Interactive Documentary as Method

In this Tuesday’s Landscape Surgery session (December 1st 2015) I presented my methodological work with interactive documentary (or “i-Docs”), alongside my collaborator Michael Skelly.

Given that few people have heard of interactive documentary I started by introducing what an i-Doc is, and why I think Geographers should care.

As I explained, interactive documentary is an emerging form of documentary film typified by ‘nonlinear’ spatiotemporal organisation. Rather than present footage in a predetermined order, users can navigate through i-Docs in multiple ways and often add their own content. I-Docs focus on a range of politically pertinent issues and often use their nonlinearity and interactive capacities to destabilize dominant representations of those issues or produce new ways of engaging with debates. (Links to some prominent i-Docs are included at the bottom of this post).

In order to give people a sense of what i-Docs are like and how I think Geographers could approach them I circulated a paper I’m currently preparing on interactive documentary which analyses one particular i-Doc; Gaza Sderot. 

 In this paper I argue that Geographers should care about i-Docs for two interrelated reasons. Firstly, Geographers have always been interested in the ways that space-time is expressed and reformulated through film, media and technologies of exhibition and i-Docs clearly sit within this lineage, providing an insight into contemporary regimes of vision.  And, secondly, given that nonlinear ontologies and their politics are central to contemporary Geographical thinking (perhaps most significantly through the influential philosophy of Deleuze), Geographers should have a particular interest in the politicized nonlinear imaginaries that i-Docs develop. In the paper I use Gaza Sderot, an i-Doc about the Gaza conflict, to demonstrate how we might analyse i-Docs in order to understand their construction of nonlinear imaginaries and to explore the political ramifications of those imaginaries.

On Tuesday, however, I focused on how i-Docs could be used methodologically within Geography. I presented my own work with interactive documentary and asked the group to think about how i-Docs could be valuable as a method within Geography more broadly.

My work with i-Docs is part of my PhD research into pop-up culture in London. I am employing interactive documentary as a method through which to explore pop-up culture’s own nonlinear spatiotemporal logics.

The Temporary City Home Page

i-Doc Home Page

I am filming and editing clips of pop-up places as well as designing the i-Doc interface with the help of Michael Skelly who has been undertaking the coding. Working closely together we have been thinking about how the i-Doc can evoke pop-up’s spatiotemporal logics in a user friendly way and experimenting with different ways of organising the interface. So far, the key feature of the interface is its irreversibility. During your visit to the i-Doc’s version of the ‘pop-up city’ a flipping calendar at the bottom of the screen marks the passage of time. Clips come and go, popping up and down as time passes so that the user will inevitably miss some events.

As well as briefly demonstrating where we’re up to with the i-Doc we talked about our experience of collaborating and the way that working together on this kind of project exposes artificial boundaries between what is the ‘platform’ for academic or creative work and what is ‘the work’ itself.

TTC 2

Screen shot from ‘inside’ the i-Doc

This was the first time we have shown the i-Doc and it was great to get feedback from the group. In particular questions were raised about the relationships between i-Docs and forms of interactive mapping and around the politics of choice and agency. It was also incredibly helpful to get suggestions on the ways that the i-Doc interface could add to my critique of pop-up culture. The group suggested ways that the interface could work to expose the artifice of pop-up’s imaginary, revealing that its logics of openness, spontaneity and flexibility mask normative functions and in particular distract from the calculated contribution of pop-up to processes of gentrification and displacement.

It was also really exciting to hear lots of Landscape Surgery members thinking through ways that interactive documentary could be valuable in their own work.

Ella Harris

Links to some interesting i-Docs…

http://gaza-sderot.arte.tv/

http://prisonvalley.arte.tv/?lang=en

http://pinepoint.nfb.ca/#/pinepoint

http://hollowdocumentary.com/

http://bear71.nfb.ca/#/bear71

http://www.dadaabstories.org/

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