Copyright of Ann Megalla @ i2iCreative.net
Copyright of Ann Megalla @ i2iCreative.net
As we are encountering the next generation of documentary film-making specifically designed for the web, interactive documentaries or i-docs, are making the experience of film watching online a richer and more rewarding experience than ever before, so is there a place for merging fine art, filmmaking and exhibition in an interactive online gallery?
My area of enquiry is how the narrative experience enhances the way we conceive and interact with traditional forms of fine art and documentary storytelling in a digital space.
Currently I am producing an arts documentary, a biographical portrait on accomplished Jordanian-Lebanese artist Rafik Majzoub. The project is a pilot interactive gallery that aims to merge traditional arts and film-making into a digital narrative. My aim is to publish a series of well-crafted short stories addressing personal, social and historical themes, whereby, allowing our audience to delve deeper into the artwork and participate in bearing witness to the human condition through Majzoub’s audio-visual narrative.
My objective is to explore how to engage with new audiences in new ways with traditional forms of art, exhibition, and documentary production; to create an interactive space that promotes accomplished artists who seek through their work to penetrate our hearts and minds, awakens empathy, challenges status quo, and instigate change.
This relatively new interactive experience I am tapping into is brought to us by pioneering digital organizations that are making your computer and the Web the new frontier of film-making. By no means are they attempting to replace long-format linear storytelling but to co-exist cohesively for a deeper immersive experience between the audience and the subject.
My i-doc titled Rafik Majzoub: Memoirs of a Screw will be crafted into an online gallery space, which to achieve requires working outside regular web formatting, but made possible by adapting open source software HTML5, a Web-native video platform, with multimedia software such as Mozilla Popcorn (further discussion on technology will soon follow).
Innovative i-doc labs I am drawing on are taking shape across the globe and The Living Docs website serves as the main hub for such collaborations. These labs are shaping the landscape and possibilities for filmmakers, digital designers, coders, and audiences alike to build interdependence in the online storytelling experience.
Two crafty examples that demonstrate the possibilities in merging fine art, film-making and virtual exhibition are Guernika, pintura de guerra, (CCRTVi 2007) translatable as “Guernika, war paint” and Gallery of Lost Art (Tate 2012).
Pertinent to these similar interactive experiences is the non-linear narrative design to stimulate a walk though the online ‘exhibition’ space to gain new perspectives on the artist and the artifact. But the two experience are very different in handling subject matter: one being about an existing Picasso masterpiece, the other, an art collective by highly accomplished artist that no longer exist, however, are brought to life again.
Both examples defy the boundaries of the canvas and deliver a richer experience, through intimate testimonies from its creator(s), influential persons, art historians, theorists, and social media responses in ‘one click’ environment. Archival images, films, interviews, and essays are laid out for visitors to examine, revealing the evidence relating to the artworks.
In the case of “Guernica, pintura de guerra”, alongside the production of the traditional documentary by program producers “30 minutes” of TV3, digital counterparts CCRTVi developed three interactive documentaries that users could watch on three different platforms: web, digital terrestrial television (DTT) and Media Center. The contents of the documentary explore the interactive format and allow the viewer to extend their experience beyond the conventional documentary.
The three applications provide information about the history and travel of “Guernica,” an iconographic analysis, composition and conservation of the painting, and biographies of people who have maintained a close relationship with this Picasso masterpiece. This allowed viewers to access, in an interactive way, a large amount of information: analysis of the picture, documents, interviews, biographies, games and more.
The Gallery of Lost Art is also an online exhibition, but tells the stories of modern and contemporary artworks that have disappeared. Destroyed, stolen, discarded, rejected, erased, ephemeral—some of the most significant artworks of the last 100 years have been lost and can no longer be seen. Jennifer Mundy, curator of The Gallery of Lost Art, says:
‘Art history tends to be the history of what has survived. But loss has shaped our sense of art’s history in ways that we are often not aware of.’
‘Museums normally tell stories through the objects they have in their collections. But this exhibition focuses on significant works that cannot be seen. It explores the potential of the digital realm to bring these lost artworks back to life—not as virtual replicas but through visual evidence and the stories surrounding them.’
