the life that follows, and shows the physical and psychological hardship that he faces. It is understated but harrowing and constitutes an indictment of UK immigration law.
The project is also notable because of the impact it is making beyond simply raising awareness. A Facebook group has provided a hub for promoting the film and it has been shown widely this year. It is being used by barristers as defence evidence in deportation hearings. Building on the community that has grown around the film Clayton convened a meeting in September which initiated a collaborative research project to gather evidence towards a change in the law. Documentary has always had the potential to be a catalyst and organising platform. This side of documentary is finding fertile ground in the context of the affordances of networked culture.
6. “Have you tried CC’s new license chooser yet?”
The Creative Commons License Chooser launched in July makes it much easier to choose an open rights framework. Global Lives is an emergent documentary project which is showing what open rights can mean – as participants take advantage of content locally and the video recordings turn out to have unforeseen uses. Director of the Global Lives project David Evan Harris recently talked to Creative Commons about what CC means on that project. (There’s much more about Global Lives in this 2011 Collabdocs interview with Harris.)
7. “Summer reading – Artificial Hells “
This impressive book informed and inspired me over the Summer. Claire Bishop maps the aesthetically and politically divergent currents that have informed nearly a century of participatory art. She critiques the resulting work and the assumption that participation makes for “the ultimate political art”. Artificial Hells is a great read, a deep history, and challenges us to ask tough questions about collaborative and participatory work – the central one being; is it any good?
8. “RIP George Stoney”
July saw the death of the much loved and respected American documentarian and pioneer of access media, George Stoney, at the age of 96. (NY Times Obituary.) In 1968, while he was director of the National Film Board of Canada’s Challenge for Change programme his team handed cameras over to Native Americans who were protesting customs charges on a bridge across their land. The film that resulted, “You are on Indian Land” and the Challenge for Change output that followed inspired the development of access media in the US and beyond. Stoney went on to play a major role in a number of US access and alternative media projects as well as making films and teaching at NYU until the year before he died. While Stoney has gone it seems to me that his vision for documentary has found its historical moment. In the mid 2000′s the NFB set out to reinvent the Challenge for Change project in the digital age – an undertaking which led directly to the appointment of Kat Cizek as “Filmmaker in Residence” and to the multi award-winning Highrise project. Stoney was interested in documentary for community-building, a theme which is coming to the fore in a generation of purposeful participatory projects which are emerging now including Question Bridge (above) and Hollow – now in production, launching in Spring 2013. Stoney is much missed but his legacy is alive and kicking.
9. “New DG Tony Hall should follow Entwistles line on digital”
George Entwistle may have resigned as BBC Director General after only 54 days, but his successor Tony Hall should heed his call for genuinely new forms of digital content . The fact that the BBC’s iplayer and the bbc.co.uk service made it into the top ten brands of 2012, despite the damage that the BBC’s reputation had suffered this Autumn, underlines what the BBC has to gain by getting its digital offering right. Between 1996 and 2001 Tony Hall oversaw the development of the BBC news online proposition. Let’s hope he builds on that pioneering work now, giving BBC commissioners and producers a remit to make content that’s not just on digital platforms but native to them. (Open letter to the New DG – June)
10. “On the road to new forms of storytelling…we want to be in the driver’s seat. Ingrid Kopp – Looking under the Hood “
Ingrid Kopp, TFI New Media fund commissioner presented at Power to the Pixel Cross Media Forum in London in October. Kopp called for documentary makers to embrace the maker culture of the web. Her talk ranged across code, inter-disciplinary collaboration, participation, storytelling as software and hardware – urging documentarians “to open up their digital palette as creators” and access what Steven Johnson has called the “adjacent possible”.
11. “Looking forward to Sunday’s Interactive Documentary Conference at IDFA”
I attended and reviewed the IDFA conference in November. Seventeen projects were nominated for the 2012 IDFA DocLab Award and they are all worth checking out. I particularly like the oblique portrait of Chile being created by Christopher Murray, Antonio Luco and associates in MAFI – Filmic map of a Country – an ongoing collaborative project. No commentary. No interviews. No cuts. Carefully framed angles on the day-to-day life of a nation.
12. ” Zeega is so exciting.”
