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Extraordinary experiences of everyday life at i-Docs 2012

'Give me back my Broken Nights' project by Circumstance

Life isn’t static and neither is the way we experience things – which is one fact documentary makers sometimes struggle to come to terms with. Yuliya Yegorova attended the interactive documentary symposium i-Docs 2012 in Bristol and explains how we can use non-linear documentary making in order to share a new changeable and more engaging reality with audiences.

You may hardly notice the virtual world implemented in the real world that we live in. It has become such an integrated part of our lives that people take it as a given rather than a created entity. A virtual life is simply re-materialised by all of us: you, me, and the person who sits next to you sipping a single espresso.

The reality we each experience is layered not only through innovative media but also through our own experiences. Interactive documentary projects give a person the chance to not only see what is shown to him, but, because of the mixing of various senses and his own thoughts, he can become part of something he has never experienced before in his real life as well.

Interaction for a higher engagement level

Martha Ladly from the OCAD University in California today shared her ideas on documentaries as a pervasive experience. Ladly is a “maker of interaction experiences” (in the real world: interaction designer), specialising in human device interaction. One of the projects she has worked on is Cherry Blossoms.

Cherry Blossoms saw a young performance artist from Boston take a map of her beloved city and layer it with a map of Baghdad that had the largest sites of civilian casualties marked on it. She then arranged for an elaborate GPS system to go off whenever she ventured into any part ofBostonwhich corresponded to one of those hard-hit sites inBagdad. When it was triggered, the backpack she was carrying would detonate a compressed air cloud of confetti. Each piece had the name of a deceased civilian and the way they died inscribed in them. The idea was meant to draw the attention of people to what was happening inIraq, and it succeeded.

Reactions varied from shocked to scared or completely indifferent: reactions similar to just about everything that we see and understand in this world but the interaction ensured that the level of engagement was higher, as it would do with non-static film projects.

Let the audience create their own world

Duncan Speakman, director of Circumstance, an international artists collective, started off his talk with the idea that the phrase ‘real world’ is “an uncomfortable term philosophically”.

One of the most notable projects for Circumstances was creating a “nostalgic future” for and with people in London. Under the project title Give me back my Broken Night audiences were asked to describe what they wanted to see in the future and, with the help of online networking systems, maps started appearing on the white peace of paper they were given in the beginning. Even though it wasn’t magic, audiences experiences it a little as ‘a dream coming true’.

At the end of the project, all people got together to construct the shared future between them. But, as isn’t unusual in the real world, visions and ideas clashed. The project showed that new technology could and should be used as the way to re-think what we think we already see. The filmmaker is not all-knowing and using interactive experiences it allows the audience to have their own input an create something they like and feel comfortable with.

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