Jane Burton, Head of Content and Creative Director, Tate Media, says: ‘The Gallery of Lost Art is a ghost museum, a place of shadows and traces. It could only ever exist virtually. The challenge was to come up with a way of showcasing these artworks and telling their stories, when, in many cases, poor-quality images are all we have left of them.
The result is a new way of looking at art: an immersive website in the form of a vast warehouse, where visitors can explore the evidence laid out for them. Soundscapes and documentary films add to the rich content experience.
The cleaver twist to the Gallery of Lost Art is that the site was only live for exactly one year, and like the artworks within, were destroyed and lost forever.
Drawing on these two case-studies the philosophy of art is now arguably much more translatable online for larger audiences than ever before, and the underlying innovations which made immersive experiences possible are continuing to influence major museum and gallery websites around the globe.
We cannot ignore that there’s been a jibe in the art world for a while now that fine art hasn’t found a way to reach beyond the small and insular clique of curators and handful of collectors and loyal followers, but I do believe this attitude is about to change with digital storytelling and arts world colliding, bringing new opportunities to connect, participate, exchange information in a new pattern, making you laugh or sigh or simply look in awe.
Such innovative virtual exhibitions will not only bring us closer and deeper into the arts world, but hand-in-hand, give us better user interface and user experience. Encouraging viewer statistics for Gallery of Lost Art indicate wider audiences are exposed to interactive narratives and want to interface with art in new kinds of ways.
In the eastern neighborhood of Dora in Beirut, a place with too many shades of grey for our own good health, there lives a splash of colour in the form of a slight-fragile artist from Jordan, Rafik Majzoub.
Now in his 40s, Majzoub’s tale begins in the early ‘90s post-war Lebanon, where a naïve 19 year old college drop-out is looking for his place a world that is also grasping its new found freedom. Little did the self-taught artist know that his paintings and illustrations would illuminate the dark & murky corners of an embattled soul – not just of himself but of a lost generation.
In a unique interactive web documentary, we dissect the he anatomy of this cult-like figure, fleshing out Majzoub’s compulsive persona, coupled with the twisted & tormented mentality of post-war Lebanon and “Raw” artistic style such as that of Brooklyn subway artist turned gallery darling Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Majzoub’s artistic expression however stands alone when integrating personal, public and political themes, cutting through any false façade to expose the imperfections of life.
By taking the chances he wanted, speaking his mind and creating artworks that no one before him had ever done in the Middle East, Majzoub rouses a mobilising sentiment amongst Beirut’s underground culture, causing a rift throughout the arts establishment, and a name to be reckoned with among contemporary Lebanese artists.
And unlike Basquait, Majzoub lives to tell us the story; taking you on a personal tour through 20 years of his works, giving you a rare insight into the originality of his artistic process and life journey. He describes the near-fatal car accident at age three that set the course of his life. Dropping out of design school in his hometown of Amman and moving to the embattled city of Hamra, West Beirut struggling to earn his keep as a self-taught artist.
We taste Majzoub’s first fame as a truth-intoxicating, whisk-drinking, bad-boy artist the establishment will find hard to swallow, yet hard to ignore. The Outsider’s subsequent death defying drinking habits and conflict with loved-ones leaves Majzoub with little else than a shadow of his former self in rehab and a sketchbook filled with rants, embarrassing digressions, drawings and scribbles that in a sane world should never see the light of day.
Beyond the whiskey mania, we delve into a sobering, deeper state of mind, an interior labyrinth, where Mazjoub’s caricatured portrait paintings and illustrations are a metamorphosis of himself, charged with his phobias, rejections – the enemy inside.
The outpourings of Majzoub’s personal story, imagination, and imagery are of the kind that should be viewed while listening to the hallow voices of Tom Waits and Nick Cave. With disarming honesty, and a voice that is intimately his own, Rafik Majzoub brings us the essential life story to date, frank, fearless and true.
Today, in Majzoub’s studio-home we find a screw-like figure, a recluse, buried in his chair hunched over his sketchbook; still perplexed in a labyrinth of his own neuroses, charting the feelings and events of his life. He undergoes a self-examination without concession, tenderness or false modesty, trying to get to the bottom of the very same question that’s on our mind “who really is Rafik Majzoub?”