I’ve written about the terrific Mapping Main Street project and interviewed producers Kara Oehler and Jesse Shapins here (June 2010). Unfortunately, Oehler ended up remortgaging her flat to pay for that project. The team felt that this was not a viable production model for interactive documentary. With creative technologist James Burns, Oehler and Shapins set about creating a tool that could enable anyone to make interactive work without investing their life savings. That ambition has led to Zeega, which launched this year. It’s an open source tool for web publishing and interactive storytelling which enables the simple, elegant inter-connection of stills, moving images, maps and more. Zeega takes its place among a gathering roster of interactive production tools that have emerged in the last two years. They include Klynt, Popcorn Maker, 3WDOC, Storyplanet and Galahad. ( 3WDoc, Klynt and Popcorn Maker were compared by Maria Yanez and Eva Dominguez. for the i-Docs Symposium back in the Spring. ) One thing that distinguishes Zeega is the sensibility of the team. Named after Soviet film artist Dziga Vertov, it is shaped by an experimental documentary aesthetic which is expressed in its the visual style as well as in the projects that have been made within Zeega to date. But the Zeega team see their mission as not just facilitating interactive making, but in re-making the web itself as a connected, rich media environment. Will Zeega become the Blogger of the teens? We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile check Zeega out. And there’s lots more about the development and mission of the project in “The Zeega Revolution” - a Q & A between Jesse Shapins and Sandra Gaudenzi on i-Docs.
There was an upbeat mood at last Sunday’s Interactive Documentary Conference, organised by Caspar Sonnen for the fifth anniversary of the IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) new media programme, Doclab. The one-day event was one element in the Expanding Documentary programme which also included a number of exhibitions and live cinema events. “How does the documentary genre connect to visual art, music or the digital revolution? To robots, poetry and interactive installations?” What’s “…the link between documentary and innovation, experiment and adventure.” This was the territory of Expanding Documentary.
We’re now into the second wave of interactive storytelling, the European Documentary Network’s Ove Rishoj Jensen suggested in his opening remarks. The conference was about setting the stage for this wave by looking back, hearing from some pioneers, and thinking about the influence of technology. The event was asking; where is this taking us? & how do we build a sector for the industry here?
It was a stellar line-up including people and institutions (Arte, NFB) who have played a key role in the development of the field. The presentations drew on a wealth of experience and expertise. I won’t attempt to summarise the whole day. Here instead are some headlines, some themes, some questions the speakers posed, and some highlights.
Moments of Innovation – 1960 and now
Hugues Sweeney from the NFB explained how he sees the invention of sync sound just over half a century ago as the moment in documentary history that is most relevant for our own transformative era. He showed a historic clip from the 1958 NFB film, Les Ragatteurs, in which Michel Brault the sound recordist put his tape recorder down within the shot, in sight of the camera. This was the breakthrough moment that made the film makers realise that they could sync up film and sound using a visual reference. (This led to the use of the clapperboard.) Sweeney’s contemporary experiments explore how today’s emerging technologies can again expand the terrain of documentary. Sweeney’s guiding question: What does technology teach us about reality when we listen closely? His new project, A Journal of Insomnia, is a participatory piece now being populated by drawing in user contributions via the screen and through twitter, cloaked in a dreamy, late night feel. Looking forward, Sweeney wondered; what would a documentary about migration look like that used GPS, a documentary about friendship that used SMS, about depression that used brain sensors?
Historian of media technology, William Uricchio, also pointed to that moment around 1960 when the mobile sync camera was born as the key reference point for today. The technological afffordance of sync sound redefined documentary, he explained, and opened up a new market – TV. Uricchio is Principal Investigator at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab which launched last year. (I attended their inaugural meeting in Cambridge, Mass back in March.) Uricchio situated the Lab’s interest in emerging forms of non-fiction media in relation to the Institute’s overall remit to bring a critical perspective to how we are inventing the future through technology. Their research interest: how to make good use of emerging, accessible tools and platforms for storytelling?
Written by Uricchio, Moments of Innovation (MoI) charts the evolution of documentary in relation to technology, bringing a welcome historical perspective to contemporary innovation. Uricchio chose one example from MoI to encapsulate the work of the project. Minard’s map – a data visualisation from 1812 – reveals the devastating story of the affect of Napoleon’s march on Russia on his troops. For Uricchio, the archeology provided by Moments of Innovation is about revealing previously unseen patterns, and showing how today’s work relates to long-term desires in storytelling.
