Week 4: Choose-your-own-non-interactive-adventure

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Interactive: engaging, relationships, alternative, involvement, innovative, attention grabbing, new audiences. These are all the traditional buzz words that float around interactive, journalistic stories or documentaries. These phrases and the intent behind the interactive medium are indeed as positive as they sound. The notion that an audience can go online and take part in a story, having a unique and often non-linear experience of the events and ideas presented does rather scream interest and storytelling success. Unfortunately, reality and expectation don’t always align.

In class today, someone basically gave this ‘for’ argument in regards to interactive documentaries. As cynical as usual, I provided the ‘against’. After viewing some of the pieces made with Korsakow, and having experienced more elaborate (and in my opinion more interesting) stories such as The Goa Hippy Tribe, I’ve concluded that ‘interactive’ is a bit of a flop.

You realise this the longer you stay on a single story. As you scan through image and video galleries and wander through each path, you come to understand that, in the end, there isn’t really anything that ‘individual’ about the story you’ve just witnessed. Perhaps you also find yourself somewhat lost among the muddled information. Apart from commenting and receiving replies, there’s really nothing more to the story itself. The gimmicks of scroll-downs and click-throughs and pop-up info boxes might maintain ones attention purely by keeping them busy, but somehow I don’t see that as ‘good’ storytelling. Now, nobody believes that stifling innovation is effective, and I wouldn’t advise every interactive documentary maker to give up. Rather, find a way to truly differentiate the medium from film or print or audio – perhaps in the form of a scavenger hunt or petition…or…something much better than what I can come up with at the moment.

So, if interactive documentaries haven’t met my expectations, has the world of docu-drama impressed me? As a lover of clearly expressed narratives, I’ve got to say yes. Now, we could argue for hours about whether or not films such as Close Up can be truly defined as a documentary. It’s a re-enactment of ‘true events’ using the original ‘social’ actors rather than paid ones. This in itself brings all kinds of concerns about altering representation and the ethics of confusing the portrayed with the lived.

However, I’m at a stage where I’ve accepted the fact that documentaries can exist outside the confines of objectivity. I thought it was well ‘acted’ and made interesting commentary about both the subject and the role of the film-maker in the process of events. Basically I enjoyed the ride and learnt a few things along the way. If anything, I found Close Up more engaging than any ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ story.

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