Digital Bristol Week – Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi & Mandy Rose at BBC Bristol
Digital Bristol Week – Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi & Mandy Rose at BBC Bristol
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.
Here’s a recent talk I gave in a session on Future Documentary at a BBC Academy event. My focus was on crowd-funding, collaboration, and “connected documentary”.
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
In a recent blog post – Stop Making Docs - Brian Newman argued that the era of the short doc has arrived. With the web, shareable media, mobile exhibition, he argues, the longer and feature length documentaires that dominate festivals are no longer where it’s at, if the aim is to reach an audience and make an impact. His alternative, “Make me a really interesting website, that happens to have maybe 20 minutes total of video. In 3 minute segments. Let me trade it, use it, share it, on my phone. Let it actually have an impact instead of just stroking your and your funder’s egos. Let it be interesting and aware of today’s realities. Let it be useful. Let it never play a film festival. Ever.”
The film maker who is really working this territory is Tiffany Shlain. The founder of the Webby Awards, Shlain has been developing a form of web-native filmmaking she has called “Cloud Filmmaking”. Nov 8th saw the release of her latest film, Brain Power. Shareable, on web and mobile. Here it is:
The video asks what we learn when we compare the internet to the human brain. It turns out to be a rich analogy. Compare them – neurons v web pages – the internet is much bigger. Synapses v hyperlinks – the brain of a human baby is vastly bigger. (Don’t ask me how anyone can quantify these things…) Recent discoveries about how the infant brain develops in relation to human interaction now make it clear how the quality and consistency of early interaction is critical for healthy human development. Continuing the analogy – brain, internet – the film asks what the internet, still in its infancy, needs for healthy development. Give the film ten minutes of your time. It’s interesting. It’s also being released in the form of a TED book.
Brain Power is a video that’s truly native to the networked environment. Not in the sense that the viewing experience is interactive, or “connected” (taking advantage of HTML5), but in terms of its production and distribution. It expresses the vision that Shlain and her associates at the Moxie Institute have enshrined in The Cloud Filmmaking Manifesto.
1. To use the cloud to collaboratively create films with people from all over the world.
2. To create films about ideas that speak to the most universal qualities
of human life, focusing on what connects us, rather than what divides us.
3. To give back as much as is received, by offering
free customized films to organizations around the world to further their message.
4. To use the cloud to translate films into as many languages as possible.
5. To push the boundaries of both filmmaking and distribution by combining
the newest collaborative tools available online with the potential of all the people in the world.
So Brain Power has a remix aesthetic, heavy on archive, stills and animation. It includes sequences drawn in through crowd-sourcing; gathered, for example, by asking how people in different places imagine the brain. The background to the approach, Shlain has explained, ”When YouTube first came out, I had a vivid dream that all the videos were in HD quality and had easy pull-down menus that explained how I could license the footage. I was like a kid in a candy store. As a filmmaker who hardly shoots anything and is primarily into remixing and recontextualizing images, this explosion of online video was not only a much bigger candy store than I had ever dreamed of, it also completely changed the way I make films.”
Brain Power is the third film in the Let it Ripple; Mobile Films for Change series. The first was A Declaration of Interdependence, a contemporary reworking of the American Declaration of Independence, with video from participants around the world. (You can watch it on the still below – though the player button seems absent.) It’s been translated by volunteers into 66 languages.
The Let it Ripple series are offered in free customised versions to non-profits (supported by an anonymous donor). According to the Let it Ripple website, 300 customised films have been made to date. Talking to Co-Exist Shlain explained, “We work with organizations to drill down on what their call to action is…The organizations are so grateful. They’re doing such important work, and we’re such an image-based society…Giving them an emotional and inspiring short film for them to further their work has been really wonderful.” You can see some customised endings to Declaration below.
Shlain has made longer documentaries too. I’ve not seen her award winning feature length film, Connected, which led to the Let it Ripple series. The truth is I’m not rushing to. I’m not keen on the humanism of these films – the universalist idea behind point 2 above, which it seems to me sidesteps such deep structural inequalities. Take the second Let it Ripple film – Engage. Some call it moving. I find it very sentimental. What I do find inspiring though is Shlain’s vision and energy in realising this short filmmaking approach. It gives us a glimpse of one emerging future for media as a networked form.
