Interactive documentaries and the connected viewer experience: Conversations with Katerina Cizek, Brett Gaylor, Jeff Soyk, and Florian Thalhofer
First Monday

Interactive documentaries and the connected viewer experience: Conversations with Katerina Cizek, Brett Gaylor, Jeff Soyk, and Florian Thalhofer by Giuliana Cucinelli, Emilie Rene-Veronneau, and Belinda Oldford

In recent years, technological advances have allowed the Internet to radically affect media creation and viewers’ media consumption habits. In order to assess the current and future state of the interactive documentary genre and the connected viewer experience, we interviewed four influential creators in the field: Katerina Cizek, Brett Gaylor, Jeff Soyk and Florian Thalhofer. The questions that they answer further our understanding of the possibilities and limits offered by the interactive documentary format; of the impact of the medium on the connected viewer experience and its effect on the relationship between viewers, media content and access. The interviews also provide insight to their backgrounds as creators. We conclude with an assessment of the industrial landscape of the field and how it may favor a certain category of consumers.


The media creators and their first interactive documentary
Affordances of the interactive documentary experience
Limits in a somewhat limitless medium
The past meets present forms of documentary
A public understanding of interactive documentaries
The relationship between audience and media content
A question of privilege
A shift in the documentary landscape
Concluding thoughts: Where do we go from here?




In order to begin a discussion about interactive documentary and connected viewer experience, a definition of both terms is required. Historically, people have used a variety of concepts to describe interactive documentary. Each concept is coupled with its own set of nuances and complexities: media documentaries, webdocs, docu-games, cross-platform documentaries and i-Docs (Galloway, et al., 2007). To further encompass the landscape of emerging interactive forms such as cyber-docs, digidocs, 360-degree docs, netcast docs, 3D-docs and made-for-mobile docs, filmmaker, Peter Wintonick has eschewed the term ‘documentary’ and instead uses ‘docmedia.’ He considers interactive media to be a new documentary species, rather than a new genre (Winston, et al., 2017).

Interactive documentary

In the context of this paper, we draw from a combination of definitions for interactive documentary. First, we draw from Galloway, et al.’s definition of interactive documentary as “any documentary that uses interactivity as a core part of its delivery mechanism” [1]. In light of Lev Manovich’s argument that all art is interactive at some level, Galloway, et al.’s definition insists that the interaction involves a “human computer interface, going beyond the act of interpretation to create feedback loops with the digital system itself” [2]. Hence, the participant goes beyond the platform. Part of the interactivity involves being in control of the narrative and determining how the documentary unfolds. The documentary is thus personally experienced by each user in a different way, as a result of the choices that are made within the human computer interaction.

More recently, the work of Sandra Gaudenzi encourages users to think of interactive documentaries within specific modes: the conversational, the hypertext, the experiential and the participative, with each mode offering a different construction of reality (Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012). Enabling different modes of interactive documentaries and constructions of reality is of particular importance because of the wide spectrum of users and audiences. Different modes allow audiences to assess the ever-changing cultural, social and ethical roles of documentary in the digital media environment (Nash, 2012). One of the major social changes within interactive documentaries relates to access and participation among users. These changes have opened up new ways of connecting with content and fostering audience participation in the interactive documentary user experience.

The Internet has fostered conditions where interactive documentaries are able to grow and transform notions of the documentary genre. The development of accessible software such as Klynt, and Korsakow has played a key role in the rise and popularity of interactive documentaries. These programs and others such as Raconteur and Zeega are easy to use. They open venues where creative minds, who do not possess prior coding and programming skills, can engage with material and create interactive narratives. Although some require an expensive license, they foster an easy entry point into a historically complex ecology, one that has always demanded a certain level of coding and programming knowledge and experience. Additionally, the interactive capabilities of the Internet have enhanced Web-based interactive documentaries and increased participatory and shared experiences amongst its viewers. The Internet serves as a platform to host and distribute interactive documentaries while enabling interactive projects to grow and challenge traditional forms and conventions of documentary and storytelling.

