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IDFA DocLab Interactive Conference 2014 23 Nov at 9:30am

Mark the date: Sunday 23 November 2014

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Watch Radiolab on stage in Seattle

Radiolab once again raises the bar for live documentary storytelling events.

It’s come up at many IDFA DocLab events before: radio is one of the most fun and important forces driving innovation in documentary storytelling. From podcast platforms and other tools to interactive multimedia projects and live storytelling events – radio producers often seem to play around with non-fiction storytelling a bit more freely than other media do. One of my favorite examples of this is Radiolab (although we shouldn’t forget to fight over some of the other brilliant examples out there as well – like This American Life, 99% Invisible, The Moth, Third Coast Radio).

But today the spotlight should be on Radiolab, as they have just released a full two hour video of one of their most recent live events held last November in Seattle.

Lean back, and watch it here…

And the winner is: I Love Your Work

Read the full jury rapport for the firestarters IDFA Doclab Award for Digital Storytelling 2013.

The jury of the firestarters IDFA DocLab Award 2013 consisted of Jason Brush, John MacFarlane and Kira Pollack. Last Wednesday, they nominated Hollow by Elaine McMillion, I Love Your Work by Jonathan Harris and Just a Reflektor by Vincent Morisset and Aaron Koblin.

At the IDFA Award ceremony, they just awarded Jonathan Harris with the Award.

Watch Jonathan’s response, recorded at sunrise this morning — the day after Thanksgiving — at an owl sanctuary in Shelburne, Vermont.

Read the full jury statement below…

Jury Statement

The consistent strength of the entries in DocLab’s 2013 Digital Storytelling competition made selecting the winners difficult — not an unfamiliar challenge for any jury, but our process was compounded by the sheer variety of the entries. From genre, to platform, to interaction, the program forced us to confront some of the core conundrums of today’s continually evolving modes of media creation: how to compare projects’ radically different use of media, narrative, technology, interaction, and craft in our evaluation? How to differentiate between journalism, portrayals of data, and so-called traditional documentary? What does the word “creative” in Grierson’s admittedly imperfect definition of documentary actually mean? We enjoyed — or, at times, had to endure — long, heady discussions about the very nature of documentary, and the role of technology and audience interaction in the evolution of documentary. Somehow, we felt that the programmers had impishly set us up for exactly this sort of debate, and delighted in knowing that we were tied up in knots seeking resolution.

Ultimately, we loved the selection because of how much it made us think. The stories we experienced were fascinating, stimulating, inspiring. Each of the 15 works in the program, in very different ways, advances the language of interaction and documentary. In the end, the three works which we selected to highlight out of this year’s remarkably strong field were those that we felt best convey a unique and compelling perspective on the reality of their subjects, and that craft interactions which amplify the audience’s experience and understanding of that perspective.

This wistful but hopeful account of the decline of a rural American county takes one of today’s emergent genres of interaction, the scrolling narrative, and transcends its now-familiar use through cinematic modes of narrative storytelling. This project succeeds by combining video portraits of the county’s remaining inhabitants with user-generated content, which together create a multi-varied perspective on this forgotten part of America.

The first nominee is Hollow by Elaine McMillan

An experimental examination of the daily routine of ten young women in New York who make lesbian porn, this project finds joy and insight in the banal. Its flawless interaction, rigorous approach, and brave (if unorthodox) distribution model both emerge and enhance from the subject itself.

The second nominee is I Love your Work by Jonathan Harris

This innovative musical experience, which evokes a long history of experimental documentary and dance, implicates the audience as a performer, and ultimately the subject of the piece. This might appear, at first, to be a music video for a rock band, but is in fact a sophisticated exploration and reflection of our relationship with technology — from clothing to cell phones — and how we use it to perform.

The third nominee is Just a Reflektor by Vincent Morisset


Winner: Jonathan Harris I | Love your Work

Within a superb and diverse field of entries, which ranged from moving data visualizations to emotional personal storytelling and explorations of social issues, the winning project truly moves the language of interactive documentary forward.

I LOVE YOUR WORK’s powerfully simple interaction connects the audience to its subject and maker in a profound way that rewards repeat viewing through a seemingly inexhaustible depth of content. Using an approach that is both curious and caring, the work takes an apparently salacious subject and illuminates the mundane humanity within, exposing the truth and reality behind pornography’s public face. The approach to capturing the subjects’ stories, and the world(s) they live in, sets the stage for the audience’s experience. The cinematography, which is immediate and intimate, loose but focused, conveys a knowing warmth that creates a true sense of presence.

