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.
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.”
Following the success of i-Docs 2011, dates have now been set for i-Docs 2012. The Symposium is again taking place in Bristol, UK, hosted by the Digital Cultures Research Centre (where I’m based.) It’s a full two days this time – on the 22nd and 23rd of March.
A brilliant line-up of keynote speakers are already in place. Katerina Cizek (Highrise), Brett Gaylor ( popcorn.js, rip! A Remix Manifesto), and Jigar Mehta (18 days in Egypt) - reflect some of the most exciting interactive documentary work and developments going on right now.
As regular readers of this Blog will know (Posts – Jan’11, Nov’10 , Sept ’10), Brett Gaylor leads Mozilla’s Web Made Movies team where they have been pushing the development of “Semantic Documentary” by building open source authoring tools for their popcorn.js library that facilitate the integration of video and web content within HTML5. The latest version – the Popcorn Maker – should be unveiled at next month’s Mozilla Festival in London. Cizek and Mehta are both doing ground-breaking work with popcorn.js. (Find out more about Cizek’s The Millionth Tower and see the trailer here. Check out the 18Days popcorn prototype here.) So, among other things, i-Docs 2012 will be a great opportunity to get to grips with this game-changing phenomenon for documentary. (For more about what “Semantic Documentary” is all about take a look at this report in Wired about a popcorn.js workshop that took place last month in San Francisco.)
The Call for Participation at i-Docs is now live. You’ll find it here. Convenors Sandra Gaudenzi and Judith Aston are seeking “papers, presentations, workshops, panels or ANY alternative forms of debate!” As Sandra puts it on her Interactive Documentary blog, ”i-Docs is rapidly establishing itself as a unique community event, where i-doc producers, broadcasters, academic, artists and researchers can meet and exchange ideas that will influence the future of i-docs. Don’t miss out!”
Meanwhile, do take a longer look at the recently launched i-Docs site, which alongside Sandra’s own Interactive Documentary blog looks like becoming a key resource in this fast-developing field. I’m honoured to be among a formidable group of contributing editors who have expertise in pervasive media, gaming, digital storytelling, and more.
We’re looking for guest contributors to the i-Docs site. If you’d like to submit a post on the theme of collaboration/participation do please get in touch with Maria Yanez or me, or check out the other themes and editors here.
Good news this week from Cannes, where Katerina Cizek / Gerry Flahive‘s ‘Out my Window’ was the deserving winner of a Digital Emmy for non-fiction at MIP-TV. I’ve enthused about this National Film Board of Canada interactive documentary project here a number of times. (Nov ’10, Jan ’11). It’s the first output from Highrise, “a multi-year, multimedia project” exploring “vertical living in the global suburbs”, which brings the stories of people in highrise communities vividly to life in a web based interactive format.
We had hoped the project director Kat Cizek might be able to present her work at the recent DCRC iDocs Symposium. In the end she couldn’t be there, but Sandra Gaudenzi talked to her a few weeks ago on Skype for the iDocs blog. (Also see the substantial consideration of “Out my Window” that Sandra wrote on her Interactive Documentary blog.)
Watching Kat Cizek you get a feel for some of the factors that contribute to the success of ‘Out my Window’. The iterative process – where research leads the thinking about approach – is key to the great fit between form and content. It’s clear that Cizek is an impressive digital producer with a fluency across platforms and technologies, but interactive production is very much about team work and she’s evidently also part of a great creative team.
The commissioning context is really important here too, though. It’s pretty unusual for a commissioner to make a substantial investment in an experimental project with undefined outputs (though that was, it’s worth mentioning, just what happened on BBC 2′s Video Nation project, and was, without doubt, key to why it worked. But that’s another story…) In the case of Highrise, it demonstrates the National Film Board of Canada’s faith in Cizek, and their grasp of non-linear production. For Highrise is one project in an extraordinary body of interactive documentary work that the National Film Board has commissioned. (The NFB were marketing 14 interactive projects at this year’s MIP-TV.) Have a look on their portal. Explore Pine Point or Holy Mountain. These are intelligent works that take advantage of what the web can do to explore the complexities of life now.
More than that, the NFB have invested in the development of digital documentary as a social practice, and Katerina Cizek is crucial to this story. Back in 2002, Cizek, who has described herself as a “social-justice documentarian”, had explored the democratising potential of the camcorder in ”Seeing is Believing”, a film made with Peter Wintonick . So, when the the NFB had the idea to revisit their Challenge for Change project in the digital age by appointing a Filmmaker-in-Residence, it was Cizek they approached.
Challenge for Change was a pioneering NFB participatory media project that started in 1967, in which filmmakers worked in partnership with marginalised communities, not just to reflect their situations, but to change them. 145 films were made within the project which was the inspiration for Public Access TV projects including the BBC’s Community Programmes Unit.
In 2004 the NFB recruited Katerina Cizek, who embedded herself with the health care community at St Michaels, an inner-city hospital in Toronto, and set about reinventing the Challenge for Change model as a digital project – as what she called “Interventionist Media.” You can see what happened in “The Seven Interventions of Filmmaker-in-Residence“, a film charting the five year process. Watch it. It’s inspiring. There’s also a DVD box set that came out of the project, that I haven’t seen yet. In the words of Jacqueline Wallace, who interviewed Cizek in 2010 for CINER (the Concordia Interactive Narrative & Research Group), ”The resulting work is nothing short of a multimedia juggernaut and includes several films, a photo exhibit, a filmmaker’s blog, and a web documentary that exemplifies non-linear narrative and the possibilities it represents to tell the stories of real people and create real change.”
Out my Window is, then, very much a continuation of Cizek’s energetic engagement with the possibilities of non-linear, with documentary for social change and with participatory and collaborative processes. It’s also a triumph in terms of its realisation – with evocative soundscapes, rich 360 photography, and flashes of animation brought together through apt, engaging visual navigation. [Do we yet have a good term for that 'bringing together', that process of montage in interactive production?]
So, congratulations to Cizek and the team. Do check out the latest, Participate section of Out my Window, which artfully presents photo contributions gathered through a Flickr group. It includes a stunning sequence of images that witness the Egyptian Revolution as seen from a window in Alexandria in February.
I’m going to be really interested to see how the Highrise project will evolve from here. Right now, I’ll leave you with the Manifesto for Interventionist Media that Cizek wrote while working with the community at St Michael’s. (It comes from the Filmmaker in Residence blog - Cizek talks about it in the video above.) It’s a great document – a blueprint for a socially engaged documentary practice.
The Digital Cultures Research Centre ,which is the home of my research, is putting on a one-day symposium on Interactive Documentary next March – called iDocs. It’s being put together by DCRC colleagues Judith Aston and Jon Dovey in collaboration with Sandra Gaudenzi, whose Interactive Documentary blog and archive is the online resource in this area.
There’ll be keynotes from people who’ve made major contributions to this emerging field – Upian (Prison Valley, Gaza/Sderot, Havana/Miami), Blast Theory (Rider Spoke, Desert Rain, A Machine To See With), and BBC Multiplatform Commissioning Executive for Documentary, Nick Cohen.
If you’d like to take part there’s a call for papers out now – deadline Nov 26th, or you can sign up to attend on the iDocs site. See you there.