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Interactive documentaries: The next level

The popularity of the documentary film increased immensely over the past decade, which is partly due to the use of more interactive technology. Innovative media play a crucial role in allowing audiences to interact and place stories in a social context. Yuliya Yegorova shows how we can take this concept one step further and use interactive documentaries as a tool for social activism.

Unless you are Errol Morris, making a film and distributing it in the traditional sense just doesn’t cut it anymore, hence why so many filmmakers nowadays embrace the use of social media and create interactive side-projects (something The Interrupters does here and Dreams of a Life here).  But there is a next level, why not let the audience create their own documentary, their own reality?

The concept of interactive documentaries is not new, recent popular examples of such films are Bear 71 and Highrise, both created by the National Film Board in Canada. The only thing that is required from the filmmaker is that you step away from your current understanding of the concept documentary filmmaking.

Take a look at these examples and use them as food for thought:

Global collaborative parenting project

Nina Simoes, originally from Brazil, is a new media artist from the UK and founder of the Fragments of Parenthood global network. Simoes dedicated her career to documentary filmmaking up to the day she had a little girl and realized her family should get priority over her work. However, parenthood without her passion did not seem to be working for her and she faced one of the most common problems in 21st century: the dilemma of combining parenthood with a career.

She came up with an idea of creating an interactive global art project for working parents like her and gave it the title Fragments of Parenthood. It is all about storytelling that explores the impact of parenthood. Parents share their ideas and work on The Tree, which is a story-telling platform on which they can post in various forms such as photographs, video, poems, animations and music.

In the second stage, Fragments of Parenthood will create an interactive documentary which will be made out of the interconnected stories and cultures, in an effort to represent local and global voices.

The idea is the same as with any documentary, explore a topic by talking to people and using their stories, but the format of information gathering is different and already engages the audience from the start of the project; they contribute and co-create.

Another example:

Offshore: An Interactive Web Documentary in Process

Brenda Longelfellow from York University, California, is currently in the process of creating a project titled Offshore: An Interactive Web Documentary in Process.

Offshore is an interactive web documentary that uses non-linear storytelling to address the effects oil exploitation has on our environment. The project takes on the format of a video game, mixing up reality and fiction.

Investigating the documentary took Longelfellow over three years and the project needs another two years before it is finished. The central interface will be a 3D oil rig, from where the audience has to perform tasks. This ‘movement’ through the documentary offers the audience the opportunity to create their own path through the story and see the various live action cinematography as well as get a further insight of the current issue: both from the real and virtual places.

Again, it is the interaction – the possibility to create – that will further engage the viewer, or rather participant, into the actual story, the cause. This will enhance the impact of the message.

The ideas in this article were presented at the i-Docs symposium which took place in Bristol 22 -23 March.


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2 Responses to "Interactive documentaries: The next level"

  1. Nina says:

    Thank you for your post Yuliya Yegorova. I just noticed that the link to Fragments of Parenthood facebook page is not working. Could you please have a look at it?
    Many thanks,

    1. Alexandra Zeevalkink says:

      Hi Nina,
      Thanks for the heads up. We have fixed the problem and the link is working now!