The piece feels like one is sneaking glances at private lives, not just through the framing of shots but also in the way one accesses the content: only ten audience members, who have paid a $10 entry fee, can view it during any 24-hour period, an approach that enhances one’s awareness of being spectator. (This approach, notably, invokes the awkward experience of attending a peep show.) The immediately intuitive interface is also quite beautiful; abstract, almost painterly — a rare feat for an interface.

I LOVE YOUR WORK does exactly what a documentary is meant to do, but with interaction and an online platform. It is honest, almost to a fault. In the end, its contradictions — how it suggests a voyeuristic experience, which it proceeds to confounds by its self-imposed rules, fueling the audience member’s desire to dig deeper and deeper in — create a unique perspective on a hidden reality right in front of us.

Interactive Reality Lab Report

The Interactive Reality Lab is a new meeting place or “un-conference” for international experts and a talent program for twenty digital documentary storytellers from the Netherlands and Belgium. A summary of the Masterclash Hackathon and the Interactive Talent Summit.

Masterclash Hackaton

For the Masterclash Hackathon, three of the lab participants were invited to develop a new interactive project in 24 hours, under the professional guidance of three renowned digital pioneers and the Upian production team.

The three groups all started off with very diverse starting points; a technology without story or interface, a 300 year old database of bees and a finished webdocumentary project waiting for a next phase. During the very intense sessions of this hackathon, the groups created new narrative structures, designs for compelling interfaces, user experiences and immersive stories from scratch. The results of the three teams were pitched at the Interactive Reality Conference the next day.

Love Radio
Sara Kolster, Arthur Herrman, Alexandre Brachet and Eric Drier.

The first project team included interactive storyteller Sara Kolster, designer Arthur Herrman and Alexandre Brachet and Eric Drier from Upian. They soon switched the original subject of their project and choose to work on Love Radio, a transmedia project that Sara Kolster and Arthur Herrman were already working on. The project is about the Rwandan radio soap Musekeweya which is broadcasted at the same radio frequency as the hate campaigns during the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago. Now radio is used to reconcile and heal the wounds. Love Radio, Episodes of Love and Hate will be online during the same period as the killings twenty years ago, between April 2014 and June 2014. By adopting different perspectives, the experience will show that several realities coexist.

During the very intense brainstorm sessions, the team developed an interesting narrative structure for the interactive soap opera episodes that Love Radio will consist of. The recognizable format provides an entry point for users to dive into the complex reality of the story. Each episode starts with a listener of the soap, while a narrator guides you through the story. Then you will dive into the much more complex reality, in which the actor playing a Hutu is actually a Tutsi in real life. Every episode, a celebrity concludes the story and poses questions in order to help to understand it. The processes of reconsiliation and the role of mass media in conflicts reaches much further than the story of Rwanda. This engaging transmedia experience will be launched in April 2014 for desktop and mobile.

Thomas Deyries, Hugues Sweeney, Callum Cooper and Ana Tiquia

A whole other interactive experience is Apoidea which will allow the user to explore a 300 year old collection of more than 10.000 bee species. The collection physically exists in wooden cases in the Science Museum in London. Hugues Sweeney, Ana Tiquia, Thomas Deyries and Callum Cooper wanted to link this physical collection to the sheet with data about the bees that is only used by scientists until now. How to make this collection accessible in an interesting way?

By transforming the datasheet into a tool for storytelling, a narrative is crafted through the collection. The interactive experience will be a five minute journey. One starts with his or her own bee, based on its location. By touching the bee one stimulates a voice and unlocks different pieces of data. By cross-pollinating the dataset, one eventually gets access to the whole database.

The Lithium Triangle
Brett Gaylor, Sébastien Brothier and
Wim Forceville

The third team started without a story, or even a topic. Instead, they started off with a technology. Wim Forceville is creative director at FishEye and Coptermotion, which explores the technique of filming with drones. Together with Brett Gaylor (Mozilla) and Sébastien Brothier (Upian), he hunted for a story during the hackathon.

Interestingly enough, they immediately got rid of the technology, in order to find a good story. According to Brett Gaylor, a production process starts with a good story, than comes the vision, and only then one can decide on the technology. The team soon stumbled upon an interesting topic. Bolivia has the largest amount of lithium (50%) in the world, the element that is used for batteries in our cell phones and other mobile devices. Lithium is the hope for Bolivia, but so far, countries with a lot of natural resources had less economic growth than countries with less natural resources. Will Bolivia be able to benefit from their sources?

Three characters will guide the user through the story: a tourist, a worker and a local farmer. By using the perspective of the drone, one is able to experience the story from multiple levels. Every drone has a flypath that intersect with each other. This way one can change the path along the way. On the ground, the story will be more personal, while higher up one can experience the meta level of this subject and have insight to the connections between countries, flows etcetera. Another idea that occured during the brainstorm sessions, is to visualize the flow of lithium in the city. The swarming of lithium through the city (mobile devices) actually resembles the properties of the element itself.

