Future of Storytelling at Seneca Polytechnic

In 2020, I was invited to teach a course on transmedia storytelling and interactive documentary for the filmmaker-led Documentary and Non-Fiction Media (DNM) program at Seneca Polytechnic. When updating my course, I expanded the original scope to explore the future of non-fiction storytelling, by combining the post-structuralist philosophy of technology I studied at McGill  with the broader category of “i-docs.”

I-docs include but are not limited to: interactive documentaries; (proto-metaverse) XR and spacial computing; social impact games for change and education; co-creating with social systems, Artificial Intelligence and natural non-human systems and biomimicry; immersive theater and IRL experiences; and even prototyping climate “futures” with Unity and Unreal (MIT’s WORLDING workshop and USC’s World Building Institute). QUIPU, LIVING LOS SURES and the NFB’s HIGHRISE and BEAR 71 are some of the standout i-docs we explore in class.

To balance theory with practice, I give students a behind-the-scenes look at the making of NUCLEAR DISSENT, SONS OF GALLIPOLI and CHANGE GOUT, three of the interactive experiences I co-created during my four years at Jam3, adding to the digital studio’s long list of award-winning i-doc credits, from the NFB’s seminal BEAR 71 to BIIDAABAN VR, both of which we also explore in class.

In addition to i-docs, we explore the transmedia theories of Henry Jenkins and Jeff Gomez, which focus on cultural dialogues between major franchises like HARRY POTTER and THE HUNGER GAMES and their fans – but rarely address documentary film.

Here’s an excerpt from my course syllabus:

DNM820 will teach students how to apply transmedia and interactive strategies to documentary, by looking at case studies drawn from Hollywood film franchises, bleeding-edge immersive technologies, alternate reality experiences and co-created activist documentaries. While we will examine the ever-changing digital landscape, our aim will be to use transmedia and interactive strategy in support of project goals and never technology for its own sake (even if at times such strategies deconstruct traditional documentary form — and sometimes also technology — literally from within). 

So in the spirit of the interactive process, our course will unfold iteratively as needed to support and enhance students’ final documentary projects. Thus the breakdown below should be seen as a guideline only, with the following lines of inquiry helping to frame our explorations during this time of flux:

• What’s the interplay between linear and non-linear storytelling?

• What are the differences between interactive documentary (i-doc) and transmedia storytelling traditions? How are they converging today?

• How do “character,” “story” and “world” relate in transmedia?

• What are the changing dynamics between filmmakers, documentary subjects and the “people formerly known as the audience”? What role does technology play in these dynamics?

• What levels of interactivity, immersion and participation are appropriate for different types of documentary projects? 

• How does technology affect our understanding of truth and reality? And why does this matter especially for documentary filmmakers?

• What might emerging technologies like generative AI, the metaverse and Web3 mean for documentary film?




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