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.