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Getting our hands dirty (again): Interactive documentaries and the meaning of images in the digital age Paolo Favero Journal of Material Culture 2013 18: 259 DOI: 10.1177/1359183513492079 The online version of this article can be found at: http://mcu.sagepub.com/content/18/3/259

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MCU18310.1177/1359183513492079Journal of Material CultureFavero

Journal of

MATERIAL CULTURE

Article

Getting our hands dirty (again): Interactive documentaries and the meaning of images in the digital age

Journal of Material Culture 18(3) 259­–277 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1359183513492079 mcu.sagepub.com

Paolo Favero

University of Antwerp, Belgium

Abstract This article offers an ethnographic exploration of the world of interactive documentaries (i-docs), suggesting how such a scrutiny opens up a new scenario for visual culture – one where the study of the visual field needs to be backed up with an increasing awareness of digital culture, interactivity and the functioning of Web 2.0. Incorporating the languages that dominate communication on social networks and image sharing platforms, i-docs are a window onto the changing meaning of images in the context of contemporary digital technologies. In such products, a variety of different kinds of materials (such as videos, photos, sounds, texts, etc.) converge, forcing us to rethink the very meaning of image beyond the field of vision. Fostering new forms of interpretation and exploration of audio-visual materials, these projects also generate new connections between life online and life offline. Informed by the principles of participation, sharing and relationality that inform contemporary social networks, i-docs seem to invite us to engage with the physicality and socialness of everyday life, in other words, to get our hands dirty (again).

Keywords Interactivity, interactive documentaries, visual culture, digital culture and materiality

The recent technological advancements in the field of digital imaging are today undoubtedly posing a threat to our conventional understanding of the meaning of images, ‘imagemaking’1 and visual culture. Scholarly debates have addressed different facets of this question. Digital images and imaging practices have been discussed, for instance, as the cause of the death of photography (Mirzoeff, 1999; Robins, 1995; McQuire, 2013, this issue), the ‘dissolution of material reality’ (Gere, 2005) and the transformation of reality into ‘spectacle’ (Debord, 1967) and ‘simulation’ (Baudrillard, 1994). They have also Corresponding author: Paolo Favero, Department of Communication Studies, University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, S.M.052, SintJacobsstraat 2, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium. Email: [email protected]

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been seen as responsible for the loss of a ‘real’ sense of community and the rise of ‘networked individualism’ (Wellman, 2001), which supposedly characterize life in the ‘digital age’. Undoubtedly, digital imaging technologies have entailed the emergence of a new visual discourse (Mitchell, 1994), a new ‘model of vision’ (Crary, 1990). As Crary has suggested, there has recently been ‘a transformation in the nature of visuality probably more profound than the break that separates medieval imagery from Renaissance perspective’ (quoted in Robins, 1995: 31). However, we still need to explore further the nature of such a change and its cultural consequences. Arising from the response to this need, the present article aims to address the emerging meanings and practices connected to digital imaging by focusing on one specific arena, that of interactive documentaries (also referred to in this article as i-docs). Seemingly a contradiction in terms (I will explain why in the next section), i-docs probably constitute one of the most vibrant fields of contemporary avant-garde filmmaking.2 So far only marginally investigated by scholars (see Galloway et al., 2007), this is, I suggest, a privileged space for addressing the changing notions and practices regarding images and image-making in the contemporary context. I will approach this arena from an ethnographic perspective, partly based on my own practice and teaching experience with i-docs and other interactive imaging platforms, but also primarily based on fieldwork among interactive image-makers. Over the last few years, I have explored notions, practices and visions relating to the engagement with these new technologies among a number of image-makers, including a series of structured and semi-structured interviews that I will refer to in this article. In the introduction to this article, I will attempt to show the complexities and possibilities that characterize the world of i-docs, and then offer a series of critical reflections on the extent to which i-docs force us to rethink the assumptions through which we have conventionally addressed the field of images. In the second section of this article, adopting Rancière’s (2008) notion of ‘imageness’, I will call for a redefinition of our ideas about the very essence of images. The diversified character of the data that converge into such new projects requires an innovative set of instruments able to take us beyond the field of vision. I will then proceed to show how i-docs foster new forms of interpretation and exploration of the disparate film clips, photographs, textual and sonic commentaries that make up their material. Informed by Web 2.0’s ‘implicit architecture of participation’ (O’Reilly, 2005: 6) and exploiting the principles of participation, sharing and relationality that inform many popular imaging softwares and applications (see Ito, 2005; Koskinen, 2004; Landow, 2006; Wesch, 2007) as well as many contemporary art experiments (see Bourriaud, 2002; Lapenta, 2011; MacDonald and Basu, 2007), i-docs generate new, creative, non-linear forms of engagement and interaction between viewers, authors and the material itself, thus opening up the terrain for a new politics of viewing and meaning-making. Finally, I will address the extent to which such new forms of image-based exploration also allow viewers to create new connections with everyday life and its social and material texture. Requiring viewers to work with images, i-docs also actively engage with them in their everyday ‘offscreen’ life. Underlying the analysis here is the acknowledgement that, in order to achieve an understanding of contemporary digital interactive image-making practices, the researcher brings the theoretical instruments of visual culture and film theory into dialogue with those of digital culture, particularly the practices that characterize the use of Web 2.0.