Connected viewing

Connected viewing is defined by Cesar and Chorianopoulos (2009) as any product or service that augments the interactive experience by integrating Internet access, Web-based interactivity, game play and/or social networking. The connected viewer experience has illustrated interesting media shifts and trends in recent years. Not only has it allowed for wider audience participation, it has also changed the ecosystem of digital interaction by allowing interactive documentaries to occupy an online space where exchange and participation are fostered and promoted. Connected viewing allows audiences to engage with the material and become part of an experience described by Brachet (quoted in Lietaert, 2012) as an interaction that “is not just going click, click, click on a mouse ... it can be very much a sensory and emotional experience” [3]. Projects such as Highrise (2009–2015) [4], Hollow (2013) [5], Do Not Track (2015) [6] and Money and the Greeks (2013) [7] require their audiences to interact, manipulate, provide and exchange information and to explore the projects in different ways. Connected viewers are provided a window into infinite paths where participation and exchange information and to explore the projects in different ways. Connected viewers are provided a window into infinite paths where participation and exchange are valued and where interactivity, as Antonopoulos (in Bajak, 2015) points out, “is both the gas and the brake pedal.” [8]

A roadmap for navigating this article

At the intersection of the connected viewer experience and Web-based interactive documentaries (i-Docs) are four media creators who lead the way with innovation, socio-political clarity and aesthetic brilliance. In an effort to investigate the current state of interactive documentaries and the connected viewer experience, we interviewed four leading media creators: Katerina Cizek, Brett Gaylor, Jeff Soyk and Florian Thalhofer. The conversations were grounded in how the connected viewer experience is changing the landscape for Web-based interactive documentaries. At a time when the Internet has become a space for information seeking, exchange, communication and meme searching, these four media makers present thought-provoking questions and answers about the connected viewer experience and interactive documentaries. Their discussions shed light on the current and future state of interactive documentaries, as well as the undeniable amount of affordances from global outreach to crowd funding models that have generated successful interactive documentary projects. In traditional funding models, these projects would likely have been disregarded.

The paper is divided into eight sections, based on the eight questions we asked each media creator. An introduction and a theoretical framework are provided prior to the question to establish the theme, topic and background. Each question is introduced and the media creators’ answers follow with a brief section on points of discussion that raise important aspects of each section. We also frame the questions with additional background information. We conclude with three important themes that emerge from the conversations with the media creators. First the concept of playfulness emerges where stories and technical delivery make a statement; second the concept of privilege emerges, when both makers and consumers are asked about basic access to certain projects, topics and participations modes; last is the ability for these media projects to challenge the general understanding and assumptions of interactive documentary.



The media creators and their first interactive documentary

The creative work of Katerina Cizek [9], Brett Gaylor [10], Jeff Soyk [11] and Florian Thalhofer [12] have paved the way for several aspiring media makers to experiment with various forms of creativity, techniques and connected technologies. Katerina Cizek, a Canadian documentary filmmaker and Web creator, created Highrise, a multi-year and multi-project about residential highrises, living conditions and gentrification. Her project brings forward stories from around the world. Brett Gaylor, Canadian documentary filmmaker, created Do Not Track, a Web-based interactive documentary that explores media privacy, data mining and the Web economy. Jeff Soyk, an American media artist and designer, is the art director of Hollow, a Web-based interactive documentary and community participatory project about the issues and future of rural America seen through the eyes and ideas of those living in southern West Virginia. Finally, Florian Thalhofer is a Berlin-based artist, documentary filmmaker and the inventor of Korsakow, software to create browser-based dynamic documentaries without programming expertise. He described his most recent documentary Money and the Greeks (2013) as a non-traditional, but rules-based film where ‘there are rules that define which scene links to which scene. You — the viewer — get a selection of clips offered that match the previous clip and you can choose which clip will be next.’ [13]

Question One: We’d like to begin by asking how you came to creating your first interactive documentary project? Why did you choose the Web-based interactive method?

