home June 23, 2020

i-Docs, Transmedia & Co-Created Assemblages

In 2020, former colleagues from digital studio Jam3 invited me to teach at Seneca Polytechnic’s filmmaker-led Documentary and Non-Fiction Media program (DNM), where I focus on “i-docs” – often mistakenly thought of as short for “interactive documentary,” but more accurately any type of technological or social innovation (inclusive of interactive documentary) used to update the documentary form. I-docs include but are not limited to (proto-metaverse) XR, AI, immersive theater and experiences, interactive audio, even prototyping climate “futures” at MIT’s Unity-sponsored WORLDING workshop. QUIPU, LIVING LOS SURES and the NFB’s HIGHRISE and BEAR 71 are some of the standout i-docs we discuss in class.

In the hundreds of hours I spent researching i-doc theory and practice in preparation for the class, two milestones really stood out for me: The National Film Board of Canada updating their Challenge for Change initiative in the mid 2000s with emerging i-doc innovations (from Katerina Cizek and others) and MIT’s Open Documentary Lab branching out  into the Co-Creation Studio in 2016, with “co-creation” broadly defined to include collaboration with non-human systems found in nature and artificial intelligence.

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 explore in class.

In addition to i-docs, my students and I discuss the transmedia theories of Henry Jenkins and Jeff Gomez, which focus on cultural dialogues between major franchises like HARRY POTTER and BTS and their fans – but rarely address documentary film. So in class we brainstorm ways to use transmedia to support indie docs with zero-cost social media tools and community-led strategies – without having to create complicated and expensive bespoke i-doc experiences still largely controlled by gatekeepers (like the CMF and until recently the NFB’s now defunct interactive wing – both of which are given their due in class for having contributed so much to Canadian documentary innovation at the nexus of emerging technology).

My teaching experience has re-ignited a passion for production informed by research and strategy – both trans-disciplinary and co-created, powered by emerging social and technological innovations. A passion supercharged in my case with by philosophy, especially the assemblage theory of Deleuze and Guattari and phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, which situate technology in the broader non-fiction storyworld of our shared Anthropocene. Some of these insights were implicit and in half measures in my prior work – and explicitly only in unreleased personal projects I’m currently developing and shopping. But now as theory meets practice, and strategy infuses all my work, it feels like rubber on the road – and it’s off to the races!

I invite you to check out my Seneca course syllabus.

 

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