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Such an acknowledgment will demonstrate the need to approach new imaging technologies and their uses from within the cultural practices in which they are embedded (or proper ‘ways of seeing’, according to Berger, 1972) and hence with careful attention to their social and political contexts. In order to understand digital images today, we need to move beyond a narrow definition of the field of vision and look instead at images as relational items situated amidst the events, socialness and physicality of actors’ everyday lives. In other words, we have to get our hands dirty (again).

What is an interactive documentary film? In order to provide an initial, tentative definition of i-docs, we need to combine the definition of ‘documentary’ with that of ‘interactivity’. By so doing, we immediately encounter a series of interesting paradoxes. Let me tackle this by addressing first the meaning of ‘documentary film’. As we all know, there is little agreement on what documentaries are actually about. From John Grierson’s definition of documentary film as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ onwards, there has been considerable confusion regarding what ‘really’ characterizes a documentary. This variety of positions is easily summed up by the opposition between Bill Nichols’s (2001: 1) idea that ‘every film is a documentary’ and Trinh T Minh-ha’s (1993: 90) argument that ‘there is no such thing as documentary’. Indeed, at the core of this tension lies the question of the meaning of ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ in a cinematographic context. There is uncertainty regarding the extent to which documentary films may differ from other visual languages on the basis of their adherence to what is conventionally referred to as ‘profilmic reality’, i.e. the reality that exists beyond and before the camera (see Beattie, 2008; Nichols, 2001). A quick look at the Lumière brothers’ first film may, however, immediately show us the paradoxical nature of this notion. In Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895) we see a crowd of workers leaving the factory through its main gate. None of them ever looks into the camera, they simply walk past and disappear from the frame. Anticipating the ‘fly on the wall’ trend that would come to dominate documentary films in the future, the Lumière brothers are here presenting the camera to us as non-existent, an instrument which does not intrude upon the reality portrayed. And certainly they had shared this little secret (or perhaps we should call it a lie?) with their workers. How else can we explain that a 19th-century factory worker would have walked past, without even casting a glance at his employer, seeing him standing in front of the factory gate operating a large and noisy hand-cranked machine?3 As the example of the Lumière brothers may illustrate, a degree of fictionalization or manipulation, or the creation of an ‘aesthetics of objectivity’, as Trinh T Minh-ha (1990: 80) put it, has been at the core of documentary film from its very inception (which coincides with the birth of cinema). However, this notion of ‘reality’ is still at the centre of the practices and debates that characterize the world of documentary filmmaking. In fact, documentary films can be seen to have actively kept alive the ‘myth of photographic truth’ (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001), and there is a certain agreement that documentary film is, after all, a distinctive form of moving image language that aims to convey a fairly unfiltered, unmediated and near-experience vision of the actual. In other words, documentaries are considered to be more tightly connected to the profilmic than any other