Welcome to the Age of the Interface
The Interface was a major theme of the day, with presenters considering the relationship between technology, affordance and story. Daniel Burwen started the discussion with his presentation – “Welcome to the age of the interface”. Burwen suggested that interactive documentary could learn much from game designers who know how to tell a compelling story through a dialogue. Joel Ronez, former Arte commissioner, now at Radio France, amused and provoked by talking about his own cross-platform failures, which had usually involved mistaking technological affordance for content. His injunctions: No to interactive maps, meaningless UGC, purposeless interactivity. Characters belong to the story, they are not the story. All this revolved around his keypoint – “Interface is not the story”.
This theme echoed through the keynote by Upian’s CEO, Alexandre Brachet. When he first came to IDFA Brachet told us, he’d felt out of place. Now, he feels he’s coming home – vindicated in his long-term belief in “the internet and documentary – a great couple”. Walking us through Thanatorama.com, one of his first ventures into the territory – which invites the user to discover what happens to a body after death – he showed how fluent Upian already were in interactive non-fiction back in 2007.
Brachet confesses to being “obsessed with how to tell stories through the interface”. His preoccupations – how to engage using interactive tools, with a cinematographic quality, and a fit between design and content. His company’s success has been guided by one simple principle, “At Upian we always start with the Story.” That approach seems to be paying off in audience reaction and Brachet showed stats that have been rising dramatically over the years. Gaza / Sderot - made in 2007 & accessed every day; best daily traffic – 7K a day. Prison Valley’s strongest traffic – 21K a day. Alma has already had 60K views in a single day. Taking content to a wider audience through partner sites was also key to that success, Brachet explained, in this case syndicating via a newspaper.
Tate Media – Co-creation at the Museum
Though I’d seen particular projects I hadn’t realised what an impressive body of interactive work Tate Modern have been developing. The objective at Tate Modern is simple – encourage engagement with art – and Jane Burton, Creative Director, Tate Media – talked through the work she’s commissioned in the last few years to try and do just that. Standout projects include The Gallery of Lost Art – one of the pieces on display at IDFA – a moody evocation of disappeared art works reminiscent of a crime scene investigation. Take a look soon because this, like the artworks, is going to disappear (in this case, deliberately.) Burton also commissioned Aaron Koblin and Chris Milk to create This Exquisite Forest – a collaborative animation project inspired by the Surrealist game Exquisite Corpses. Burton is interested in the quality as well as the quantity of contributions to that project, and noted how the artists original offer sets the standard for what follows. When Ai Wei Wei asked for video questions from visitors to his Sunflower Seeds exhibit he got 11,000. The video of One to One, based on the virtual exchanges that resulted, was moving, and revealing of the artist. In these Tate projects you can see a very purposeful use of interactivity and participation to explore the “Museum as a place of co-creation”.
More or Less
Jonathan Puckey CEO of Moniker showed examples of his studio’s playful, prolific output. Their work includes More or Less, a participatory music video that updates hourly, and PointerPointer a project which has turned viral by engaging geeky fans with a mystery – how did they write an algorithm that could recognise a finger pointing? Elsewhere, Moniker have been mining participatory photos to create alt. collections eg the failed self-timer moment. They’ve made comic use of the clichés of interactive design eg delaying loading for dramatic effect. Puckey and associates are clearly in their creative element, and having a lot of fun. We can look forward to lots more to enjoy from Moniker.
“How Submarine learned to love and hate the App store”
Bruno Felix from Submarine Channel (creators of immersive web doc ‘Collapsus’ and interactive comic ‘The Art of Pho’) offered the sobering story of the trouble they ran into trying to make an iPad app for the documentary Keep on Steppin‘ with film maker Marjoleine Boonstra. Their aim was to create a documentary native to that platform, but the app was repeatedly rejected by the App Store. Comments like, “We found the features of your app were not entertaining enough” revealed a yawning chasm between the agenda that drives a creative documentary and that of the Store. Felix described how they re-categorised the project. They added functionality. They kept tweaking. They struggled to get a human being on the phone. He talked against a backdrop of the hilarious, scary comments they got back from the store.
Tablets seem to offer great promise for documentary – a mainstream platform, a new audience accessibility. But as Felix said, “There’s a new gatekeeper. It’s the App Store.” The fact that the gatekeeper turns out to be, not a commissioner, but a micro-serf processing applications in India, adds a contemporary twist to the story. Felix will be resubmitting the app…
As I grabbed my things to head for the airport I noticed William Uricchio with Cubie, the robot documentarist who was in residence at the exhibition. When the media historian turned Cubie’s gaze and questions in my direction I was taken aback by my reaction: I wanted to talk to her. (A camera in a cardboard box had been given design attributes – ‘cute’, vulnerable – that were unnervingly effective in drawing you in. In terms of getting the interviewees to open up this one could give Molly Dineen a run for her money.) Technology rolls on, and what comes next will have its own allure and challenges for documentary. Time to start thinking about the ethics of the non-human film maker.
