Interactive beings, interactive documentaries

This post was first published for the i-docs blog and reflection group on the emerging forms of interactive documentaries.


Interactive beings are interactive documentaries

Interactivity starts within me. What I experience from the world and people around me transforms my perception and understanding of what is possible. New layers of my being emerge to the surface, other layers vanish. I am already interactive. No technology is involved. How I structure this experience is the beginning of an interactive documentary. Technology might be a good tool to articulate this structure. A tool directed by my personal interactive processes. I first have to find ways to be more conscious of those.

Among the ideas that stimulate my thinking about interactive documentaries, the idea of digital perspective brought by Olivier Auber (@olivierauber) and Yann Leguennec (@ylg11) keeps coming back. The two artists put us as actors of a new invention comparable to the spatial perspective which led the passage from the hierarchical world of the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, comparable to the temporal perspective born with the telegraph two centuries ago and which still dominates today. Within the digital perspective we are co-creating, they say, the vanishing point becomes vanishing code. This code is not only computer or digital code. It is genetic code, biological code, social code, psychological code. This code vanishes into the complexities of people and communities.

I find the idea of vanishing code is a way to be conscious of our interactive beings – and of the internal processes that «document» our beings: memory, behaviour, cognition, perception, expression. A vanishing code reaches out to technology but begins with something deeper. Once we know mobile web technologies can capture data documenting are every motions, we are interactive documentaries. We are led to question why we move the way we move. Why we behave the way we behave? Why we remember the way we remember? Why we perceive the way we perceive? With the many «whys», interactivity is already happening. We are led to structure meanings and represent the forms of this interactivity. 


Interactive beings make interactive documentaries

My understanding of interactive media grows with my understanding of cinema. I have my historical and aesthetical reference points towards which I turn to grasp a bit of what’s ahead. I feel those were 20th century preludes to 21st century patterns. Interactions with the moving image have had a progressive evolution that now turn exponential. For my comprehension of interactive documentaries, I like to recall how the first moving images captured were documentaries.

I really enjoy the idea of using early cinema material to communicate how modern computer code can process and generate cinematic imagery. In my exploration of cinematic interaction design, I worked with Exiting the Factory by the Lumière brothers. In that cinematic shot from 1895, are the workers in any way also interactors? Is the maker, Louis Lumière, documenting facts or expressing perceptions? Going through one image from the sequence, we can sense at least a desire for interactivity in the look thrown at the camera by one worker. Louis Lumière’s point of view is also acting upon a relationship with the workers, his employees. What internal, interactive processes led to the workers look at the camera? What internal, interactive processes led to Louis Lumière’s point of view expressed through his choice of camera angle? Forward 116 years later, using mobile web technologies, what if the worker point of view generates and mashes-up with that of the Lumière brother creating a mixed reality?

In that hypothetical interaction, I see an interactive documentary in the making. The forms of which are based on known and unknown cinematic aesthetics – and ethics because interactive documentary also call for functions and thus behaviours along a shared interface. The forms would certainly show influence from cinematic editing and compositing but also web data visualizations and dynamically generated motion graphics: aesthetics which structure meaningful relationships between networked audiovisual events. The functions would call for actions using symbols and icons forged in image bitmap data, generated by systems tracing the paths and motions of the interactors and possibly structured from peer-to-peer principles: ethics would be necessary to connect computer and digital code to cinematic code, genetic code, biological code, social code, psychological code.


Interactive beings act through interactive documentaries

Once layers of codes come to structure forms and functions, the design of interactive documentaries by interactive beings participates in an open system. My private space finds way to a common space where actions are called. I see the interface of interactive documentaries as such a way. For actions to be called, the interface must leave room to the expression of my interactive being. So I see the interface of interactive documentaries as a choice of codes – across all codes. The «whys» come back to define this choice. Why choose that social code? Why build with that computer code? Why even consider cinematic code? Will interactive documentaries be designed around the moving image or moving interfaces? Interactive beings are called to act on both sides of the interface. We can’t if they are stuck watching!

So, why base the interface of interactive documentaries on one core of cinematic code: the moving image? As the status of interactive beings on both sides of the interface evolves, I am sure this cinematic code is also bound to evolve. Following discussions around An Aesthetic for Web Made Movies blog post, I came across a short conversation to define the viewer/user of interactive cinema. The word «vuser» was proposed. I like it although I am still looking for a term that would also involve the maker. «Mavuser» is ugly (!) but, in the meantime, the word «interactor» help me grasp a bit of the emerging status.
As the cinematic code of interactive documentaries evolves, interactors will act on all dimensions of interactive documentaries interfaces. The same way Lev Manovich defines the difference between «closed» and «open» interactivity when asked What kind of interaction?, interactive documentaries will not be pre-determined but will be «generated in real time in response to user’s actions».

The cinematic code will evolve from moving images to moving interfaces.

Our interactions with the world and the beings around us ultimately are the interactive documentaries we want to experience. Our interactions need to be informed by «how» and «what» technology make possible but the most important question remains the «why» of these actions. We have to be conscious of codes inside and out. We need to design from them. Conscious of interactions, our interactive documentaries are no longer «content» they become «systems». They call for new behaviours, new motions.

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  1. Hi,
    Thanks for this very interesting and inspiring article.

    I’d like to tell you about our interactive film INSITU, about artistic performances in public spaces in Europe, for the tv channel ARTE. I think it can extend the debate. The film is here insitu.arte.tv, and there are different interactive sequences in the film like this one for instance where you can click in the head of the people passing by in the metro to hear what they are thinking here http://insitu.arte.tv/en/#/film/3 or this one using an interactive split screen that allows you to “play” with the image http://insitu.arte.tv/en/#/film/10


    1. Djela

      Yes, I’ve explored one sequence from your interactive cinema project following a notice by Yann Le Guennec whose performance was part of INSITU:
      Will take the time to explore more following your links.
      I am very curious about the collaboration and communication between cineaste, creative coders and web developers.
      How was it in your case?


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