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form of moving image culture. Combining such notions with interactivity, however, becomes rather tricky, to say the least. As a ‘two-way flow of information’, according to its standard definition, interactivity can be seen to consist primarily of four stages: observation, exploration, modification and reciprocal change (Meadows, 2003). While the first two may still perfectly fit within a broad definition of documentary film, the third and fourth are indeed more problematic. Allowing modification and reciprocal change (by the hands of the viewer/user) does seem to invalidate the mission of the documentary itself (see above). In fact, if a documentary is somehow connected to the ‘objective’ portrayal of facts, how can it then include a process of eventual modification? I will not pursue this debate here in any depth. Instead, let us for the moment simply agree upon the fact that an interactive documentary is, to quote from Galloway et al. (2007: 330), a ‘documentary which uses interactivity as a core part of its delivery mechanism’. Before I proceed further, I now offer a brief insight into what interactive documentaries look like by presenting one selected piece of work that I consider particularly representative of the various possibilities embedded in this visual form (more examples will follow below). Highrise (2010) is an ongoing project directed by filmmaker Katerina Cizek and produced by the National Film Board of Canada (one of the leading actors in the world of i-docs). Born, in Cizek’s words, as ‘an experiment in documentary cinema and the web … to explore how documentaries could unfold inside a web browser’,4 Highrise was from its very inception a collaborative project engaging members of different communities in several countries. Aimed at examining, so the author declares on the homepage, ‘the human experience in vertical suburbs through many forms of media over the course of several years’,5 the project started with the collection and analysis of stories shared by the participants. Over the years, it has developed into different projects, each displaying a particular form and aim. Today, it is a series of short interactive documentaries, mobile productions, live presentations, installations and films. To describe just one of these, the web-based documentary entitled Out of My Window narrates life in high-rise apartments in 13 different countries. Entering the film (online),6 viewers are offered a choice between different routes of exploration. They may enter by clicking on a particular window of a stylized building containing some of the key characters of the documentary. Alternatively, they may click on a particular location on a world map or on a close-up photo of one of the characters presented in the work. Once this selection is made, viewers are welcomed into a room that has been created through the use of 3D technology.7 With the help of the mouse, viewers/users can move around in this photo-based virtual reconstruction of a room. Moving the cursor activates specific elements that lead viewers into the discovery of various snippets of material. By clicking on the ‘360° music video’ link highlighted in Figure 1, for instance, the spectator will enter a video-clip where the lead character in this section (the young woman in the picture) sings a hip hop song accompanied by a guitarist. Filmed in 360º technology, this video also allows viewers to move around and explore the various angles of the space in which the filming was carried out. Returning to the main room, viewers/visitors will find other links that may lead them to discover further personal details of the character’s life story as well as reflections on the meaning of life in high-rises, etc. Such pieces of information are conveyed through a creative combination of photography, text and sound (in general, video is quite underrepresented in this work). By exploring further, viewers may select another character

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Figure 1.  Screenshot from Out of My Window. Available at: http://interactive.nfb.ca/#/ outmywindow/

and enter a new world. Like all i-docs, Out of My Window allows/forces viewers to actively take possession of the material presented by designing a personal (non-linear) route of discovery. The project, however, contains more than just this set of visualizations. In the section entitled ‘My Window’, viewers are invited to actively participate in the project by posting photos of their own windows, hence sharing their own understanding of living in such urban agglomerizations. By ‘tagging’ their own photographs with keywords (just like Facebook), viewers can let their own (photographically mediated) experiences enter into a dialogue with those of viewers located in other parts of the world. Today, this page constitutes a creative and truly global archive of photographs representing life in high-rises, which can be explored through colours, objects or words. Highrise has recently also developed into a web documentary, called The Thousandth Tower, to which I shall return later in this article. For the moment, I believe that the description I have offered may suffice to give a hint of the complexity of interactive documentaries and to show the way in which such products are centred around notions of non-linearity and participation.

Images beyond the visible Having offered this brief overview of what interactive documentaries look like, let me start reflecting upon the influence that such practices have on our contemporary understanding of images. As I argued above, i-docs seem to ask us to rethink the concepts through which we have conventionally approached images, image-work and visual culture. In particular, they seem to ask us to merge the insights gathered from visual culture and film theory with those from digital culture and the study of web-based communication and interactivity. Exploring this topic in greater depth, I would like to introduce one

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Figure 2.  Screenshot of the author’s computer while running the Korsakow tutorial.

particular piece of software for the design of interactive films: Korsakow, the outcome of merging the conventional practices of documentary film with those of photography and new modalities of communication facilitated by Web 2.0. A popular open-source, interactive, rule-based and generative software for the production of interactive films, Korsakow is based on the principle that it is the viewers who are in charge of the construction of the narrative. Similar to Out of My Window, here, too, they are meant to select a path using the options that are offered onscreen (usually consisting of several windows with different visual content). I will return to the implications of such choices in the next section. For the moment, however, I would like to explore ‘behind the scenes’ of Korsakow and examine the principles that guide its functioning. For the image-maker, the first step in the process of editing with this software is to break the material down into small narrative units (SNUs). Secondly, he or she has to tag all selected video clips with keywords (once again following the principle that applies to image-based communication on Facebook, Instagram, etc.). These tags, constituting the potential entry and exit points of the clips, will be the instruments guiding viewers’ own potential associations and hence their construction of the narrative. It is through these tags that the software creates, on the basis of user selection, a sequence of scenes. As Figure 2 shows, through tagging, the software allows the author to try and guide the viewer from the clip ‘couple’ to the clip ‘naked’, and so on. However, such tagging will never lead the viewer along a univocal path, given that, among the many clips available, more than one will have ‘naked’ as an entry point. At that point, the computer will randomly select a clip. As a consequence, a user may seldom be able to recreate the exact same viewing sequence again. From the point of view of the image-makers, working with i-docs entails entering into a new world. They have to learn to abandon control over their project and learn to

