A festival report: Interactive Documentary Conference // 11.18.2012

IDFA’s DocLab programme, focussed on digital documentary, brought together the leading online pioneers at Sunday’s Interactive Documentary Conference, dealing with best practices and the future of interactive documentaries in the digital age.

Leading figures like Jane Burton (Tate Modern, The Gallery of Lost Art), Alexandre Brachet (Upian, Alma, a Tale of Violence) and Andrew DeVigal (Second Story) opened up about their methods and outlined their visions on the interactive documentary. As any questions from the audience where asked through Twitter, the whole world could take part through #idfainteractive.

It was only five years ago that DocLab curator Caspar Sonnen cerated a space for the interactive docs in IDFA’s programme. Yesterday’s conference showed that innovative online projects by pioneer producers like Arte, The New York Times, the National Film Board of Canada and Dutch production house Submarine have found an eager young audience.

Story Before Tech
Daniel Burwen, creative director of animated tablet-doc CIA: Operation Ajax, opened proceedings with a short presentation on the changes in the way we interact with our screens: less clicking, more swiping. Burwen: “Many media products are not so much about how good they look anymore, but about how much fun the interaction is going to be.” Visitors of the DocLab exposition at De Brakke Grond can see this principle in action in multiple projects.

Anderw DeVigal followed up on this idea in his presentation on The New York Times’ OpDocs, digital reports offering extra information through sidelines from the main storyline. DeVigal focused on his conception of the narrative flow, which he also uses in his work at Second Story: the main story offers the backbone, to which extra information and details are connected by clear entry and exit points.

For NFB’s Hugues Sweeney, the future of interactivity in documentary lies in the relationship with the audience – not just for broadcasters look for more contact but also for creative who can start up a dialogue with teir audience, consciously or by accident. “Interactivity is a harp”, he said metaphorically: interaction can develop intuitively, as if a passing wind plays a coincidental tune on a harp. He encouraged the audience to ‘think outside the browser’, as the computer screen isn’t the only home for interactive docs: public spaces, museums, festivals and facades can be used as screens as well.

A recurrent theme of the day was the struggle to get past the gatekeepers – not just the traditional funds and broadcasters, who still have little eye for interactive projects, but also the new gatekeepers of the digital world. Bruno Felix (Submarine) spoke of his production house’s ongoing struggle to get their Keep on Steppin’ accepted into the Apple App Store. Time and again, Apple rejected the app, claiming the design had “too little functionality” and the content was “not entertaining enough”. Felix: “Keep on Steppin’ was supposed to be a poetic experience, but Apple wanted a programme with more functionality. I guess they want to control the content they distribute too. I don’t blame them, but we want to love that platform and reach a broad audience.”

Aside from a comedic presentation by Joël Ronez (Radio France) on the worst cross media ideas, in which his own prjects where often the butt of the joke, the highlight of the day was the talk by Alexandre Brachet (Upian). For Brachet, the growing audience numbers for his projects prove the need for and potential of interactive docs. While 2007’s Thanatorama had an average of 1.100 visitors each day, his most recent production Alma, a Tale of Violence has 60.000 unique visitors each day. Brachet: “Go where the audience is. That’s easier than pulling the audience toward you.”


During the panel discussion that closed the day, several audience members aksed about potential business models. Arte’s David Carzon answered that a successful model has not been found as of yet. He claimed producers should look for collaborative funding models, while digital branches of broadcasting organizations could act as publishers. For now, collaborating with (international) corporation seems to have the most to offer for interactive documentary makers.

report by Nienke Huitenga, written for IDFA Industry section
translated by Joost Broeren

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  1. Pingback: Interactive Reality DocLab | wzzzt

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