Seth Keen, Paul Ritchard, and Adrian Miles, are all presenting at this year’s Visible Evidence conference in Toronto. They are doing a preflight test of their papers to the nonfictionLab on Thursday, August 6, from 4:30pm, in 9.4.32 at RMIT’s Melbourne campus.
Seth Keen: A Documentary Designer Manifesto. Propositions for Interactive Documentary Practice Online
In an evaluation of shifts in approach towards the articulation of interactive documentary, O’Flynn (2012) and Dovey and Rose (2013) argue that documentary practitioners are moving towards integrating interaction design into documentary practice. This change is occurring due to an altered comprehension of interactivity and narrative within the interactive documentary form. The transformation to an engagement with design raises the issue of documentary practitioners developing an understanding of how the affordances of video, computers and new digital platforms are utilised to produce interactive documentaries.
The problem of utilising affordances is significant to practitioners as a community, in regards to endeavoring to continue the process of documentary practice being in a continual state of redefinition in response to the development of new technologies. For instance, if practitioners can work towards a better understanding of the affordances of video, computers and the Internet they will be able to make the shift towards changing their practice and improving the quality of online interactive documentaries.
I propose that documentary practice is transformed on the Internet resulting in a reconceptualisation of the term ‘documentary maker’. A practitioner who produces on the Internet is more accurately named a ‘documentary designer’, and I support this role with a ‘documentary design manifesto’ listing what a documentary designer is required to understand.
If documentary is to progress in a similar manner to other online media that have utilised the affordances of the Internet, then documentary must find ways to integrate media and design practices. ‘Design thinking’ (Buchanan 1992) can be considered as a process that responds to problems that arise through change, which is why it has become a key feature of many practices associated with the fast–paced development of the Internet. If documentary is going to adapt to the constant transformations occurring in online media, then it can look to design for solutions.
Paul Ritchard: River films and the poetics of water.
As a child I was attracted to flowing water. In my early teens I experienced the fear and awe of canoeing down Australia’s wild Snowy River. As an adult I find myself drawn to cross, swim, walk along, look into and film rivers. Not to narrate, or even describe the river, but to use film to find a nonfiction form that acknowledges the river, writes the river.
There is a body of documentary film that falls under the categories of ecocinema, environmental and landscape cinema. These films take as their subject matter the natural environment, place or landscape. While these films are defined by their relation with the environment they are also of interest in how they allow the environment to influence them aesthetically.
As we try to make meaning of the connections of our lives and world through film, Rust and Monani (2013) note that, “cinema is a form of negotiation, a mediation that is itself ecologically placed as it consumes the entangled world around it, and in turn, is itself consumed.” This influence is evident in complex, poetic ways, and appears to revolve around the manner in which the films listen to, rather than seek to impose themselves upon, the landscape, exhibiting a certain kind of humility.
Using as case studies Thames Film (William Raban, 1987), Forest of Bliss (Robert Gardner, 1986), Casting a Glance (James Benning, 2007) and my own work in the River Project I will examine how these documentaries do not so much seek to interpret the world as much as listen and then bear witness to it. This is realised aesthetically by their use of stillness, long takes, unadulterated audio, which creates a liquidity of form that appears and is experienced as a counter to the deliberate rhetoric common to much documentary.
Bachelard (1983) expresses, that, “More than any other element, water is a complete poetic reality.” I want to show how these ecological documentaries not only exhibit an affinity with landscape that is realised aesthetically, but that these are films that have taken the riparian as their subject, and express a style that realises a visual poetics of water.
Adrian Miles: Interactive Documentary, the New Materialism and Storytelling (aka, narrative parasites)
Interactive documentary finds itself caught, theoretically, by the narratological assumptions that underwrites much cinema and documentary studies. These theories rely, implicitly or explicitly, on the presence of a story that audiences are required to interpret or understand in some way. Theoretically we have sophisticated ways to account for the actions of audiences on documentaries, documentaries on audiences, and the relation of documentaries to the world, yet in most instances we do this through the gestalt of story. However, stories as a theoretical model by which to understand interactive documentary are problematic in two ways.
The first is that documentaries are, while obviously complex and sophisticated language machines, resolutely linear, sequential and reliant on linear cause and effect. This is not surprising given that film and video is an insistent time based and sequential medium, yet in spite of our celebration of ambiguity and complexity in stories they struggle to account for, describe, or perform the simple complexity of, well, anything, because of their inherent necessity to be linear, sequential and ordered.
This is not how the world is, for now we find ourselves wondering whether we are in the new geological age of the anthropocene, face unprecedented environmental change, population migration, and sociopolitical transformation from north to south and east to west. Combined with a twenty first century media ecology that has long left the command and control model of industrial media manufacture and distribution, we can ask whether stories, in the pragmatic way we use the concept are adequate.
The second is that new media, as a technical form, is not, like film and video, linear and sequential. This suggests that as a form it is ill suited to storytelling (whether fiction or nonfiction), and while as a species we find it easy to tell stories about anything (an epistemological practice) this is a very different claim to then thinking that everything is a story (an ontological claim).
By beginning from the narratological assumptions that underwrite much cinema and documentary discourse interactive documentary theory risks misreading what interactive documentary is, and can do, by looking past the specificity of the computer and network through its colonisation by narrative.
In this paper I explore this proposition relying on case studies of digital nonfiction works using recent materialist media theory. I revisit interactive documentary to describe what digital media is, and does, and on that basis argue that narrative is not a key trope or method to investigate or understand interactive documentary. Narrative is at best a handmaid to interactive documentary, and so begs the question of what interactive documentary is for, if not story.