Katerina Cizek [KC]: In the early 2000s I was making a TV documentary with my co-director Peter Wintonick called “Seeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News.” It was about the impact of communication technologies on human rights issues around the world and how people were picking up handicams, cellphones and even early interactions of the World Wide Web to defend human rights, whether it was to bring the work to television or into law courts, or various levels of government around the world. We sold it to a lot of public television stations around the world but we really felt that wasn’t enough for us, that TV was just one way to get the word out. I became interested in finding a way to adapt the story of the film, using clips, video, text and photography so people who don’t have access to the television distribution model could also access the stories and ideas behind the film. We created a wonderful site — Seeing is Believing. It’s still up and it is kind of a companion site to Seeing is Believing, but [it is] much more than that. It told the full story of the film and it was also where we hosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) first ever live chat with audiences after the television screening of the film. We spent five hours online with Joey Lazano, the protagonist, a video activist in the Philippines. He was in an Internet cafe there, Peter Wintonick was in Mexico, I was in Montreal in Canada and we chatted with our live audiences across Canada. For me, that was exhilarating — I got hooked. I thought: this is the new way, this is how the World Wide Web changes the face of documentary. From then on, I pretty much moved into the digital sphere.

Jeff Soyk [JS]: I met Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Director, Producer and Cinematographer of Hollow) at the Emerson College Media Art MFA program where we were both students and joined Hollow to assist her with some brand identity for the project. Elaine had originally planned the story of Hollow for a traditional documentary but felt the interactive medium was potentially a better fit although it had yet to be determined how that story would take shape in the interactive form. Elaine was from a traditional documentary background while I had over seven years of experience in the interactive background and we shared an interest in the interactive documentary genre which was kind of up-and-coming at the time. I thought the story of Hollow was very powerful so we joined forces to attempt making our first interactive documentary.

Florian Thalhofer [FT]: I was a design student and wanted to use the computers surrounding me and the possibilities offered by software and programming. I experimented by making a story based on the rhythm of the computers, not so much based on how we traditionally create or understand stories. I didn’t know how to tell a story properly, no one had taught me the skills. So I used this technology to learn and create different stories.

A couple of years later I wrote Korsakow [14], a software that allowed to create browser-based dynamic documentaries without previous programming expertise. From this, the idea of rules-based films [15] came. The first thought was to make links within the narrative and then to create a more flexible system. I didn’t know that this was a fundamental change in storytelling. Linear film creates a specific thought pattern to which people become accustomed to by watching them. However, using programs to recalculate links allows to generate patterns that weren’t pre-thought. People have thought about doing this but it was very difficult to create narratives that were flexible and changing previous to the arrival of computers.



Affordances of the interactive documentary experience

Web documentaries can be considered in a perpetual state of “beta” [16]; they thrive on the boundaries of technology, both exploring the realm of current possibilities and pushing those boundaries forward (Dixon, 2015). Filmmakers can get excited about the bells and whistles of technology, but need to keep the technology in balance with the narrative. Elisco (in Costello, 2006) argues that technology should be aligned with the objectives and the message of the documentary. The interactive layer is not supposed to steal the show from the story itself, but help advance it by opening up options for in-depth material in the background [17]. In addition to common interactive elements, other affordances of Web documentaries involve uploading content, re-mixing and adding geolocation features. In addition, being connected to social networks further allows users to share content, comments, ideas, links to online petitions and more (Dixon, 2015; Dovey, 2014). These social features allow for the formation of a temporary public space in which people can engage in dialogue around a theme or topic (Dovey, 2014). This media shows extensive potential for citizen engagement and an ability to affect social issues (Dixon, 2015).

With the evolution of digital technologies and Web documentaries, some of the more prevalent affordances are ways in which audiences are more active. As Winston, et al. (2017) points out, interactive documentary is about participant empowerment and re-defining the director’s role. However, increased audience participation does not replace authorship. The author’s role is feasibly transformed to various degrees, and in some cases, is one of curation and orchestration (Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012). Narratives in participatory documentary are multiple and multi-layered. While this creates more complex and nuanced meanings, it also increases the risk of producing content inconsistencies (Gaudenzi, 2014).