This is an online biography-exhibition created with Rafik Majzoub to explore the breadth of his works over the course of 20 years.
Artwork is presented in an online “gallery” space made up by a series of short-films narrated by Majzoub incorporating media fragments. These include archive painted artworks & illustrations, photography, press articles, reviews, essays, eye-witness accounts. Visitors are encouraged to piece together their own personal view of the work, the context it was created in, and its lasting impact.
The interactive gallery is laid out for visitors to examine and contribute to an important part of Middle Eastern art history, giving fresh insights into the art movement of early 1990s in Lebanon and beyond.
With your contribution, you can enhance the story-experience by adding more fragments, links and areas of inquiry by re-tracing real locations, places, events and linking people that were part of Majzoub’s world and the arts movement of the time.
Visitors Blog area will be integrated into the main site where new work is encouraged to be added weekly and users are encouraged to contribute to an open forum to discuss such as: A. Rafik Majzoub’s art and themes around public memory and art making; B. What does it mean to be an artist in the Arab world now at a time when threats of violence, manipulative politics, and devaluation of values is invasive throughout the region? C. Discuss and debate the constitution of Outsider Art in the 21st Century.
The project team and curator also regularly post and are available to answer any specific questions.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
I am looking for partnership to explore the unique possibilities that the web can offer to documentary creators in re-imagining storytelling. I believe that the ethos of the web – collaboration, constant learning, and iteration — offers a fundamentally new way of producing documentary.
You can support this emerging field in a number of ways:
Project Support: I am looking for support from people with idoc producing experience to mentor & collaborate the over-all project in best practices, sharing their experiences, their challenges and victories. Narrative design, social media, crowdfunding and marketing implications that follows.
Web Designer / Code Sharing: The explosive growth of the web owes itself to the ability of others see and share how the web is put together from a designer’s and coder’s point-of-view. We not only learn how to create original new work but are given a shortcut to creating new work by building on that of our peers.
Production Funding: The documentary world is changing as the role of broadcasters shift and audience’s attention is fractured. New methods of supporting the art of documentary must exist on the web if this fledgling genre is to thrive. I welcome production funding through our online portal Kickstarter, grants, festival and lab opportunities.
SPECS in a SNAPSHOT
Director/Producer: Ann Megalla
Curated & Narrated by: Rafik Majzoub
Deliverables: x5 interview webisodes + interactive gallery
Platforms: Web, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, Tumblr, Blogs, Press.
Audience: Fan-base, Curators & Galleries, Artists & Art Historians, Educators & Students
Regions: MENA, France, Canada, USA.
I am about to dip my toe into the vast pool of the future in interactive documentary (idoc) and the world of online filmmaking tools and practices with a goal to produce rich-media content, engaging storytelling, and eye-popping design. But for those traditional producers like myself who are about to embark on this new frontier, where to begin scoping an environment that fosters idoc interaction, discussion, and learning?
Laura Almo, contributing writer of IDA explains in her article a New Kind of Popcorn Movie: Documentary Filmmlaking Re-Imagined for the Digital Future, a growing presence online is developing a rich pool of expert advice and latest industry practices at our fingertips.
Professionals experimenting and discussing latest idoc projects, tools and practices such as i-docs.org, Living Docs, and TMC Resource Kit and the ever-expanding consortium of organizations, are making our computer and the Web the burgeoning new frontier of filmmaking (see extensive resource list).
The Living Docs website serves as ground zero for idoc collaboration. The experimentation has been going on in little pockets all over, but Living Docs centralizes the evolution of this experiment. Root around the website and you will see examples of filmmakers experimenting with this new form, as well as blog posts, tutorials and announcements of upcoming events.