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.
“For the first time in history, citizens are recording an actual revolution in real time. Throughout the 18 days of the 2011 uprising—in the year since—and now—Egyptians are filming pivotal events on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting and facebooking their extraordinary bid for freedom. Now, “18 Days in Egypt”, the collaborative documentary project, aims to capture the events of the revolution right here… in an interactive documentary website that everyone can access now and into the future.”
In the run up to today’s anniversary, last week saw the launch of the website for 18 Days in Egypt - the collaborative online documentary project about the Egyptian Revolution announced early last year (Posts Sept 11, Nov 11). I recently talked to 18 Days co-creator Jigar Mehta about how he’s approaching this work-in-progress which seeks to tell the story of the uprising through the media produced by those those who were there.
Mehta was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University a year ago when he was struck by the potential of all the media content that was being created by the revolutionaries in Egypt, ” The original idea was, how could we create a documentary that would be more innovative using that media? And that’s where ‘18 Days in Egypt’ started.” In the first instance Mehta and Egyptian co-creator Yasmin Elayat imagined they would make a composite film, in the mould of Life in a Day, “a traditional documentary crafted from social media or from contributions”. They then became interested in the potential of the content that already existed not as building blocks for a linear film but as a route to deeper exploration of the events by those involved, “a person’s electronic footprint is the first draft of their own history, and it can create a really rich starting point for storytelling.”
Supported by an award from the Tribeca New Media Fund, the first stage of the project has been about creating an architecture that allows contribution. Mehta has spent a lot of time the past few months in Copenhagen developing GroupStre.am, a platform for collaborative storytelling, which enables people to tell the story of a particular moment or incident by drawing together their own content from social media accounts using public APIs, adding more context or commentary if desired. The platform looks neat, and group storytelling is intrinsic to the proposition. In any story you file you are asked who was there with you, and those people will be alerted via their social media accounts (assuming they have them), and can contribute too. As a journalist, Mehta is excited about the potential of this collective approach, both for its story value but also as a means of peer authentication.
With web connectivity and access in Egypt patchy, content gathering online is going to be supplemented by a big face-to-face campaign, and local journalists are being recruited on fellowships to work with eyewitnesses in person and host “upload parties” in Cairo and, budget allowing, beyond. These in-person meetings will also allow for important conversations around the implications – for legality, safety, privacy – of publishing content in what continues to be a volatile political situation.
The next stage of the project will be about developing the audience experience, and Mehta admits that they’ve barely begun to think through what kind of documentary narrative/s might emerge. “We’re saying, “Where will this media take us? Where will these stories take us?” It might be some type of museum installation. It might be some type of short webisodes. It might be a narrative film. We’re pretty open right now.” Mehta and Elayat are in search of a form that can do justice to multiple viewpoints as well as being responsive to the ongoing story. The editorial ambition is to provide an alternative to representing the revolution as driven by what Mehta calls, “hero characters”. In an interview with the thedailynewsegypt.com, Elayat expanded on this,“We are always led to believe that history is written by one narrator. It’s somehow linear, but that is outdated now. History is not linear; we can be the first country that actively and collectively writes our history.”
thedailynewsegypt.com covered the launch, which attracted nearly 400 people, giving a feel for the response to the project by supporters in Cairo,”…the stone courtyard of the Tahrir Lounge was transformed into what felt like a political concert of sorts with combative performances by local rap group Arabian Knightz, singer Ramy Essam and MC Amin…Karim Adel (aka Rush) from Arabian Knightz said, “These types of initiatives are extremely important considering the fact that state media is continually lying. We need a media that’s going to document the truth.”
Elizabeth Losh represents “Team Critical Theory” and Henry Jenkins “Team Cultural Studies” in this great discussion that gets to grips with how and whether US public education can take advantage of participatory culture. Part of October’s awesome sounding Mobility Shifts Future of Learning Summit at the New School, NYC.