Question Two: What is afforded by ‘interactive documentary’? What does the potential interaction do for you as a storyteller?

KC: It breaks down the subject, or the people formerly known as the subject and the people formerly known as the audience. So instead of the medium always being the conduit between people, suddenly subjects and audiences have a chance to speak with each other as well. Stories are being told native to the Web, we are no longer just adapting flat screen linear and closed stories and distributing them online. That is huge and has also changed the face of how documentaries are seen around the world, in addition to documentary becoming a live, living, flexible and democratic communication between the multiple people involved in a story.

BG: In the context of connected viewing, you can use integrated Web-based footage and information to be included in your documentary. For example, in Do Not Track, we integrated things like the user’s location, which is an easily accessible non-fiction fact from the user’s IP address. From there, we could draw information about their local weather, time and more as we were building the story. Beyond that, there’s the concept of the user. The Web is created as a one-to-one medium as well as a one-to-many medium. There’s a person sitting in front of that machine who has some agency and who can give input which can then be processed and looped back to them. The audience can be involved in the narrative itself and [they can] experience a story personalized for each of them, which definitely triggers something in their brain and different emotional reactions.

JS: Interactive documentaries provide an opportunity for the creator to relinquish some control, allowing the viewers to take part in the experience and contribute content that influences the overall takeaway. The story can evolve in real time, given the nature of the Web. Also, interactions in the Web medium can stir a certain intellectual and emotional response out of a user, but in a very different way than traditional film. [Interactive documentaries are] not more capable than traditional media at all, it’s just different. However, it requires intuition and experience to know what interactions to use at what given moment to create an overarching story experience with a meaningful takeaway. We typically treat the Web like a vehicle or container for information where people go to get answers but people don’t know what they’re looking for when it comes to story experiences so they have to learn some behaviours, develop an incentive to become invested in the story and make choices.

FT: In the beginning we thought of Korsakow as an interactive storytelling tool but interactivity is a minor part in a Korsakow film. It is a flexible film that people can interact with, so it’s not always the same; different people see different physical objects and perceive different things when they watch a Korsakow film. When I make a project, let’s say about the crisis in Greece (Money and the Greeks), I also want to think about what’s going on there. As the maker of the project, I don’t do the whole research and then formulate it as a well-structured idea presented in a film. I am in the middle of my thinking process and I use storytelling as a research tool. I think this goes for every film but having a flexible outcome is far more interesting. The viewers must give more thought about their choices and paths. Naturally, things change because people look, navigate and experience the project differently.

Points of discussion

I-Doc creators choose a way of framing a set of interactive possibilities (Gaudenzi, 2016) for audiences to interpret and participate within or beyond the affordances provided by the narrative. Importantly, the concept of narrative encapsulates myriad forms. However, as we are culturally and biologically adept at attributing cause and motivation, sense-making and narrative interpretation occurs regardless of the means or the form through which we access information and materials. Although narrative, as an essential tool for sense-making, persists in interactive documentary, as in all genre and mediums of human discourse, de-constructional work on the part of users is always required.

Alexandre Brachet contends that ‘the interface is content’ [18]. Consequently, it is important for documentary storytellers to adopt design methodologies that include the target audience’s needs as a first step of the i-Doc ideation so that user experience is aligned with the aims of the project (Gaudenzi, 2017). In this way, navigation also serves as a fundamental structure and defining aesthetic (Perlmutter, 2014). Early design decisions may help to optimize the clarity of an i-Doc’s scope, purpose and ease-of-use. Nash makes the salient point that it’s not possible to guess how a user is going to interact with a piece and, as a maker, breaking down pre-conceived ideas of how an audience should respond is an important step in the making of an interactive documentary. (Nash, 2014d)



Limits in a somewhat limitless medium

Managing the complexity of a Web documentary is plagued with various issues. With respect to narrative, multiple layers of meaning are generated through individual clips, interfaces and the route taken by the user (Gaudenzi, 2014). In terms of user experience, experimental navigation patterns can cause viewer disorientation and incite users to stop engaging with the project, as is often the case for Web sites (Aufderheide, 2015). Too much interactivity can overwhelm users (White in Dixon, 2015). I-Doc users, regardless of their understanding of technology, can discern that the medium is not fully leveraged to benefit the story when the interactive components are superficial (Kopp in Nash, 2014a). Viewing can happen at different moments in time and on platforms (Aufderheide, 2014) that may not be supported anymore or that may be incompatible with new devices (Mehta in Nash, 2014b).