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visualize their work as the result of a dialogue between two practices: the production of a creative archive and shared authorship. In fact, they first have to create an array of meaningful and cleverly tagged snippets and then leave them to the dialectic between the viewers’ subjectivity and the generativity of the software. Word-based tagging as the key tool for the construction of narrative, however, also teaches us something else. It makes us reflect upon the significance of the conventional distinctions between different types of media, and in particular between (still and moving) images, sounds and text in the context of web-based documentaries (and contemporary imaging technologies at large). In the examples I have given so far, the most varied types of data are presented to the viewer simultaneously. Images are reduced to words (which are then translated into algorithms). Similarly, in order to be incorporated into Korsakow, sounds first have to be inserted as videos (blank videos), which are then tagged with keywords. The boundary between still and moving images also becomes blurred. Moving images appear as frozen frames (and hence as still images) unless activated by the user moving the cursor over them. Conversely, photographs can only be inserted through their previous editing in the form of video. During my interviews with Florian Thalhofer, the creator of Korsakow, I noticed how he used the terms ‘film’, ‘video’ and ‘digital storytelling’ interchangeably when explaining his software, thus testifying to the progressive lack of relevance of the distinction between them in this context. Through the convergence and merging that take place in Korsakow, images cease to belong – at least from the perspective of the image-maker/producer – to the visual field, entering instead into the realm of data. I suggest, however, that the implosion of the distinctions between different media units can also be addressed through Rancière’s notion of ‘imageness’. It allows us to acknowledge the imaginative and polysemic function of all such media units, avoiding reducing them to raw data. In The Future of the Image (2008), Rancière suggests that we have currently reached the end of images and need to think of them in terms of ‘a regime of relations between elements and functions … relations between the sayable and the visible, ways of playing with the before and the after, cause and effect’ (p. 6). Despite being applied by Rancière to an analysis of Bresson’s cinema, the notion of imageness seems a stimulating way to address interactive documentaries, too. It offers an opportunity for understanding the shifting and overlapping meanings of different media units in the context of contemporary digital imaging technologies, while helping us also to identify the points of contact between i-docs and other contemporary digital imaging practices. The ‘imageness’ of images in Korsakow presents itself as a stimulating counterpart, for instance, to that of The Garden of Things.8 Designed by Studio Azzurro, an Italian company experimenting since the 1990s with interactive technologies and with the construction of sensible environments, this is a video-installation consisting of 18 monitors and one long interactive pad. Introducing the notion of materiality to a digital environment, a series of screens display the moving images of hands as they shape a variety of objects (see Figure 3). Filmed in infrared technology, at first sight, the installation does not allow viewers to identify the objects in question. What they actually see is simply hands moving around an invisible surface. Through the work of the hands, however, heat is passed onto the objects (a pot, a sculpture, etc.) and they suddenly start to become visible to the infrared cameras. What the audience sees, however, is not the object itself but a digital visualization of the

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Figure 3.  Screenshot from Studio Azzurro’s homepage. Available at: http://www. studioazzurro.com/opere/video_installazioni/il_giardino_delle_cose

heat passing through it. Materiality is generated here not by the vision of the ‘flesh’ of the objects, but by what Studio Azzurro’s homepage calls the ‘electronic magma’. When the hands stop applying pressure, the objects change shape again, revealing, with the fading of heat, a new set of textures and forms. In the context of this exhibition, heat therefore becomes another coordinate in defining the ‘imageness’ of the image, thus marking out the relevance of this concept for our understanding of contemporary experiments in visual communication. I should mention here that the world of pop music, too, has also employed this innovation of moving beyond vision. For the launch of their 2008 single House of Cards, the popular British band Radiohead generated a clip entirely based on 3D scanning and advanced visualization technologies. Combining the use of different laser-based, real-time recording scanning systems,9 the video offers us ‘images’ of singer Tom York (see Figure 4) alternating with a suburban landscape. However, these ‘images’ have been produced without the use of film but rather through a scanner. As James Frost (one of the engineers behind the project) suggested, ‘this is a music video without cameras.’ What we see, in fact, is the visualization of data obtained through the 3D scanners and hence through the act of shooting out particles and registering their reactions once they bounce against obstacles and come back to the sensor (a process called pointcloud). Once analysed, such data will allow for the creation of a visible reconstruction of the objects in question. As in the case of Studio Azzurro, this experiment does question our notion of vision and image.

