Tags: Documentary, REACT Hub, Sandbox
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.
Could you be the new director of the Digital Culture Research Centre? With the Centre’s founder Jon Dovey now running the REACT Hub, and his successor Helen Kennedy heading for pastures new in Brighton, the Centre where I’m based is looking for a new director.
“The Digital Cultures Research Centre (DCRC) aims to enable, support and promote world-leading research into the reconfigurations of contemporary techno-cultures. We study the application, practices and politics of emerging technologies; we critically reflect on their ethics, values and aesthetics; we engage our research with a range of partners to further inform development strategies.
DCRC is the hub for a network of researchers from across the University of the West of England. We are actively working across Art & Design, Computer Sciences, Cultural & Media Studies and Geography to investigate the ways in which people make culture through their use of digital communications. While founded in a Cultural Studies tradition we pursue a dynamic interdisciplinary agenda. The unique character of the DCRC is our mix of criticality, creativity and application.
The DCRC Director is responsible for the vision, leadership, promotion and budget of the Centre. Applicants will have an excellent record of research in a related field, and the skills to lead a talented and ambitious team. A professorial appointment may be available for an exceptional candidate who matches the University’s professorial criteria.”
Closing date Feb 3. Find out more c/o the University of the West of England.
Tags: 3WDoc, Artificial Hells, Bear 71, Brett Gaylor, Brian Winston, Chris Johnson, Claire Bishop, Creative Commons, Cube Microplex, David Evan Harris, Eva Dominguez, Galahad, George Entwistle, George Stoney, Hamedullah - the Road Home, Hollow, i-Docs, i-Docs 2012, IDFA, IDFA Doc Lab, Ingrid Kopp, James Burns, Jeremy Mendes, Jesse Shapins, Judith Aston, Kara Oehler, Kat Cizek, Klynt, Leanne Allison, Mad Men, MAFI, Maria Yanez, Martha Ladly, Max Whitby, MIT Open Doc Lab, Popcorn Maker, Power to the Pixel, Question Bridge, Sandra Gaudenzi, Sharon Daniel, Storyplanet, Sue Clayton, Tony Hall, Zeega
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.
Tags: 18 Days in Egypt, BBC, BBC Academy, crowd-funding, Documentary, Highrise, HTML5, Popcorn Maker; Kickstarter, Sound it Out
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”.
Tags: Alexandre Brachet, Bruno Felix, Casper Sonnen, Doclab, Expanding Documentary, Hugues Sweeney, IDFA, Interactive Documentary, Jane Burton, Joel Ronez, Keep on Steppin', Moments of Innovation, Moniker, Robot Documentary, Submarine Channel, Tate Media, William Uricchio
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”.
- In a great line-up, two presentations stood out – one witty, one cautionary.
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
Tags: Brain Power, Brian Newman, Cloud Filmaking, Connected, Declaration of Independence, Filmmaking, Let it Ripple, Moxie Institute, Tiffany Shlain, Webby Award, YouTube
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.