There’s a video about the development of Cubie and her friends here.
A longer version of this post appears on i-Docs.org
Good news from Broadcasting House. In his first speech in the job, George Entwistle, the BBC’s new Director General, calls for “genuinely new forms of digital content”, born of the participatory environment of the web. And he’s going to restructure the organisation to enable the kinds of conversations and collaborations that are needed to make that happen.
I made a very similar case in my recent Open Letter to the New DG and it’s exciting that this is Entwistle’s vision. It’s going to be challenging, but Entwistle is clear about what’s needed from a production perspective – taking apart the silos that currently separate radio, TV and creative technology to “integrate all three disciplines – definitively.” He sees the new shape of production as genre based, which I’m sure is right. There’ll be some changes to commissioning needed too.
It’s going to take time. Don’t expect to see the likes of Bear 71 or The Johnny Cash Project coming out of the BBC right away. But a corner has been turned. Below is that section of Entwistle’s speech. You can read the whole speech here.
“The BBC is rightly thought to have done well in the early stages of the digital revolution. iPlayer has been feted for its superbly engineered platform, which set new standards in video streaming, and a user interface that made catching up on the TV you’d missed a pleasure. But while celebrating all that, the real key to iPlayer is the unmissability of the content it offers.
Even in our near-miraculous coverage of the Olympics, I would say that we’ve taken – joyously – our capacity to present and distribute existing forms of content to their natural limits rather than innovate to discover genuinely new forms of content.
Yet it’s the quest for this – genuinely new forms of digital content – that represents the next profound moment of change we need to prepare for if we’re to deserve a new charter.
As we increasingly make use of a distribution model – the internet – principally characterised by its return path, its capacity for interaction, its hunger for more and more information about the habits and preferences of individual users, then we need to be ready to create content which exploits this new environment – content which shifts the height of our ambition from live output to living output.
We need to be ready to produce and create genuinely digital content for the first time. And we need to understand better what it will mean to assemble, edit and present such content in a digital setting where social recommendation and other forms of curation will play a much more influential role.
Now I believe an organisation run, for decades now, around the existing platforms and the content they define for themselves – radio and TV – is going to find it hard to get ready for that. A television or radio organisation can always be forgiven for obsessing only about the creation of television or radio.
To be ready for the world into which a new Charter would take us we will need to change the way we’re organised.
So, in around two years time, my aim is to have restructured the BBC – with fundamental implications for A&M, Vision and Future Media. To be ready to create and curate genuinely digital content, we will need to integrate all three disciplines – definitively. We need to ask people from all three to work more closely together in order to imagine ourselves into the space where a new kind of content is possible.”
There are a couple of opportunities in England this month for some hands-on experimentation and learning with new tools for interactive and ‘”connected” documentary.
Following the i_Docs Symposium here in Bristol there will be two parallel day-long workshops on Saturday 24th with industry professionals from 3WDOC and HonkyLab. “The workshops will explore each company’s cutting-edge authoring software…you will get the opportunity to work closely with the creators of these new tools. HonkyLab and 3WDOC teams will spend the morning teaching participants how to use the tools and the rest of the day leading the development of collaborative projects using the tools. So participants get the most out of these workshops, the group sizes are going to be small so tickets are limited, Book now to ensure your place!”
These are precious opportunities if you’re interested in new directions for documentary.
On tour in the US and on the bill at the upcoming SXSW Film Festival, Girl Walk//All Day is a feature length music video which has evolved from an initial idea in Autumn 2010 through a Kickstarter campaign a year ago to its current release through a crowd-sourced distribution structure. As producer Jacob Krupnik explains on the project blog, the idea behind the piece was, ” to expand the boundaries around the idea of the traditional music video, which usually spans the length of a single track.” Looked at another way it’s a documentary of a live dance performance that plays out across the streets of Manhattan, and an observation of people’s responses to the improvisations of the piece’s star, the terrific young dancer Anne Marsen. The piece was made available for free online in short, serialized segments. It is now touring as a full-length film with a live interactive experience. Music is mashup artist Greg Gillis aka Girl Talk‘s album All Day.