A new politics of meaning-making Apart from questioning the meaning of images and image-making as such, the practices under scrutiny here also signal a change in how we envision the role of the viewer/

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Figure 4.  Screenshot from Radiohead’s video House of Cards. Available at: https:// www. youtube.com/watch?v=8nTFjVm9sTQ&feature=player_embedded

spectator/user. Exploiting the language of hypertext, i-docs are constructed within the logic of what Ted Nelson (1981) called ‘non-sequential writing’, i.e. chunks of information connected by links capable of offering a series of pathways. In such a hypermedia structure (see also Landow, 2006) a narrative ceases, as I pointed out earlier, to be a linear sequence of events imposed by an author. Incorporating the notions of participation and sharing that lie at the heart of Web 2.0 (see Goggin, 2009; Leadbeater, 2009; O’Reilly, 2005; Quiggin, 2006; Shirky, 2008), i-docs instead actively interpellate viewers as cocreators of meaning. Asked to ‘assert autonomy over the temporal direction of the narrative’ (Brown et al., 2003: 314), viewers exercise their agency in an engaged dialectic with the work (and indirectly also with its producer). In this context, therefore, authorship appears as a collaborative endeavour and viewers as empowered, creative and ‘emancipated spectator[s]’ (Rancière, 2009) who actively produce meaning and understanding as they continue their exploration. In order to better understand the construction of narrative (and hence the dialectic between viewer and author) in the setting of i-docs, I would like to refer to a film made in Korsakow. Traverse (2010) is a small interactive piece of work made by Bharath Haridas, a graduate student in visual communication from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India. In this piece, Bharat wanted to share his experience as an NRI (a ‘non resident Indian’, i.e. an Indian living abroad) returning to his country of birth and witnessing the many changes that had taken place during his absence (which coincided roughly with the boom of globalization that started with the 1991 economic reforms). Conceptually maximizing the use of Korsakow, this film employs multiple screens in order to generate a series of overlappings and disjunctures between space and time. Traverse, in fact, invites us to explore Bharath’s memories, his travel back to India as well as his visions of the future in a continuous movement between video clips, photographs, sounds and texts. As Figure 5 may serve to illustrate, one single frame could include a blank video (hence containing

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Figure 5.  Screenshot from Traverse. Available at: http:// bh.mrinal.net/#/?snu=56

only sound), a video clip (made up of moving images) and a video made up of photographs. Sometimes, there are also text pop-ups, offering complementary information. When I interviewed him, Bharath told me that what had attracted him to Korsakow were really the narrative possibilities the software offered. Korsakow allowed him to generate what he considers to be a near-experience retelling of reality. In his words: ‘After all, we do experience things as fragments, we think like that, we tend to jump from one thing to another … linear storytelling only creates an illusion.’ Non-linearity for him was of fundamental importance for conveying his experience of life as a young man in a diaspora, a life characterized by the fragmentation of experiences and memories, by phone calls and Skype conversations, email exchanges and image sharing, social networking, etc. According to Bharath, therefore, the non-linear path made possible by Korsakow not only adds an experimental aura to the works but is also the expression of a particular worldview, a (more immersive) way of portraying reality that is closer to the experiences of everyday life of many individuals today, particularly to those young men and women who have been raised in the age of digital technologies. As with most other image-makers discussed in this article, for Bharath, the choice of language arose from a dialectic engagement with the choice of content, thus bringing into dialogue two terms that are conventionally treated as separate analytical units (Favero, forthcoming). The use of Korsakow marks a shift away from earlier ways of relating to imagemaking. Bringing back to life Radúz Činčera’s project of an interactive cinema (see Kinoautomat of 1967),10 all such forms of interactive imaging pose a ‘fundamental challenge to the principle of narrative coherence, which is at the core of traditional documentary’ (Whitelaw, 2002: 1). Creating tendencies that have also been present in participatory video and image-making, such practices also show many commonalities with experiments taking place in the world of contemporary digital arts and gaming. To mention but one example, an extreme form of viewer activation is at the core of the works by

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Figure 6.  Screenshot from the ‘Free Culture Game’ by La Molleindustria. Available at: http:// www.molleindustria.org/en/freeculturegame/ ©Copyright: Molleindustria, 2008.