Interactive Talent Summit

On monday November 25, a larger group of international experts and talents were invited to exchange ideas  and informally discuss the future of interactive documentary. The participants dived into a concrete case study and workshop of a new interactive documentary in development by a.o. Upian and ARTE France.

Underlying questions that were explored during the workshop included: How to make use of the freedom offered by the internet, without getting lost in its boundlessness? How to create projects that manage to touch our emotions? And how does one finance an interactive documentary, find the right partners, and reach an audience?

The Upian team and Brett Gaylor invited the participants to enter the stage for the first collective excersice. One could agree or disagree with specific statements, by choosing a position along the ‘spectagram’ on stage. This way, the participants were able to get to know each others opinions, interests and fields of expertise.

Next, the participants were divided into groups and collectively developed charachter profiles, stories, interfaces and business models for a new interactive documentary in development called Do Not Track. Let’s Track The Trackers. This way, the project was used as a test case of how to produce international co-productions. How to make a web documentary that is both one to many and a personal one to one experience at the same time? And how to address the differences in the definition of privacy per country? All groups came up with interesting stories, strategies, businessmodels and solutions.

After the workshop, Hugues Sweeney and Vincent Morriset presented the Digital Storytelling Manifesto that they had released together with other producers and directors from Quebec. Many participants recognized the ideas that were expressed in the manifesto. Together all participants of the Interactive Reality Lab read out loud:

“Interactive work is not a derivative of any other form of expression. It is an art form in itself. We must define the practice and support it through a unique process tailored to its needs and character.”

Hugues Sweeney and Vincent Morriset encouraged the participants to adept the manifesto in order to make it their own. It is an open source manifesto. Sustainable support for interactive documentaries is needed everywhere. In our ‘age of the interface’, we can only guess how interactive storytelling will develop. If it’s up to the particpants of the Interactive Reality Lab, there are many narratives, strategies, interactions and models to be explored.

The Interactive Reality Lab is an initiative by Flemmish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond, IDFA DocLab, MEDIA Desk Vlaanderen and iDrops, in collaboration with the Netherlands Film Fund. It is made possible by the Creative Industries Fund NL and the AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts).

Interactive Reality Conference Report

Saturday November 24 experts from various fields joined the Interactive Reality Conference of IDFA DocLab in De Brakke Grond. This one-day conference explored the future of documentary storytelling with speakers such as Jonathan Harris, Paolo Cirio, Kira Pollack and Vincent Morisset.

firestarters by Vodafone & IDFA DocLab

New partner of IDFA DocLab explores how the mobile revolution changes creative industries.

We’re excited to announce a new partnership with firestarters by Vodafone. firestarters is an initiative by Vodafone, exploring how the mobile revolution changes creative industries.

This partnership has resulted in two new collaborations at IDFA 2013: the adoption of the IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling, as well as commissioning the Emotional Arcade project together with IDFA DocLab and De Brakke Grond.

firestarters IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling

IDFA’s new media program DocLab presents the cutting edge of digital and interactive documentary storytelling. Every year, fifteen projects are presented in competition. A three-member Jury – consisting of interaction design expert Jason Brush (Possible), Kira Pollack (Head of Photography at Time Magazine) and John MacFarlane (crossmedia producer at SBS Australia) – will evaluate the projects, nominate three of them and select the winner of the firestarters IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Documentary Storytelling/ The prize consists of a sculpture and €2,500. All projects in competition are presented online and are exhibited at the festival as installations or during special live cinema events.

firestarters presents: Emotional Arcade

Besides the DocLab competition program, firestarters also presents the Emotional Arcade during IDFA, an amazing new interactive installation by filmmaker Brent Hoff and robot artist Alexander Reben. The Emotional Arcade uses a range of technologies, including modified EEG headsets and biometric sensors, as well as carnivalesque props to set up a series of “emotional competitions,” games such as “Rage Balloons,” in which contestants compete to fill balloons with their feelings, and a “Love Competition.” The games are playful variations on our never-ending quest to understand each other and ourselves, and a commentary on the fact that these days, even our most intimate emotions are mediated through data centers and touch screens.

The project will be presented during IDFA 2013 as an interactive installation at the Interactive Reality Exhibtion from November 21-24, as well as during DocLab Live: firestarters presents Emotional Arcade on November 22 at 20:00 in Rode Zaal at De Brakke grond.

Win free tickets or an HTC One smartphone

Want to attend the event live cinema event for free or win a HTC One smartphone? firestarters is giving away 10 seats, and anyone competing in the Emotional Arcade has the chance to win a HTC One smartphone. Sign up at www.firestarters.nl.