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.
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.
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.
— IDFA DocLab (@DocLab) 23 november 2013
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).