Paul Tough describes the early evolution of the piece in the New York Times.
Tickets are now available for i-Docs 2012. Following 2011′s successful inaugural event i-Docs 2012 has been expanded to two full days and will take place here at Bristol’s Watershed Media Centre on March 22nd and 23rd. Convened by Judith Aston and Sandra Gaudenzi on behalf of the Digital Cultures Research Centre (the home of my research), the symposium brings together producers, scholars and students of interactive documentary to grapple with the diverse practices and theorisation of this fast developing field.
There’s a very strong lineup this year including keynotes speakers reflecting cutting-edge and award winning work – Jigar Mehta (i8 Days in Egypt), Brett Gaylor (rip! A Remix Manifesto, Popcorn Maker) , Submarine Channel (Collapsus), Katerina Cizek (Highrise), who’ll be presenting via Skype, as well as the esteemed documentary scholar Brian Winston, from whom we can expect a challenging intervention. Panels will look at themes including Layered Reality, Participation and Activism. An important feature of this year’s symposium will be sessions examining some of the key emerging tools for authoring and creating web documentary – Popcorn maker, 3WDoc and Klynt. It’s a rich programme with concurrent sessions running much of the time which has been carefully structured to provide the space for in-depth discussion of work and ideas.
The full programme is now online where you can also buy tickets. I hope to see you there.
Meanwhile do explore the i-Docs website whicb is fast becoming a rich resource (though I should declare an interest as a contributing editor.) ”You’ll find academic and blog references, an archive of existing i-docs , a forum open to discussions about all the possible forms of i-docs you can think of. A team of experts have joined forces to open the discussion on what is interesting and/or new in this emergent field, and on the ethical, aesthetic, political and financial consequences of the i-doc genre. We welcome your participation! Feel free to mail your papers and ideas to the co-editors of our discussion section, or simply comment on their posts.”
Just launched at Sundance, Bear 71 is a brilliant interactive documentary created by Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison with the NFB Digital Studio. It’s a haunting story told from the point-of-view of a female grizzly bear – Bear 71 – about humans and animals in the Banff National Park, and how animals are being devastated in that relationship. It’s about nature, technology, surveillance, and hubris. From the moment the worldweary voice-over started I was hooked.
“My own home range is around a town called Canmore. Now that town has doubled in size in the last decade. And it gets about five million tourists a year. Think of us as refugees, I guess… Thing is, you can take a grizzly out of the prairie but you can’t take the prairie out of the grizzly.”
The documentary draws on a wealth of photos and video from motion triggered cameras that Allison has gained access to – of bears, elks, foxes, tourists. It uses GPS data mapping. It cleverly mixes linear and non-linear experiences, with parts you have to watch, and time to explore, think and let the dreamy soundtrack wash over you. But listing the parts doesn’t do justice to the whole. It’s one of those pieces where the elements work just right, held together led by that terrific voice (Mia Kirshner),
“It was Bear 66 who taught me to stay away from the tracks…Because what’s the first law of survival? Don’t do what comes naturally. If you break that rule you become a statistic. Since 2000 17 grizzly bears have been killed on the Bow Valley due to railroad fatalities. …That’s one every five kilometres of track.”
The navigation isn’t always 100% clear to start with, but that’s fine. I was a little lost, but comfortable mooching around, exploring all the feeds, watching the animals, who we discover are really the ones who have lost their bearings in a ‘wilderness’ that’s been overtaken by humans and their traces. You get drawn in, metaphorically, then literally, via your webcam. Human 111871, that’s me. Once in a while you spot a fellow human, another viewer. I tried waving, but they didn’t see me. We were watchers, and watched, not doers, in this scenario.
Having to find my way made me think of Peter Dukes recent article on the role of the user [I so hate this term but what else is there?] in interactive documentary. He quotes the artist filmmaker Ken Jacobs, writing about found footage, and his dislike of being told what to make of things, “Better to just be pointed to the territory, to put in time exploring, roughing it, on our own.” Bear 71 manages a nice balancing act between openness and direction.
With its use of data and personalisation, the work pushes documentary boundaries in a number of directions. It also makes an interesting contribution to the genre of first-person [sic] documentary. Hovering close to fiction, the way the voice pulls you in recalls classic screen narrators – In a Lonely Place, the similarly post-deceased Kevin Spacey character in American Beauty, Blade Runner (sci-fi comes strongly to mind). It made me think about just what a powerful device voice can be in interactive documentary – addressing us in the intimate context of the personal screen.