Question Three: What (if any) are the limitations of interactive documentaries?

KC: Bandwidth, accessibility to the technology, hardware. Concerning aesthetics, the limitations of a small screen. In the last five years, we’ve moved from most people accessing the Internet from the desktop to mobile. People are engaging with the Internet through smaller and smaller devices. We’re also going to move into the Internet of Things; our connection to the network is going to be scattered and fragmented across multiple devices. We’ll almost be living in a post-screen world. What does that mean for the documentarian? Where you have these immersive and augmented virtual realities but it transcends the screen. It’s exciting but also changes a lot of the rules that we’ve had in place for over 100 years now.

BG: The technology moves pretty slowly because there are so many different computers out there with so many different operating systems. Choices need to be made on the technology to make sure that it works for everyone. In episode five [19] of Do Not Track, the developers used WebGL [20] to achieve the effect of floating dots from which you can choose from. By a huge factor, that was the most problematic episode in terms of users complaining that it didn’t work.

Additionally, a lot of things have not caught up in the mobile technology for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because the processors are slower. Other times it’s because the smartphones are these little war zones between mega Silicon Valley companies. For instance, Apple doesn’t allow the browser to play customized video or audio based on a previous input from a user. The video has to be broken into little tiny pieces where users make choices which can trigger an event. Sometimes the browsers disable certain features they prefer were embedded in a native application, an actual application that you create for iOS, because they don’t want competition to their iOS app store hegemony. Those are limitations of choosing the Web platform but I’m generally okay with it because it’s the most egalitarian, wide, open space and more people can see your work than if you chose to make something only for an xBox, or Android, or iOS.

JS: Common challenges are large production costs, because of the diverse teams that are pulled together; development costs; and long-term hosting, as it’s not a tangible end product like a DVD. It needs to live online and someone needs to monitor and maintain it on the long-term. Distribution and archiving are also big challenges that are always a part of the conversation.

In terms of artistic limitations, I think it’s really up to the creators to explore the possibilities and avoid putting themselves in a box. Too often we’re trying to shoehorn traditional forms of storytelling into the Web medium like taking a traditionally shot film, chunking it up and then putting it up as video files on a Web site. But there are a lot less limitations if creators are willing to conceptualize the piece as Web-driven or cross-platform from the very start.

FT: People are used to certain time durations when watching a film. They will watch maybe one, two, or three hours to get into a topic, if they are like me. When people read a book, they might take 50 hours to finish it. There are no time limitations to navigating and experiencing these online projects and I don’t see why there should be. A Korsakow film is like an organic process and you can take as much or as little time you want to explore the films. You can theoretically do that with a linear film but it’s much trickier.

Points of discussion

In their standard genre, documentaries are usually presumed to be accurate. However, the participatory nature of the Web doc further complicates this as it may not be possible to validate contributions from other users. Moreover, it should be clarified who is accountable for the content and to what extent users can participate (Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012), even more so if we consider that subjects of the documentary can also be participants (Aufderheide, 2014). It remains to be seen if collaborative Web documentaries are able to “self-correct” by exposing both sides of the story (Mehta in Nash, 2014b). Finally, the lack of available funding and difficult distribution is a recurring issue in the field and creators may need to resort to varied sources of funding and distribution in order to undertake different projects (Kopp, in Nash, 2014a). Although, it may be perceived that the distance between creator and participant/user is converging in collaborative or co-created work, this is not a given. Professionals have not vacated the field; industry standards are still in place and a professional production kit costs an exorbitant amount more than the most accessible and basic equipment. (Winston, et al., 2017).

