Documentary Filmmaking and its Digital Future

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)

hollow

and the Highrise series

highrise

 

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:
http://i-docs.org/resources/

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