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MIT Open Documentary Lab

2015/11/12

Drawing on MIT’s legacy of media innovation and its deep commitment to open and accessible information, the MIT Open Documentary Lab brings storytellers, technologists, and scholars together to explore new documentary forms with a particular focus on collaborative and interactive storytelling. The Lab understands documentary as a project rather than as a genre bound to a particular medium. In the spirit of MIT’s open courseware and open source software movements, the Open Documentary Lab is collaborative and committed to sharing knowledge, networks, and tools. The Lab is catalyst, partner and guide to the future of reality-based storytelling.

Mapping the Intersection of Two Cultures: Interactive Documentary and Digital Journalism

The projects on this playlist mark the convergence of interactive documentary and digital journalism; two forms that, despite their distinctive institutional traditions, share common cause at the frontiers of fact-based storytelling. This convergence is the focus of a report researched and written by MIT’s Open Documentary Lab and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  It summarizes an eight-month investigation into how legacy journalism organizations are making use of innovative digital documentary techniques, in the process, transforming key components of their practice. It contextualizes and maps the views of the people who are leading change, charting their ambitions and concerns, tracking their organizations and strategies, and interpreting the larger patterns that have emerged.

The projects figure prominently in the report as examples of new production logics (reorganized workflows), institutional alliances (partnerships with other media organizations), innovative presentation strategies (from shaping a conversation with the public to visualizing data), and the creative use of institutional assets (archives in particular).  They offer ways of rethinking the relationship to what Jay Rosen has called “the people formerly known as the audience.” And they demonstrate how the creative and critical use of interactive and participatory documentary techniques can advance the journalistic mission of creating an informed and engaged citizenry.

To read the full report, click here.

_Journey to the End of Coal

Interactive documentary "Journey to the End of Coal" puts its audience in the perspective of an investigator looking into the deaths of Chinese coal miners.

Interactive documentary “Journey to the End of Coal” puts its audience in the perspective of an investigative journalist looking into the deaths of Chinese coal miners. Built around content that might otherwise have been packaged into a multimedia photo essay, the project instead creates an interactive story world that users can explore at their will. When it was first released online by Le Monde, the site garnered 1.5 million page views.

_Mapping Main Street

The participatory project "Mapping Main Street" documents the diversity of America.

This collaborative documentary offers a counter-narrative to political rhetoric about "Main Street" by creating a platform on which anyone can upload media and stories from one of the 10,466 Main Streets in America. Made with support from NPR and the Association of Independents in Radio, the project has documented 856 Main Streets to date.

_One in 8 Million

A collection of over 50 short profiles of New Yorkers, told through audio interviews and photographs.

An early New York Times experiment with multimedia storytelling, One in 8 Million uses ambient sound and an elegant interface to draw users into a collection of over 50 short profiles of New Yorkers, told through audio interviews and photographs. The proejct was featured at the 2009 IDFA DocLab, one of the first festival showcases of interactive documentary work.

_Prison Valley

"Prison Valley" is a first-person interactive road movie that takes users into the heart of America’s prison industry: Fremont County, Colorado.

“Prison Valley” is a first-person interactive investigation that uses game mechanics to bring users into the heart of America’s prison industry: Fremont County, Colorado. The project won numerous awards, including a World Press Photo first prize and Sheffield Doc/Fest Innovation Award. A linear film version was broadcast on ARTE and the interactive version was distributed by the newspaper Libération.

_Gone Gitmo

Second-Life and Unity3D versions of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center function as an interactive and educational experience of the prison which the authors term, "Immersive Journalism."

As a fellow at the University of Southern California, journalist Nonny de la Peña used Second Life and Unity3D to recreate the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center and simulate the experience of being a detainee. The project was the first in a series of experiments that de la Peña describes as “Immersive Journalism.”

_Highrise: Out My Window

In the Emmy Award-winning web documentary "Out My Window," filmmaker Katerina Cizek explores highrise living around the world.

This Emmy Award-winning web documentary was the first release in director Katerina Cizek's multi-year collaborative documentary project exploring life in high rises around the world. Cizek worked with academic researchers, local journalists and photographers to identify and capture stories in different cities - an innovative model for collaborative storytelling that brought together diverse perspectives and voices within a sylistically consistent interface.