Molleindustria, an Italian arts collective that defines their mission as the creation of ‘radical games against the tyranny of entertainment’.11 In their ‘Free Culture Game’ (Figure 6), the collective comments upon the struggle between free culture and copyright by forcing viewers (transformed for the occasion into gamers) to act. With the help of the cursor (represented by the blue dot), they must attempt to liberate passive consumers (the grey dummies stuck in the outer circle, the space of the market). By feeding into their heads ideas and knowledge (represented by the yellow lightbulbs) they may help to bring the dummies back to the inner circle, the space of ‘the common’, where ideas and knowledge are cooperatively shared. Rather than offering an explanation of the tension between copyright and free culture, this game asks viewers to engage in a fight against the ‘vectorialist’ (the black dot) that tries to commodify knowledge by sucking up ideas and copyrighting them. Molleindustria is just one among many examples where ideas resulting from a critical reading of contemporary society are translated visually with the help of playful relational stratagems.

‘Pulling out of the screen’ Apart from experimenting with different modalities of content exploration, many interactive image-makers today are also extensively engaging with such technologies for the purpose of addressing social issues, of strengthening community work and creating momentum for social change. Interactive image-makers are attempting to address life beyond the screen, as it were, entering the hybrid space between life ‘offline’ and ‘online’ (see Kabisch, 2008; De Souza e Silva, 2006). In a way, they seem to approach i-docs simultaneously as

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Figure 7.  Screenshot from 18 Days in Egypt. Available at: http://beta.18daysinegypt.com/#/ about

an instrument of augmented reality and empowerment. Through their work, stories, visions and desires are literally ‘pulled out of the screen’ (as Bharath Haridas put it) and brought to bear upon the material exigencies of everyday life. I would like to substantiate these notions through one last example; 18 Days in Egypt (hereafter 18 Days) is an interactive, crowd-sourced documentary created by the documentary film-maker and journalist Jigar Mehta and the interaction designer Yasmin Elayat. In response to the absence of cohesive reporting of the events talking place in Tahrir Square, Mehta started playing with the idea of making a shared documentary enabling participants from all over the world to chronicle the Egyptian Revolution through their own footage, photos, tweets and Facebook status updates. ‘I wanted to make a film on all the clips coming in … I wanted people to send in footage quickly and then we would have taken it from there’, he said during a conversation with me. Over time, the sheer quantity and poor quality of the material coming in overwhelmed him, and Mehta decided to liaise with computer expert Elayat. Through their collaboration, the project developed into an open, free-floating, interactive and participatory structure. In Mehta’s words, ‘the project morphed to match user behaviour and away from documentary production.’ Similar to the other i-docs presented in this article, 18 Days, too, was thus shaped on the basis of content rather than by strictly following an idea of form or genre: ‘The subject chose the interactive film as a form.’ And, like the other i-docs discussed so far, 18 Days ended up deploying a variety of different types of media. Among the various sites and pages that are hosting the project, I would like to mention the Popcornjs channel.12 Popcornjs is an hmtl5 technology designed for integrating the web into video production. Of fundamental relevance to the nature of Mehta and Elayat’s work, this software facilitates the connection of specific pieces of information available on the net to a video clip. Watching a clip (such as the speech by Mubarak, see Figure 7), viewers may be offered a series of parallel links (see the menu on the left in Figure 7). If they

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Figure 8.  Screenshot from One Millionth Tower. Available at: http://highrise.nfb.ca/ onemillionthtower/1mt_open_tech.php

choose to explore these links, the video will pause, only to start again once viewers decide to close the window and go back to the main media. Through this technology, 18 Days manages to integrate an unlimited quantity of updated information on the events described in each short film. Viewing a clip about a particular demonstration in Tahrir Square, the viewers can, in this way, immediately geolocate the place in question, learn more about the history of the square, or explore a similar demonstration taking place elsewhere, etc. 18 Days therefore actively functions as a transnational platform for sharing views and creating new forms of community and alliances across borders.13 The project has managed (or, more correctly, is still managing) to channel the revolutionary moods that are swirling across Egypt and to bring them into contact with similar events taking place in other parts of the Mediterranean and elsewhere. During our interview, Mehta told me how this is really what he wanted. He hoped that the project would be ‘politically useful’ and function as an instrument for empowering young people, raising their awareness about events that the media were reporting exclusively from a mainstream, institutionalized point of view. Such a participatory and empowering approach indeed informs a large number of i-docs. The Thousandth Tower, the latest stage of development of Cizek’s Highrise project, for instance, is a participatory documentary. Here, film-makers, architects, animation designers and the inhabitants of a particular neighbourhood in Toronto have all come together in an attempt to visually materialize the community’s wishes for the future of the neighbourhood (see Figure 8). In this documentary, the use of animation transforms forgotten areas and dumping grounds into skate parks and gardens. The project did indeed help the local community to organize itself and claim its rights. Coming together for the making of the film, and forced to reflect upon the destiny of their neighbourhood, the residents eventually claimed access to the gardens and parks surrounding their space. One year after the documentary was finished, and as a result of this dialectic, a first playground was built.

