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Sheffield Doc/Fest explores interactive filmmaking

Sheffield Doc/Fest this week announced its impressive slate of documentaries, short docs, panel discussions and art installations. As ever a lot of the focus lies on the new possibilities that are presented to us by stepping away from traditional linear filmmaking and the festival aims to explore, and educate on, all the different options.

Interactive media can help filmmakers engage with new audiences, create new viewing experiences and create new material based on audience delivered information via a variety of platforms. And this is exactly what the Crossover Summit, which kicks off the festival, is all about.

The summit will be curated by Mark Atkin and brings together speakers from big players such as ARTE, the BBC, the BFI, Channel 4, i-Docs, Sadler’s Wells, the Wellcome Trust and YouTube.

One of the sessions is titled ‘Immersive Experiences which bring History Alive’, which looks at how the History Channel has embraced interactive media and worked with the Museum of London to bring the city’s history alive.

During another session, ‘Sex, Truth and Videotape – reinventing data visualisation’, Adam Gee  from Channel 4 and Andy Bell from MINT Digital discuss how the broadcaster used footage from The Sex Education Show and re-applied to create their interactive site.

‘Exploiting the Feedback Loop’ looks at the gaming “bio media model” of collecting data from players to feedback to the designers, and asks if it can be applied to filmmaking.

Two sessions at the festival give us a chance to look at the digital possibilities when a broad church of commissioners and producers work together. One is ‘The Cathedral Builders’ in which Sabine Lange from ARTE and Cedric Bonin from SEPPIA Productions explore the work-in-progress of a 3-D film that will allow audiences to experience building virtual cathedrals, while augmented reality apps are meant to enhance the experience of visiting the building sites of the cathedrals.

‘The Space’, a major new on-demand digital arts service which has been jointly developed by the Arts Council and BBC, is the other project we can find out more about.

Funding your interactive documentary projects

It isn’t just panel discussions the festival has to offer, aside from at MeetMarket – which sees a lot of cross platform projects this year – the summit will give delegates a chance to explore new funding opportunities with advice from commissioners Ben McOwen Wilson (YouTube’s Original Channel) and Sally Joynson (Screen Yorkshire’s Content Fund).

On top of this we can see the final works in the shape of three cross-platform documentaries (including the much acclaimed Bear 71 which went live at Sundance in Utah this January) plus a free installation titled ‘Question Bridge: Black Males’. Question bridge is an installation project that explores the challenging issues that exist within the black male community. By allowing a transmedia conversation among black men across all the various levels of American society it provides a setting for open and honest debate on themes that divide, unite and puzzle black males in the US.

 Other interactive projects to look out for are:

‘Arab World In Revolution(s)’, which uses blogs, cartoons and other format to explore the new generation’s determination to shape their future,

‘Bielutine – The Mystery of the Collection’, an investigative web documentary by Clément Cogitore about the ancient art collection of the Russian couple Bielutines.

‘Bar Code’ which is directed by Philippe Archontakis and Pascal Brouard and produced by the interactive documentary pioneers of the National Film Board of Canada and ARTE France. It brings together 100 short films made by 30 Canadian and Europeans filmmakers as they try to answer how our relationship with objects around us is and what they say about who we are.

‘Bear 71′, is also produced by the National Film Board of Canada  and follows the life of a bear in the Banff National Park whose every move has been tracked by radio collar. This provides a decade of ‘trail cam’ archive footage in a multi-user experience.

‘Artist-in-residence Sarah Smizz’, back for her third year,  will be undertaking live drawing many of the interactive sessions on stage.


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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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