_18 Days in Egypt

"18 Days in Egypt" is a participatory crowdsourced documentary about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

Created by journalist Jigar Mehta and developer Yasmin Elayat, this participatory, crowdsourced documentary about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution attemps to capture the history unfolding in the tweets, cell phone videos, and other media created by the people protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and those watching around the globe.

_Condition ONE

The "Condition One" iPad video player invites a feeling of immersion by letting its audience control the camera’s view.

Created by photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Danfung Dennis, the Condition One iPad video player invites a greater feeling of immersion by giving audiences a limited degree of control over the camera’s point of view. Dennis' "visual technology startup" later went on to produce one of the films for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

_Bear 71

Surveillance video and data feeds from Canada’s Banff National Park make environmental documentary "Bear 71" a commentary on life in the digital age.

The National Film Board of Canada’s Bear 71 is a first-person documentary centered on the titular grizzly bear, tagged and tracked in Canada’s Banff National Park. Bear 71’s interactive interface depicts Banff as it might have been imagined by Big Brother. Migrating dots represent tagged animals like Bear 71 as they navigate through the supposedly wild landscape, never free from the watchful eyes of park rangers. Visitors to Bear 71 are also tracked, through their webcam and tagged with a number just like the animals (e.g., Human 1806291). Surveillance video and data feeds from Canada’s Banff National Park make environmental documentary “Bear 71″ a commentary on life in the digital age and represent a new type of digital data journalism.

_Hunger in Los Angeles

Hunger in Los Angeles is a virtual reality film recreating an eyewitness account of an emergency at a Los Angeles food bank.

Nonny de la Peña expands her "immersive journalism" approach in this virtual reality film that combines documentary evidence and 3D modeling to simulate the experience of watching a man go into diabetic shock at a Los Angeles food bank. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, the project was one of the first mainstream journalistic applications of virtual reality technology. Nonny de la Peña's collaborator on the project, Palmer Luckey, went on to develop the Oculus Rift headset and in March 2014 sold the company to Facebook for $2 billion.

_Curious City

An experiment in crowdsourced journalism, "Curious City" gives editorial control to its audience.

An experiment in crowdsourced journalism, “Curious City” gives editorial control to its audience by allowing listeners of WBEZ Chicago to suggest stories and accompany reporters while covering them. The project was supported by the Association of Independents in Radio through its Localore initiative, which paired independent producers with local radio stations to foster innovative community-based journalism.

_Alma: A Tale of Violence

Interactive tablet and web documentary "Alma: A Tale of Violence" lets its audience members move between a former gang member’s confession and a stream of imagery that supplements her story.

This interactive tablet app and web documentary lets its audience members navigate between a 40-minute confessional interview with a former Guatamalan gang member and a stream of imagery that supplements her story. The project received awards from IDFA DocLab, World Press Photo and Sheffield Doc/Fest. It was also released as a hybrid documentary book and a linear film broadcast on ARTE.

_Snow Fall

A backcountry ski trip turns deadly when a group of expert skiers are overtaken by an avalanche.

This multimedia feature combines text, sound design, video and animation in a parallax scrolling interface to recount the story of a deadly backcountry ski trip. Snow Fall is credited by many in the field with ushering in a new kind of web aesthetic known as “scrollytelling”—enabling the viewer to scroll through a story and its multimedia components as opposed to clicking through them. The project received both critical acclaim and widespread audience attention, picking up a Pulitzer Prize, Peabody Award and a Webby Award while attracting more than 3 million visitors.

_Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The data visualization Out of Sight, Out of Mind gives weight to the stark facts and figures of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, urging viewers to reflect on the life and death realities hidden behind the numbers.

The data visualization Out of Sight, Out of Mind gives weight to the stark facts and figures of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, urging viewers to reflect on the life and death realities hidden behind the numbers.

_Sandy Storyline

"Sandy Storyline" is a participatory documentary that collects and shares stories about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on our neighborhoods, our communities and our lives.

