Telling real stories in interactive time is the MIT Open Documentary Lab’s experimental turf. The lab brings together storytellers, technologists, and scholars to invent new storytelling modes that focus on collaborative, interactive, and immersive forms. The research goal is to understand the impact and evolution of such new story forms.
Documentaries are taking a creative leap thanks to influences such as television, ubiquitous handheld cameras, user-generated content, interactive documentary forms, and work that combines and crosses media, according to William Uricchio, director of the Comparative Media Studies Program, where OpenDocLab was founded in 2012. “The documentary field now is like looking at the first five to eight years of television…new tools, new storytelling techniques, new participants,” he said in an Great Ideas interview. “It’s a very exciting moment.”
You can get a sense of the approach by visiting Moments of Innovation, an interactive white paper that describes the long search for immersive story experiences and highlights recurrent themes in documentaries.
Q&A with OpenDocLab Director Sarah Wolozin:
Why is MIT a good place to investigate the future of storytelling?
The future of storytelling—and I would argue that the future is here—is interdisciplinary and based on innovative new uses of emerging technologies. Traditional storytelling is media specific; you make a film, a radio story, a television show, etc., and each has its own forms and processes. Today, digital documentaries are informed by all of these media as well as games, civic engagement, activism, artificial intelligence, creative computing, to name a few. MIT has researchers studying and experimenting in all of these areas and innovation at MIT is based on an interdisciplinary approach. It makes MIT a great place to incubate new storytelling projects, take the time to reflect, collaborate across disciplines and shape the future of storytelling.
What is the Moments of Innovation docubase and why is it important?
Moments of Innovation is a website we created together with the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam’s Doclab in honor of their 5th anniversary. It’s designed and developed by the French company, Upian. And it’s based on Professor William Uricchio’s thesis that today’s storytelling practices such as participation, interactivity, and data visualization are not new. They have long and rich histories; people have always used the tools of the day to tell these kinds of stories. Uricchio also argues that documentary has always been at the forefront of innovation; documentarians were often the first to experiment with new technologies. It makes sense because we all observe the world around us and tell stories to make sense of it and some people are driven to express it and can do so in a public way. What’s exciting today is that public storytelling is more democratized than ever before; the means of production and distribution are in people’s pockets or purses in the form of a cell phone.
Docubase is a database that aggregates and curates the innovation taking place in documentary storytelling today and serves as a place of inspiration and education about new documentary forms. According to Uricchio, we are going through a major shift in documentary storytelling and Docubase is serving to archive these experiments for posterity and encourage them.
Learn more about OpenDocLab events, fellows, social media, and opportunities to get involved.