HTML 5 and Mozilla Popcorn, the open-source software, are at the digital heart of the Living Docs Project whereby filmmakers are interested in ways the Web could advance non-linear, user-generated storytelling. What could you do in the medium of the Web that you couldn’t do in film or TV? Popcorn fits right in with Mozilla’s philosophy, which is to make the Web as open as possible. The belief is that the Web will be a better place if people see it as a canvas-something on which they can make, hack, re-create and customize themselves: “The Web is not something people have to passively accept, but rather it’s something they can actively build,” says Mozilla’s Moskowitz
Almo writes: The technology is still new, and at this point everything is prototypes and experimentation. The prevailing ethos: Fail early and fail often. At the moment, there are two main kinds of interactive, Web-based media projects: those that are Web native in their very construction such as Hollow (use Google Chrome browser)
and the Highrise series
And traditional feature-length documentaries that have some kind of interactive component around them such as Alma where you can watch the film in its entirety, or you can click on individual modules.
However, giving the viewer the ability to click a button that takes them out of the narrative makes some traditional filmmakers nervous. As filmmaker James says in the Living Docs Hackathon promo video: “When you’re a filmmaker, you want to put people in a theatre, lock the door and make them watch your movie start to finish without any distraction. So the idea of having y
our movie work in a different way, which is all about interrupting the flow, is a tough one.”
This is a slice of the future, but have no fear; the traditional long-form documentary isn’t going anywhere. This is a different kind of experience, and an opportunity for filmmakers to think more broadly and my hope is that filmmakers at all stages will look at this as a new possibility, rather than as some kind of challenge to the way they’re doing things now.
People have pondered what the future of traditional documentary filmmaking may be now that digital technology has taken such a dominant role in the craft of storytelling. There is space for long-form and online interactive documentaries to co-exist.
“People want to interface with media in different kinds of ways,” says Ingrid Kopp, director of digital initiatives at Tibeca Film Institute “Sometimes they want to be passive and sometimes they want to be active and sometimes they want to click on things and sometimes they don’t. I think the best projects are the kinds of projects that allow that to happen, or at least give a range of options.”
Extensive iDoc Resources List:
The power of the web continues to break new ground in documentary film.
An article in Creative Review July 2012 Straight To Vimeo took my eye, so much so, I delve deeper to learn how the web can act as a facilitator for documentary film production and presentation. I viewed several films mentioned in the article to get a sense of what the filmmaker was trying to achieve when crafting their story.
I have embedded some of these films below and include a short summary of the relevant issues affecting or challenging traditional documentary production for online.
In summary, the article explores new ways producers are making and showing documentary films with digital media technology. Harnessing high-def equipment and high-speed editing and publishing tools for little cost, filmmakers are investing more time polishing their storytelling craft:
“We’re entering a period of high romanticism where you’ll get more really emotional pieces on film and not necessarily factual; it’s a style reaction” observes Adam Curtis of The Guardian (p.34)
Also, the article discusses how the internet has become an integral part of the film making process. From announcing the project, research & producing it, to funding, releasing and distributing the final film all happened via the web.
“The web can act as a facilitator, a way to bring attention to a particular cause, even fund an entire film project” Gary Hustwit (p.35)
London’s Pilgrim Films has raised awareness of issues of marginalized communities across the globe including Vimeo documentary winner for 2012 Amar, which follows a day in the life of a 14 year-old boy in the city of Jamshedpur, India. “As his routine is not unlike the fate of silent millions who lead lives of quiet drudgery in a daily battle for survival. If it makes people stop and think for a moment about their own lives, and how they choose to use their time, then that‘s all I can hope for” says filmmaker Andrew Hilton.
In Keith Ehrilich’s (USA) Made By Hand series, considers how something was made, who made it, and where it was made and under what conditions. Making films about the production process under threat from the convenience of modern technology appeals both to the online viewer and the filmmaker, using their skills inherent to traditional forms of production.
So does this mean the documentary viewing experience is better off viewed on the small-screen?
I still believe the cinema experience of watching films on a large screen, sitting in a dark space, away from distraction, remains my favoured experience. However, the web effect, for documentaries is its enabling well crafted films about niche subjects to connect directly with their audience, finding it’s roots firmly in the internet and removed from the traditional models of distribution via cinema and television networks.
In putting your shorts on Vimeo, and having them go out to blogs and other online media outlets, the number of views can quickly get up to the hundreds of thousands. I’m not even sure why TV networks exist anymore, to be honest. A film can reach more people via the web, both from a funding and a viewership perspective.
What do you think? Is television still the ideal platform for documentary?