"Sandy Storyline" is a participatory documentary that collects and shares stories about the impact of Hurricane Sandy. The project uses storytelling platforms like Vojo and Cowbird to collect audio, video, photography, and text stories from residents and citizen journalists. The online archive features more than 250 stories, testimonies, and visions for the future. Sandy Storyline is the winner of The Tribeca Film Festival’s 2013 Bombay Sapphire Award for Transmedia.

_Hazardous Hospitals

Hazardous Hospitals is an interactive documentary about the risks patients encounter in the healthcare system.

ProPublica healthcare reporters Marshall Allen and Olga Pierce, along with Tom Jennings and Ocupop’s Michael Nieling, collaborated on an interactive documentary about risks for patients in the healthcare system called Hazardous Hospitals, which was put together in four days in 2013 and covered issues of quality of hospital care and patient harm. The story is told through video interviews, GIFs, text, questionnaires, and social media.

_Firestorm

The Guardian’s “Firestorm” explores the frontiers of interactive journalism.

The Guardian’s interactive documentary feature Firestorm explores the onslaught and aftermath of a devastating brush fire in Tasmania. Using video as the backbone, it combines text, full screen images and audio to more fully immerse readers. The project was one of the first successes from The Guardian's multimedia special projects team.

_Rape in the Fields

Rape in the Fields is a collaborative transmedia documentary project exposing abuse of female agricultural workers.

The result of a yearlong collaborative reporting effort between FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), "Rape in the Fields" exposes the abuses of migrant women working in fields and packing plants. The project was presented as a documentary feature airing on FRONTLINE and Univision, as well as a feature article, infographic and animated short film produced by CIR.

_Hollow

In the interactive documentary "Hollow," filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon collaborates with the residents of McDowell County, West Virginia to tell the story of population decline in the rural United States.

To produce this interactive documentary, independent filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon collaborated with the residents of McDowell County, West Virginia to tell the story of population decline in the rural United States. The project began with a series of participatory storytelling workshops and a community news website that helped generate the content and framing for this Peabody and World Press Photo-winning web documentary.

_A Short History of the Highrise

This interactive documentary, designed as an immersive storybook experience, details the 2,500 year history of the highrise building and the humans they house.

Part of Katerina Cizek's multi-year Highrise project, this storybook-inspired web documentary uses rhyming couplets to detail the 2,500 year history of the highrise building and the people that inhabit them. Users were invited to submit photos of highrise living that were included in the final chapter. The unique collaboration between the New York Times and the National Film Board of Canada led to a Peabody and World Press Photo Award.

_Fort McMoney

Explore the frozen town of Fort McMurray and the tangled web of consequences fueled by the get-rich-quick mentality of its inhabitants in this groundbreaking documentary game.

This "documentary game" allows users to explore the social, economic and environmental effects of an oil boom in the northern Alberta town of Fort McMurray. Directed by David Dufresne, one of the creators of Prison Valley, the project combines first-person interface for exploring the area and a SimCity-like dashboard in which users can debate and vote on the issues. The project was distributed by three newspapers and selected journalists acted as "superplayers" writing about their experiences in the game.

_NSA Files: Decoded

Interactive documentary on Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations.

This popular interactive feature from the Guardian combines text with documentary-style video interviews and interactive graphics to explain the significance of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations.

_Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt

This interactive narrative traces the the journey of a single t-shirt around the globe.

One of National Public Radio's first attempts to produce interactive visual storytelling for the web, this project describes the economics of the garment industry by following the journey of a single t-shirt around the world. The project was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $590,000, more than 10 times the producers' original goal.

_Toxic Trail

This investigative project explores the movement of toxic waste around the country.

A collaboration between the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Guardian U.S. Interactive Team, this project follows the movement and treatment of toxic waste around the United States, using interactive visualizations and animated graphics to supplement in-depth investigative reporting.

_The Shirt On Your Back

The Shirt on Your Back is an interactive documentary about the dangers of the global garment industry.

“The Shirt on Your Back” is an interactive documentary about the Rana Plaza disaster, the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, and the global garment industry. In this interactive documentary, Guardian journalists trace the lifecycle of a shirt as well as the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry.

