Webdocumentary: possibilities of the 2.0 narrations

Original in Spanish. Published in Gara Journal May 2011

 Webdocumentary: possibilities of the 2.0 narrations

The blank page has disappeared and filmmakers have started playing. No longer do they write paragraphs: they now draw circles, crosses, layers and search for new formulas. Furthermore, this weekend in Brussels, web developers, producers, storytellers and journalists have been discussing the future of non-fiction narratives.

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 Clàudia Prat. Brussels

It was exactly 10 years ago, in 2002, when the term “webdocumentary” first appeared in the framework of the Festival Cinéma du Reel in George Pompidou Center in Paris (France). This Festival is one of the worldwide reference festivals in documentary, and even if ten years ago a “webdoc” did not yet exist, new narratives and paths were being forged. “Webdocumentary is a genre neither exploited nor defined, it is in between the boundaries of television, websites, online magazines or blogs” said the original promotional pamphlet. Although “webdocumentary”  is still an unknown word for the majority of the population[1], with the exception of French and English audiences, different experiments and projects have spread all over the internet: they are the pioneers of what we now consider the hybrid of  native web documentaries.

Now: what does the “webdocumentary” offer? If you cross non-fiction stories, interactivity, collective collaboration, web design and videogames you will probably sense the doors of the future -and the not so far future- opening. For example, a user enters a website and a video asks them to choose their own path; or to become a journalist and investigate through interviews; or users can suggest what they want a group of filmmakers to film every week, or can chat with other users while watching a “webdoc”. That’s it: a webdoc is a new world of opportunities, in between interactivity, participation, narrative and multimedia.

This weekend, in the Millenium Documentary Film Festival -an international indie-social documentary festival- the first Webdoc Meeting was held. Lubmor Gúeroguiv, president of the Festival, says: “Broadcasters are lowering their budgets for documentaries. The Millenium Festival has always been an insurrection against all these monopolies. Now, using the web we can offer a democratic way of producing documentaries. This is a crucial moment and it must be analyzed”. During the meeting,  hundreds of people gathered for conferences and debates, discussing new financial and narrative opportunities. Lubmor Guéroguiv adds: “It is important to have a strong webdocumentary community and have this exchange; we need a common starting point to see where we want to go.”  Zlatina Rousseva, artistic director of the Webdoc Meeting, says: “Now we don’t know what a webdocumentary is; if we will have a new language, a new art”.

The “Webdocumentary” is challenging two basic axis of “classical” documentary, which are its detractors’ fears. First, “webdoc” threatens the author figure: with interactivity, code and multiple participatory possibilities the author is no longer the only director. This is one of the key points of 2.0 narratives. But also producers’ roles are at stake: “webdocs”question the legitimacy of authors’ rights or the influx of money that used to come from TV broadcasters.

In English or French there are many well known projects: «Voyage au bout de carbon» (HonkyTonk), «Prison Valley» (Arte), «Géneration Tian’Anmen» (DNA) , «The Empty House» (Gab Web Agency, Peace Reporter), «Gaza-Sderot: Life in Spite of Every-thing» (Arte)… But what can be considered a “webdocumentary project” is not clear. The first projects mirrored the first multimedia CD, others feed themselves with participatory engagements that seem more like audiovisual blogs than documentaries. By now, just France, Germany Canada and the USA are producing these pieces. Another key point is the financial one. Currently, webdoc budgets run from 20.000 to 430.000 euros but produce almost no profits. They have been risky bets for big channels like ARTE or newspapers like “Le Monde” or “Liberàtion”.

In the Webdoc Meeting -regardless of documentary authors’ tendency to cry for funding- filmmakers attempted to be optimistic. Gerald Holubowics, a photojournalist who’s spent 10 years playing with different IT possibilities, says: “ It is the end of monopolies! It is the moment to find those people who would like to invest in our projects!” And Patric Jean, director of the polemic film “La Domintaion Masculine” (2009) says: “The non-linearity allows us to investigate in the incognito spaces of our thought. Financiers should support our experimentation!”.

“Let’s jump!” Concluding the conference, Gerald Holubowics stated: “don’t fear jumping, we have to overcome the fear of making mistakes… Even if we don’t know what webdocumentary is…!”

[1] Webdocumentary or “webdoc” is mostly used in Europe. Interactive Documentary or I-DOC is more used in USA and Canada.

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