I-Docs inhabit contradictory conditions. The simultaneous existence of traditional legacy media and emerging new forms of media has implications for both makers and users. On the one hand, anticipating new technologies for future production is a necessity, but providing access for all in a competitive marketing field of residual and ever-developing systems and devices still remains a challenge. Audiences transitioning from traditional documentary viewing are now being asked to watch, consider and weight multiple perspectives (Rose, 2016) and may not engage fully as i-Doc participants. With the i-Doc project Hollow, Elaine Shelton noted that a habitual relationship to the media documentary format has some i-Doc participants preferring to be interviewed rather than uploading their own content. Others choose to post content on Facebook rather than be exposed on a public project site (Shelton, in Aston, et al., 2017).

Furthermore, questions that go beyond platforms and production methods are being asked. In the digital realm of ‘dialogic, collaborative and open’ media (Rose, 2016), distinctions between truth and fiction, news and advocacy and neutrality and partiality are being altered (de la Peña, 2016). Affordable and ready access to a smart phone or digital camera and an accessible computer editing program does not guarantee effective communication (Winston, et al., 2017).



The past meets present forms of documentary

Ocak (2014) suggests that the participative strategies adopted by documentarians reflect the traditional ambitions of the documentary to “record, foster civic participation and persuade.” Gaudenzi [21] illustrates how the participative nature of documentaries can be quite varied, with the initial level of participation defining how a project becomes either closed and rather linear, to open and ever-changing. Viewers can now be users with agency: as co-authors, co-producers or co-initiators. The outcome is thus born from the relations between users, author and system (Gaudenzi in Nash, 2014e), resulting in a “braided voice” [22].

Question Four: How have interactive documentaries/experiences connected viewing practices and pushed participatory experiences forward in ways that traditional media has not?

KC: I prefer not to oppose interactive experiences to “traditional media.” I see them on the same continuum. Different forms of media help to re-invigorate practices in other forms. For example, the Internet has given new life to photography.

BG: I don’t know if it has. Interactive documentary is a pretty wide and almost useless definition; I would like to define Web documentaries and look at the possibilities that emerge. If you consider Netflix as an interactive experience, then it totally has changed viewing conventions. For Do Not Track we chose to release episodes serially every two weeks and some people totally got that idea. We lost some others who were totally ruined by Netflix binge watching because they couldn’t watch the whole thing right away.

JS: I would say in some cases it has empowered viewers, making for a more democratic storytelling experience. The community got involved in Hollow, like connected users did for Question Bridge [23] in which individuals contributed videos and asked questions to other viewers. Interactive and connected viewing experiences allow a more flexible and organic outcome that can change over time. It’s a matter of using the medium in ways that encourage the users to have more control over their experience and explore areas that cater to their interests. I think it has allowed for that.

FT: It is a big improvement in that people have different views but every one of them is right. The viewers have to be critical every time they do something. Flexible film is much more suited to portray the world. Linear film works best to keep things simple and give accessible explanations and using compression cuts out a lot of stuff that allow the viewer to think about the world and its complexity. Making flexible films makes it absolutely clear that there is not one way to look at things.

Points of discussion

In traditional documentary, filmmakers provide their particular view of the world to an audience, while makers of i-Docs set the stage to provide their audience a position in the world (Gaudenzi, 2014). Carpentier (2011, as cited in Ocak, 2014) claims that the range of possible participation in a documentary creates power relationships with regards to production and consumption which need to be considered when analyzing media practices. Gaudenzi (2014) highlights that, in the past years, this participative nature has affected production or financial aspects of documentary making, but not its form. This might have been to preserve better coherence and to avoid shared authorship issues as well, but it remains to be seen if participants will be satisfied with the extent of this involvement in the future (Gaudenzi, 2014).