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Highrise and 18 Days thus testify to the recent growth in popularity of methods of shared creativity. Here, social actors are invited to engage with new forms of participation and collaboration that did not previously exist. Through the incorporation of practices and possibilities provided by Web 2.0, these kinds of projects seem to bring about different types of connections. They connect social actors in different locations; through the shared used of digital images, they turn scattered individuals into a community or a movement. However, they also connect individuals to the events and situations surrounding them, thus allowing them a deeper immersion in their everyday (offline) lives. Rather than representing a form of detachment from material reality or of ‘autonomous individualism’ (as mentioned earlier), these i-docs function as generators of new social relations and new forms of participation in the material, physical and social exigencies of everyday life. These last reflections, and the case of 18 Days in Egypt in particular, seem to invite us also to reflect upon a wider set of topics. Such imaging practices, in fact, appear to offer a valuable window onto the social and political transformations that are affecting many contemporary capitalist societies. The growing belief in the act of sharing, collaboration and cooperation that characterizes contemporary digital culture14 seems to run in parallel with the growing sensibility for the common good (as epitomized in Molleindustria’s game above) and the many experiments in creating new, less centralized and supposedly more egalitarian forms of community life, characteristics of many of the protest movements we have recently witnessed. I am referring here to the transnational movement of the indignados or to the various protests across the Arab world mentioned earlier; to the occupation of the Maruti Suzuki factories in Manesar, Gurgaon, just outside Delhi, or the ongoing protests against the construction of the tunnel for the pan-European high-speed freight line passing though the Susa Valley in northern Italy (the so-called NoTav movement). These various experiences have in common an attempt to create a new political language and structure capable of moving away from older, conventional vertical hierarchies and ways of doing politics.15 What is relevant for the point that I am trying to make here is that the practices that characterize these movements resonate ideologically with those of the artistic and filmic environments I have been addressing so far, with their accent on relationality and participation, with their decentralization of authorship, etc. They resonate also with the increasing popularity of ‘alternative’ funding systems, such as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, which, particularly during the recent time of crisis, have become vital forms for financing films and artworks. This path was, for example, followed by 18 Days in Egypt, which started out with a first budget from Kickstarter. com, one of the largest ‘fund-it-yourself’ sites in the world. And they resonate, too, with the views held by Delhi-based RAQS Media Collective. A group that started its career trajectory with a sharp critique of the hegemonic nature of documentary filmmaking in the South-Asian context, the members of RAQS suggest that the task of image-makers, documentarists or artists today is no longer that of showing what was previously unseen (owing to the spread of new imaging technologies, this can be done by anyone). Rather, their duty is to create and curate a space in which viewers can share their own experiences and reflections around topics shaping their everyday life. All these experiences thus seem to mark a shift towards horizontal and decentralized

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ways of funding, producing and authoring works, with crowdsourcing and curating being the new emblems of the epoch. So, in parallel with protest movements without a centralized voice, we also have artworks without an author or producer. Apart from constituting interesting artistic and political experiments, all the examples that I have presented so far perhaps also signal the formation of a new political subject, one that in order to be grasped requires that we shift away from conventional political categories. The concepts behind the social movements and artistic experiences that I just mentioned seem to fit into Hardt and Negri’s (2005) notion of the ‘multitude’,16 for example. An inherently antagonistic and political subject made up of singularities, the multitude is pure potentiality, a singularity that tends towards shared, common projects, hence marking a departure from conventional notions of community and identity (see also Negri, 2006). Indeed, I am only hinting at such a perspective here. Much more work ought to be conducted in order to better explore the extent to which new media practices are not only signifiers of wider social and political transformations, but possibly also agents of change.

