Liveblogging: the goldfish bowl

by Momoko on May 13, 2011

Of the fifteen questions posed by this morning’s lightning talk presenters, six were chosen for further examination in breakout groups. The goldfish bowl brought the facilitators of each breakout group back onstage to reconvene the overarching discussion.

Marsha Kinder initiated the dialogue with a rephrasing of her group’s question from “How can we get away without the plot?” to “Why do we want to get away from the plot?” What the rejection of plot allows is an escape from its closed structure of beginning-middle-end causality. Non-linear storytelling lets us move away from this dominant structure through modular approaches based on collections of mini-narratives. A non-linear work can activate cognitive functions of narrative by allowing viewers to make adjustments to the plot as they move through it. This could enable a more experiential approach, in which experience is more valuable than a story’s ending.

Marsha also warned against the urge to create new vocabulary to describe these new narrative approaches. Instead of fetishizing the new, she suggested that we identify continuities and reconsider the old.

Katerina Cizek’s group discussed the need to understand what a participant is within new approaches to documentary. Are they offline? Are they online feeders of crowdsourcing? What issues of self-representation arise? What authorial choices are necessary to make participants’ material useful? She suggested that the author or director’s role should not be to pose a question, but rather, to create a catalyst to provoke dialogue. Within this, a concrete list of ethical considerations is needed to protect vulnerable people and how they are represented online. Participants may be the people formerly known as subjects and audience, but old power dynamics continue to exist.

The role of author was also examined by Michelle Smith’s group. She asked for an unpacking of certain assumptions about interactivity and our utopian fantasies of what it can allow, as well as an evaluation of the idealized role of the author having authority over a certain story. She cautioned against setting up a dichotomy between conventional and interactive, non-linear documentary. She pointed out two perceptions of interactive documentary sometimes in conflict: the DIY approach that gives traditionally marginalized voices access to media tools; and perceivably bourgeois development of new media tools within ‘high art.’

“How do we archive the archive?” Adrian Miles stressed the need to better support archival institutions. Back-ups might be understood as vernacular archiving processes, distinct from proper archives. Things enter an archive when judged significant enough to belong to one, and custodianship of material is the responsibility of the author until it becomes valuable enough for institutional archiving. An archive is distinct from documentation of creative processes. An archive of an archive would preserve both archival infrastructures and the media that they hold. Archival strategies, including budget, should be considered from the outset of a project.

Jigar Mehta discussed the additional risks to participants in the dissemination of idocs online. While conventional documentary may poses similar risks, idocs can shorten the lag time between production and broadcast, widen the range of dissemination, and more easily open the material to re-editing and re-contextualization. Authors of idocs have a responsibility to inform participants of risks, and to remain aware of further risks that develop through the creative process.

Jigar also raised the problematic situation of online commenting when participants (documentary subjects) don’t have access to the online dialogue. Possible strategies to overcome this imbalance might include open source translation tools and transfer of content to mediums (digital, analogue and oral) safely accessible by the communities in question.

Richard Lachman’s group looked at the new inventions, tools and methods necessary to create digital and database narrative. He pointed to the need for tools such as HTML5 and Korsakow that allow creators to work on their projects without becoming programmers. New media tools link back to existing media tools while expanding the range of contexts in which we can tell stories. Content can be pulled from different places and shared among communities that couldn’t be reached before.

The need for new models of collaboration was echoed throughout the fishbowl. Katerina stated this as a need to avoid placing the authorial role in opposition to collaboration, while Michelle saw it as the need to move away from the notion of the singular author.

The discussion ended with an apt reminder from Jigar: As creators and scholars today, we’re working with new narrative technologies at the same evolutionary stage as 1920s Hollywood filmmaking. Through this, we need to continue to consider our values, ethics and background.

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