Agency enacted through innovative, interactive practices cannot be taken for granted without considering what comprises true participation in terms of audience relationships and, potentially, impact, outcomes and social change (Dixon, 2015). Winston, et al. (2017) suggest that “fully meaningful digital interactivity turns on the user’s ability to directly intervene in and change the images and texts that they access.” [24] Users can be active agents, who contribute content (Winston, et al., 2017). In contrast, unfolding a work through clicking is done alone and does not require collaborating with a project’s author/creator (Nash, 2014e).

Identifying the goals of an i-Doc may help to frame particular participatory strategies in context. How users are empowered and to what degree is aligned with the social purposes of a project and this, in turn, determines whether they may be given editorial control or not. It also determines whether or not they are asked to contribute content. In some projects, the achievement of community identity and consciousness-raising through media are an end in themselves (Winston, et al., 2017). In others, the online ecology can only go so far towards sustaining an activist documentary tradition (Juhasz, 2014). There is no ‘one model’ for interactive documentary’s potential to advance documentary discourse.



A public understanding of interactive documentaries

Dovey (2014) argues that the field is ever-changing and that “we are always in a transitional phase.” [25] I-Docs, like their traditional predecessors, attempt to give an honest portrait of a reality (Aufderheide, 2014). However, they are a different medium and may not be able to provide the same transformative experience; thus audiences may need to revise their expectations (Kopp in Nash, 2014a).

Question Five: How is interactive documentary transforming our public understanding of the documentary format?

KC: Interactive is a difficult word. It connotes and suggests a very specific period in time, a very specific kind of relationship with a computer or device, or a very specific kind of gesture that the user makes to relate to the material. I think we are moving into a much more immersive way of using these devices and telling stories. We’re in a transitionary period, so it’s very difficult to talk about the interactive documentary; it’s even hard to define what that is in the context of these radical new technologies that are transforming the way we are relating to our network.

BG: Interactive documentaries are a very niche practice; people don’t know what interactive documentary means. They understand if you explain to them that it’s like watching a film where they can make choices and have some inputs, similar to a video game, but most people have not seen this because there isn’t any mainstream distribution. It’s put in front of mainstream audiences but in the same way that special organic toothpaste is available for you to buy; it’s not the main feature at the main chain store. It is niche in the same way that I think Twitter is still niche. Most people don’t use it and yet Twitter has a huge user base and has an undeniable effect on our culture; we can see the little hashtags everywhere. But most people don’t use Twitter and don’t know what that experience is like.

JS: I hope it makes the public think about storytelling in new, innovative ways, as well as the process and tactics involved behind storytelling and their role as consumers of stories or storytellers themselves. It’s transforming into a collective effort as opposed to having specific storytellers telling us the way things are.

But I don’t think that it’s reaching us. Interactive documentaries require people to learn or break down some of their expectations when it comes to stories. People stick with things they are confident in using and require time to become familiar and comfortable with the format. We are still learning but I’m confident it’s a process like anything else.

FT: I don’t know how people’s notions might change. They might get more open to this kind of format. Interactive documentary has changed my way of thinking. For me, a linear documentary format is a construction that shows one part of many things but never shows reality. I might be wrong maybe in 0.1 percent of the cases, but if I hear a good story, I know for sure that it’s fabricated.

Points of discussion

Dovey (2014) states that i-Docs exist “within a pattern of connectivity, interactivity and relationality” [26]. They may be better perceived as “a form of nonfiction narrative that uses action and choice, immersion and enacted perception as ways to construct the real, rather than to represent it” (Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012). Gaudenzi (2011, as cited in Dovey, 2014) has developed the idea of the “Living Documentary” which emphasizes the relational aspects of the fictionweb documentary. She argues current film theory is not sufficient to analyze this medium as it does not stand-alone but always consists of the product of various interactions. Taxonomies are still being developed, namely the recent work by Gaudenzi and O’Flynn (Aufderheide, 2015), but the complexity of the task is exacerbated by the various levels of interactivity and the way the latter can develop on various platforms, locations and times (Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012).

