Web Made Movies

John Grierson provided an enduring definition of documentary as the “creative treatment of actuality”. In the twenty first century, actuality encompasses all the data the web has to offer. Some artists – perhaps most notably Jonathan Harris in projects including We Feel Fine (20006) and I Want You to Want Me (2008) -have been experimenting for some time with this data for non-fiction storytelling. On the Semantic Web that’s now emerging, data is becoming accessible to creative treatment in new ways.  This has transformative potential for video storytelling, as The Wilderness Downtown, Arcade Fire’s ground-breaking interactive film that I wrote about in my last post shows.

The people at Mozilla’s Open Video Lab, Web Made Movies, are developing open source applications in this space, their mission to create,” a new kind of cinema that works like the web”. They’ve recently released a demo which shows what can be done with video, HTML5 and javascript. A video plays, and as people, places and themes appear, related data is triggered and windows around the video player show relevant text and stills. The demo pulls in APIs from Google, flickr, Wikipedia, Twitter, as well as automatic machine translation from Google Translate, and attribution data from Creative Commons. (You can watch a brief explanation of the project too.)

The demo’s a pretty busy experience – a “pop-up video on steroids” as the makers describe it, and it’s going to be a creative challenge to find meaningful ways of fusing these kinds of sources. But it’s an important proof of concept and I think very significant for what documentary might become. Writing about it on the Tribeca Film Institute blog, Ingrid Kopp stresses the way it breaks down the divide between video and other types of web content, “the new technology is allowing video to be part of a connected web that creates links to new sources of information and new methods of interacting with that information…We all know that the web is changing the way we watch films but it is also fundamentally changing the way we can tell stories.”

The Project Producer of Web Made Movies is Brett Gaylor who made “rip! A Remix Manifesto”, the award winning 2009 collaborative feature documentary investigation into remix culture and copyright in the digital age. He’s joined Mozilla to continue the work he started at opensoucecinema.org. He and his team are looking for filmmakers and developers to get involved with the Open Video Lab and to explore HTML5 and the Popcorn.js demo at a Hackday alongside the the Open Video Conference in NYC on Oct 1st and 2nd. If I can be there I will…