IDFA DocLab: my favourite interactive documentaries

Over the course of its 10-ish years of existence, the IDFA DocLab festival has been gaily exploring the narrative potentials of augmented reality, virtual reality, interactive documentaries and artificial intelligence. Their program, which is part of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, features an exciting mix of hi-tech entertainment, innovative ideas and socially-engaged conversations that i haven’t experienced elsewhere.


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

As usual, this year’s program was packed with dramatic commissions and entertaining debates but it was also anchored in today’s most pressing concerns: the plight of refugees in Europe, the legacies of colonialism, the plague of fake news, violation of human rights, climate change, etc. Topics that are everywhere in newspapers and on television already but with their more immersive, more in-depth treatments, the new digital art forms presented at IDFA DocLab seem to pick up from where traditional media coverage left off.

This year’s edition closed at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam on Sunday 19th of November. There was an exhibition, an immersive network summit, screenings, performances, a conference and more. I covered some of it last week but in this last article, i’d like to focus on the interactive and/or VR documentaries that you can experience online (with one exception at the end of the list.)

Here’s my short list:


Tessa Louise Pope, Echoes of IS, 2017


Tessa Louise Pope, Echoes of IS, 2017

Tessa Louise Pope’s Echoes of IS is one of the most moving interactive documentaries i’ve ever seen.

The documentary maker brought together 12 people who have been deeply affected by IS and radicalization. Each of these individuals get a chance to explain their own experience. First, there are the people whose lives have been turned upside down by the arrival of IS in their town: a young mother who was forced to flee a life and city she loved in Syria and who continues to be afraid even though she now lives in the Netherlands; a young man who has always fought for a more democratic and fair regime in Syria; a woman whose house was turned into a torture facility after she had been forced to leave her country, etc. Then there are people who were born in the Netherlands: the father whose 14-year-old child was taken away and who died waging jihad. A young man who converted to Islam and suddenly found himself surrounded by incomprehension and intolerance.

In one of the short films, they all get to talk together and explore how their lives have been impacted by the IS.

The films are heart-breaking. Instead of the anonymous refugees who ‘invade’ Europe and the worrisome Muslims, you get to know individuals who have dreams and values similar to ours. The saddest thing about Echoes of IS is that people who should watch it in order to get a more balanced view about the ‘refugee crisis’ will probably never see the film.

You can watch it online too.


Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong, Poppy Interactive


Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong, Poppy Interactive, Poppy field, Afghanistan


Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong, Poppy Interactive

Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong have condensed 20 years of investigation into the trails of Afghan heroin into Poppy Interactive.

Afghanistan is by far the largest producer of opium and this online documentary unravels the global network of insurgents, terrorists and criminal organizations that use drug money to fuel conflicts in various areas of the world.

The work combines in-depth analysis, historical facts and global perspective with personal stories. You hear the point of view of opium farmers, soldiers, smugglers, bankers, border guards but also people who would have lived a perfectly normal life in our own neighbourhoods had heroin not destroyed their life, directly or indirectly.

Poppy Interactive efficiently connects the dots between distant locations, global issues and personal dramas that would otherwise seem completely separate.

Shehani Fernando with Francesca Panetta, Nicole Jackson, The Guardian, Limbo ( virtual reality trailer), 2017

The Guardian is now producing VR journalism. To ensure that their audience is able to experience these new forms of reporting, the newspaper has recently given away 100.000 Google Cardboard headsets. The VR works the team developed allow you to get a more immersive outlook on issues such as autism, flaws in forensic investigations or solitary confinement. But it’s their research on the experience of asylum seeking that was presented at IDFA DocLab.

Limbo attempts to recreate the stress and misery of being one of the tens of thousands of people who are waiting for their asylum application to be accepted or rejected by the UK government.

While asylum seekers wait for their Home Office interview and the subsequent decision, they live on £5 a day and are unable to work or choose where they live. In Limbo you step into their shoes and experience their state of mind while you wait for the decision that will determine the rest of your life.

I thought the black and white sketch-like aesthetic would be cold and dull. However, the visual design competently reflects the daily sense of boredom, isolation, humiliation and prejudices experienced by these people during the long months they spend waiting for the Home Office to determine whether or not they can hope for a normal life in a new country. Limbo is very poignant. The warmth of the voices of asylum seekers, immigration lawyers and barristers gives the work a very intimate and distressing dimension.

Next time please distribute the free goggles to Daily Mail readers?


Gina Kim, Bloodless, 2017


Gina Kim, Bloodless, 2017

Gina Kim, Bloodless (Teaser Reel), 2017

You can’t experience Bloodless online but i liked it so much, i had to mention it:

Filmmaker Gina Kim was still in college when a sex worker was brutally murdered by a US soldier stationed in South Korea. On the 28th of October 1992, the body of 26-year-old Yun Keum Yi was found at the Dongducheon camp town. Two beer bottles and one cola bottle were found inside her uterus, and an umbrella penetrated 11 inches into her rectum. Her body had been covered in detergent powder to dispose of evidence.

For years, Kim looked for a way to tell the tragic story without exploiting the images of the victim. And then she found VR. “With VR,” she writes, “the viewer is no longer a passive spectator, who can take voyeuristic pleasure from a spectacle in front of them (and at a distance).”

The 12 minute VR film Bloodless not only traces the last living moments of Yun Keum Yi but it also explores the issue of the comfort women exploited by US army troops stationed in South Korea since the 1950s.

Bloodless was shot on location where the crime took place. It is as visually stunning as it is creepy. The work won the Best VR story award for linear content at the Venice Film Festival this Summer.

More images from the IDFA DocLab exhibition and a couple of trailers:


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Everything, a game by David OReilly, explores and meditates on tiny living things, on big systems, on how they are all connected. But it’s about far more than that too.

David O’Reilly, Everything, 2017

Catherine Upin, Julia Cort, Nonny de la Peña and Raney Aronson-Rath, Greenland Melting (excerpt), 2017

Catherine Upin, Julia Cort, Nonny de la Peña and Raney Aronson-Rath, Greenland Melting (360 video produced as a companion to the VR work), 2017

The Last Chair doesn’t have the sexiest topic (old men living alone in the countryside) but i liked it a lot. It was peaceful and moving.


Jessie van Vreden, Anke Teunissen, The Last Chair, 2017


Duncan Speakman, It Must Have Been Dark by Then at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Duncan Speakman, It Must Have Been Dark by Then at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Duncan Speakman, It Must Have Been Dark by Then at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris exhibition in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris exhibition in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris in his church outside of Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Previous stories about this year’s edition of DocLab: DocLab exhibition asks “Are robots imitating us or are we imitating robots?” and Smart guide for connected objects, activism on the dance floor, cooking with phones, a human Alexa. Just another edition of the DocLab conference.

from Finance http://we-make-money-not-art.com/idfa-doclab-documentaries/

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