_Borderland

Borderland is an interactive documentary exploring the U.S.-Mexico border and the people who live and work there.

Led by NPR, 2014 interactive documentary project “Borderland" follows public radio host Steve Inskeep as he travels along the U.S.-Mexico border and reports on what he found there. With national tension building at that time around the immigration debate, Borderland endeavors to illustrate—in multimedia vignettes that include audio soundscapes, narration, photography, maps, and short videos—the U.S.-Mexico border as a vital place on which people depend to live and work. While the concept of an interactive documentary told through different forms of media was not new in 2014, the production of Borderland involved new collaborations across institutions and generated new work flows between organizations and departments that did not previously exist.

_Seven Digital Deadly Sins

Is our online behavior subject to the same standards as we uphold in real life? By reimagining the classic seven deadly sins for a digital age, this interactive documentary reflects on how online life affects our moral compass.

This interactive documentary produced by the NFB and The Guardian imagines what the seven deadly sins look like when updated for the digital age. Featuring "digital sin" confessions from a broad spectrum of contributors, including folk musician and activist Billy Bragg, comics Josie Long, Ophira Eisenberg and Bill Bailey, actress/comedian Mary Walsh, Seven Digital Deadly Sins reveals that these celebrities use and abuse the internet as well.

_First World War

This interactive documentary is a global story of the first world war, with perspectives from ten historians from ten different countries.

A collaboration between the Guardian and the digital agency Kiln, this project reimagines the historical documentary in interactive form, offering perspectives of 10 historians on the First World War through original reports, interactive maps and short video segments featuring rare archival footage.

_Pirate Fishing: An Interactive Investigation

Pirate Fishing is an interactive online game placing users in the role of an investigative journalist researching illegal fishing in West Africa.

This project from Al Jazeera places users in the role of investigative journalist uncovering the story of illegal fishing operations off the coast of Sierra Leone.

_Do you live in one of California’s pesticide hotspots?

This project combines longform reporting with an interactive map where users can look up pesticide use near their homes.

This long-form investigation into the use of pesticides in California's strawberry industry allows users to personalize the story by looking up their home address and exploring an interactive map.

_Web of Terror

Web of Terror traces the process of gathering and analyzing intelligence in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The product of a joint investigation by the New York Times, ProPublica and Frontline, this web documentary uses the computer that was traced to one of the Pakistani terrorists who masterminded the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. Frontline makes this story into a Web-based experience and an app that would allow users to explore the data, just as the intelligence agencies had done.

_VICE News VR: Millions March

This virtual reality newscast places viewers at a protest against police violence in New York.

One of the first virtual reality newscasts produced by a major news organization, this coverage of a protest against police violence in New York debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier program.

_The Enemy

Standing at the crossroads between neuroscience, artificial intelligence and storytelling, The Enemy is a virtual reality experiment that puts the viewer in the middle of two combatants from opposite sides observing each other.

Two combatants from opposite sides observe each other in a virtual reality environment. The viewer is in the middle. At the crossroads between neuroscience, artificial intelligence and storytelling, The Enemy takes the viewer on an odyssey through some of the most contested conflicts of the world to acknowledge people’s humanity.

_Do Not Track

Do Not Track is a personalized web documentary series about privacy and the web economy.

Director Brett Gaylor explores privacy, surveillance and the web economy in this personalized web documentary delivered in bi-weekly chapters across multiple platforms. The project was co-produced by Upian, National Film Board, ARTE and Bayerischer Rundfunk, and distributed through additional partnerships with Radio-Canada, AJ+ and Radio Télévision Suisse.

_After the Storm

After the Storm is an interactive documentary essay about the experience of living through a natural disaster.

Borrowing techniques from an essay film, this web documentary tells the personal story of the director's experience surviving a tornado. With support from the MacArthur Foundation, the project brought together PBS documentary series Independent Lens, digital agency Helios Design Labs and the Washington Post.

4

projects curated by

Florian Thalhofer

8

projects curated by

Mandy Rose

14

projects curated by

Ingrid Kopp

23 Pl Playlists

23 playlists, a changing roster of prominent documentary makers, festival organizers, technologists and critics sharing their top picks.

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