For anyone at Sundance or in Utah in the next few months, there’s also an installation, made with Lance Weiler, at The Yard in Park City and at UMOCA (Utah Museum of Contemporary Art ) until April 19. Go if you can. I wish I could see that. Or check out the reactions on Twitter #bear71
Mozilla’s mission, as Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, explained at the start of proceedings at the Mozilla Festival yesterday, is about building choice, freedoms and technologies into the web to make it a place where we can be makers, not just users. Mozilla are putting their supporters money where their mouth is, building these values in practice through open-source projects which began with the Firefox browser. The ethos of the Mozilla Festival is “less yack, more hack”, and the running order is made up of learning labs and workshops where projects are developed in a sprint. This years theme is “Media, Freedom and the Web”; the question, “what if media can be as open as hypertext has been?” and the open plan spaces of Ravensbourne College‘s RIBA award winning campus in North Greenwich, were abuzz yesterday (and will be today) with people working on ambitious, important projects including The Data Journalism Handbook - which will give aspiring journalists a toolkit for accessing and making sense of data available through the web. See the Festival site for the agenda and some of the coverage.
So there was a lot to be excited about at the Festival. Even so, the release of Mozilla’s Popcorn 1.0 – the HTML5 tool that “makes video work like the web” was the big story yesterday. If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ll know about Popcorn – a tool for linking video to other web content – which has been in pre-release over the last year. (CollabDocs posts include Open Video Conference 2010). If not you can find out more in this backgrounder on Popcorn from Matt at Mozilla (thanks for the post title.)
Kat Cizek’s One Millionth Tower, a ground-breaking documentary spin-off from the Highrise project, is made with open-source tools – Popcorn and Web GL (which enables the interactive generation of 3D graphics). It premiered at the Festival last night. (Unfortunately I had to leave early but experienced the hoopla via my Twitter feed on the train home. ) You can see it in linear form, more importantly explore it (you’ll need Chrome or Firefox) now on Wired.com. This is surely the first time the magazine has led on a documentary story, which underlines the significance of this moment for the moving image.
As Wired puts it; One Millionth Tower, ”is not just a static story recorded on film and then edited together for audiences. It exists in a 3-D setting made possible by a tool called three.js, which lets viewers walk around the high-rise neighborhood. Moving through allows viewers to see the current state of urban decay, then activate elements to show ways the residents would change their world, like an animation showing where a new playground or garden would go.
The interactive movie is chock-full of photos from Flickr, street-views from Google Maps and changing environments fueled by real-time weather data from Yahoo. Everything is triggered by Popcorn.js, which acts like a conductor signalling which instruments play at what times.”
Brett Gaylor, filmmaker and Mozilla lead on the Popcorn project has said, “This is the moment where web video grows up as an artistic medium. In the same way that earlier film pioneers experimented with new techniques like montage, we’re now seeing ‘web-made movies’ that pull in real time information from the web.”
One Millionth Tower isn’t a totally slick product. It’s not an end in itself, but it involves significant innovation which has come about through a happy confluence of open-source politics, some very talented people, and imaginative investment by Mozilla and the National Film Board of Canada. Cizek explained how the approach emerged in an interview with CollabDocs a few months ago. There’s lots more background on One Millionth Tower on Wired. Check out the Open Technology video for an explanation of the open-source technologies involved in the piece. But let’s not forget the theme of urban life and community which is the subject of One Millionth Tower, and the inspiring collaborative approach to documentary production which the project reflects. This is Cizek and her team reinventing documentary for social change as a 21st century practice. (Read more about how Cizek was hired by the National Film Board of Canada to rework the seminal Challenge for Change project here.)
As Cizek says in the Open Technology video, “The philosophy behind open-source technology is that the technology is all of ours to own. That’s exactly the philosophy behind all the projects of Highrise. One Millionth Tower is about us owning our urban space and having the power and the vision to transform it.”
The Popcorn 1.0 release includes the Popcorn Maker, an easy to use authoring tool. Try it, you’ll be linking your video to other web content in moments. We have been used to video sitting on the web within a player, aloof from the linked and networked character of its environment. Popcorn changes that. Seeing it in action on your own video content is the best way of getting a feel for why this matters for documentary.