- I-Docs: The Evolving Practices of Interactive Documentary ed. by Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi, and Mandy Rose
Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi, and Mandy Rose, editors. London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2017, 296 pp.
I-Docs is an edited collection of eighteen chapters emanating from the i-Docs Symposia held at the Digital Cultures Research Centre at the University of the West of England in Bristol. The first i-Docs Symposium was held in 2011, and it then continued biannually, starting in 2012, with some of the book’s chapters having originated from papers presented at the 2014 and 2016 i-Docs Symposia. The editors describe their book as “a series of conversations [bringing] . . . together a broad spectrum of makers and theorists from across the globe to consider how documentarians and other producers of non-fiction are taking advantage of the developing affordances of computerization” (2).
Those familiar with the documentary genre would certainly recognize the open nature of John Grierson’s definition of a documentary being “the creative treatment of actuality.” Even so, as a form of storytelling that claims to serve as a representation of reality and a source of truth, traditional forms of linear documentary media have cultivated a distinct form of narrativity (the process by which a story is constructed and presented) and narratology (pattern of codes that operate within a story that affect perception) that most audiences are familiar with and use to functionally define a documentary. So, too, the editors of i-Docs have formulated an open definition of what constitutes an interactive documentary as being “any project that starts with the intention of engaging with the real, and that uses digital interactive technology to realize this intention” [End Page 111] (1). But being a relatively recent phenomenon, i-docs have yet to evolve a narrativity or narratology that would buttress such a definition in the minds of users and participants. As a result, practitioners and theorists are still grappling with and attempting to formulate processes by which i-docs are constructed and/or presented while simultaneously trying to discern how users’ or participants’ perceptions are being affected by the operational codes used to (re)present “reality” or “truth” in a still-evolving storytelling milieu.
The book’s “conversations” are presented in three sections grouped by content theme, each curated and introduced by one of the volume’s editors. The first is “Co-creation” by Mandy Rose, which focuses on user/participant engagement strategies in the i-doc production processes and storytelling approaches. The second section, by Sandra Gaudenzi, focuses on “Methods” and the development of production techniques and “best practices” via case studies examining the effect that storytelling approach, design, software, and gamification have on i-docs presentation and reception. Finally, “Horizons,” by Judith Aston, takes a step back to examine the “bigger picture” with a brief review of i-docs’ antecedents, their connection to contemporary incarnations, and a speculative reflection on the potential futures of i-docs. Although each thematic section has its own coherence and flow, I-docs is not a text most individuals would read from beginning to end. More likely, readers would scan the book and read the chapters that capture their attention or have relevance to their interests. This is not unusual in an edited volume.
Presented in the “Co-creation” section is a range of case studies on projects that have relied, in whole or in part, on the contributions of users/participants in content collection, construction, and presentation. The section examines issues of public engagement and participation in how the evolving modes of address through i-doc have fostered “collaborative (self-)representation” (9), present a platform for political engagement and “talkback” (26), provide a mechanism for network building and activism (49), and reinvigorate community building (66). An interview with Kat Cizek, Emmy Award–winning former filmmaker-inresidence at the National Film Board of Canada and present artistic director at MIT Open Media Lab, discusses the potential and challenges of the co-creative and collaborative process (38). In examinations of the prospects of “cocreation” in documentary projects, software is seldom taken into consideration as...