Conclusions An ethnographic scrutiny of i-docs would seem to open up a new scenario for visual culture, one where the study of the visual field needs to be backed up with an increasing awareness of digital culture, interactivity and the functioning in particular of Web 2.0-based technologies. As this article has attempted to demonstrate, interactive documentaries incorporate the languages that dominate communication on social networks and image-sharing platforms, showing interesting points of contact also with social networking, gaming and the relational practices that define many experiments in the world of contemporary arts. As I have suggested in this article, a variety of different kinds of information converge in such projects, forcing us to rethink the very terms through which we address images. I have also suggested how digital images embedded in interactive technologies ask viewers to engage with the physicality and socialness of everyday life, to immerse themselves in the ‘offline’, in other words, to get their hands dirty (again). In conclusion, I would like to shift, however slightly, the angle of my discussion and offer a couple of reflections on the implications of such new practices for the world of documentary film. While seemingly appearing as a movement away from the principles of documentary film-making, i-docs perhaps do signal a return to its very principles. Such practices permit, in fact, an innovative and thorough exploration of the objects/ subjects of our works. This concept is neatly expressed by Thalhofer (the creator of Korsakow); during an interview, he suggested how, through his software, viewers were actually allowed ‘to explore the object more, to see more’. In his view, the use of interactivity pulls viewers closer to the reality that film-makers intend to portray, at the same time respecting their agency and individuality through the modalities of exploration. The new ways for exploring visual content online, which allow viewers to enact search strategies by exploring, decomposing and recomposing a wide array of videos, photographs, sounds and texts, seem to progressively redirect our attention to the things ‘out there’, the raw material, the profilmic object – in other words, as we have seen in the first section of

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this article, to the privileged subject of documentary films. I-docs appear therefore paradoxically not only as the future venue for documentary film and for cinema at large, but also as a tribute to documentary films’ own past and origins. They offer an example, for instance, of Deleuze’s (2005) notion of cinematographic narrative as the episodic recomposition of emergent events within the affective, sensory and cultural memory of the beholder, materializing at the same time Rancière’s (2006) idea that films should represent life, and that life is not about stories, about actions oriented towards an end, but about situations open in every direction. Life has nothing to do with dramatic progression, but is instead a long and continuous movement made up of an infinity of micromovements (p. 2).

Acknowledgement Thank you Graeme Were for the precious comments on this text.

Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Notes    1. In this article, I use the term ‘image-making’ (and ‘image-makers’) in order to include moving and still images in one single concept and thus to encompass all the hybrid spaces that have been made possible by contemporary digital technologies. It is interesting to point out how new image-making practices also pose a threat to our conventional terminology for addressing this field, forcing us to reflect upon the terms we use for describing such practices.   2. Let me point out here that this article does not deal with how documentaries have changed through their introduction into the web as a space for the hosting and marketing of films (see Birchall, 2008; Juhasz, 2008; Vicente, 2008).   3. In a later film called The Disembarkment of the Congress of Photographers in Lyon we see a different event taking place. The photographers leaving the halls look into the camera, greeting their respected colleague, Lumière, behind it.  4. http://highrise.nfb.ca/onemillionthtower/1mt_open_tech.php  5. http://highrise.nfb.ca/onemillionthtower/directors_statement.php   6. Once again, let me draw the reader’s attention to the terminological difficulty in describing such works. Should I use the term ‘watch’, as is commonly done in the realm of film, or ‘enter’, as in web language? Generally in this article, to make sense of this complexity, I have opted to alternate between terms conventionally adopted in visual culture and film theory, and terms belonging to digital culture.   7. Realized by using the open-source technologies of Popcorn.js, Html5, three.js and WebGL.  8. http://www.studioazzurro.com/index.php?com_works=&view=detail&work_ id=14&option=com_works&Itemid=22&lang=en   9. The video was produced by using the Geometric Informatics system and two different types of 360º Lidar scanners. 10. http://www.kinoautomat.cz 11. http://www.molleindustria.org 12. http://code.chirls.com/18days/ 13. http://beta.18daysinegypt.com/#/

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14. ‘You are what you share’ is, according to Shirky (2008), the motto of our days. 15. I must point out that, as this article is being reviewed, the M5S, a party led by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and founded on the principle of operating exclusively through the web (and hence strategically refusing the use of main institutionalized media), has won more than 25 per cent of votes in the 2013 Italian national elections. During a BBC interview Grillo said, ‘the internet is not just a language, it changes the relations, it changes your view of the world.’ 16. The concept of the multitude builds upon Negri’s writings dating back to the 1970s.

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Paolo Favero is Associate Professor in Film Studies and Visual Culture at the Department of Communication Studies, University of Antwerp. With a PhD in Social Anthropology from Stockholm University, Paolo has devoted the core of his career to the study of visual culture in India and Italy. His current research concerns contemporary documentary image-making practices in India. Paolo has also created various visual projects aiming at translating social theory in languages available to wider audiences. He is the author of India Dreams: Cultural Identity among Young Middle Class Men in New Delhi (Stockholm University Press, 2005) and director of the film Flyoverdelhi (screened by Swedish and Italian national broadcasters).

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