An important precursor to the discussion of public engagement with interactive documentary is the concept of visibility. As i-Docs becomes more common, an ‘ecosystem of awards, exhibitions and conferences’ recognized by academia, creative and cultural institutions has developed around digital storytelling experiments (Flynn, 2015). While i-Docs may be present online, supported by certain institutional or public interest media organizations or independently, they have yet to be fully embraced by mainstream dominant media who are still researching and adapting to digital business models. Distribution platforms have yet to be established for exposure to wider audiences (Ibid.) Although, since 2012, “the i-Doc has begun the process of developing an industrial base, which is particularly apparent within the field of journalism” [27].

As Dovey envisions, the i-Doc community needs to continue the slow work of building institutional infrastructures, developing audiences and making a culture. Thereby, in time, we will “come to understand exactly what ‘engagement’ really means and how it can become part of a new economy for critical media practice” [28].



The relationship between audience and media content

Gaudenzi (2014) outlines three components that shape the relationship between the author and the users in a collaborative documentary “who is participating, what can be done, and when is this intervention possible” [29]. Jenkins, et al. (2006, as cited in Dovey, 2014) outline four elements shaping participatory cultures: affiliation, expression, collaborative problem solving and circulation.

Although filmmakers want their work to represent an honest account of the topic at hand, the way they structure the collaborative experience can impact how much power is given to the participants and can keep them from challenging the point of view brought forward in the documentary (Nash, 2014e). Connected viewing has allowed participants to voice different point of views using forums (Nash, 2014e) or social platforms. This was the case for Prison Valley, in which the subjects themselves deemed that their town had been inaccurately represented by the filmmakers and voiced their disagreement in multiple threads on the Web documentary forum (Nash, 2014e).

Kopp (Nash, 2014a) claims that the audience’s desire to engage and participate is often overestimated. Communities of collaborators may need to be structured in order to enhance participation (Mehta in Nash, 2014b). Mehta also mentions that users were more likely to collaborate when they were specifically asked about their experience than when they were probed in more open-ended ways (Mehta in Nash, 2014b). For example, participants of Tiffany Shlain’s Let It Ripple provided material based on a template defined by the author. However, this material may be re-appropriated by the author (Aufderheide, 2014).

Gaudenzi (2013) has noticed a divide between the creation of the documentary framework and the creation of the documentary content. Authors have become the providers of a medium that allows others to express themselves. It also functions as a platform through which people can be heard. This medium enables the audience to take action and situate themselves with regards to the documentary content (Nash, 2014e). For example, viewers can take part in the representation of reality by making choices affecting the sequence of events of the documentary, albeit, only to the extent to which the documentarian has made this possible. This, in turn, impacts the distribution of power among users (Nash, 2014e). Jenkins and Carpentier (in Nash, 2014e) draw a line between interaction and participation, where participation involves users taking part in the decisional process related to creating and using media. He further divides participation in terms of: 1) participation in media; and 2) participation through media. Participation in media refers to structural or content participation, which affects the representation of the topic; whereas participation through media involves documentary participants engaging in social debate with each other and through social networks.

Question Six: How is connected viewing transforming the relationship of viewers to media content and access, specifically with interactive documentaries?

KC: I’m not sure there is a huge difference yet. We’re still stumbling to figure out a language and a literacy. I’m not sure we’ve actually even gotten to what is possible with the medium and the new technologies. We’re still struggling with old tropes and old memes of documentary, some of which we’ve really worked hard to be aware of in traditional or linear making, and that have sort of crept back into the practice. We’ve got a long way to go in terms of figuring out how documentary can evolve in these new ecologies.

BG: Even though we had a deep Facebook strategy for Do Not Track, the Facebook algorithms are such that only a very small percentage of the things that were posted to specific groups would be seen by subscribed users. That’s the game Facebook plays; you have to pay for a little bit more exposure, which we did. But this definitely favours the highly connected Internet users who are on social media, receiving a higher percentage of their recommendations from others. Connected documentary favours the connected viewers.

JS: My hope is that it makes viewers feel more empowered and that it educates them to the realities of storytelling. All stories are constructions. However, I think we can be educated consumers who navigate information and experiences in very smart ways. If we have more control and can see it being told in more than one way, we can look at stories from a more informed perspective.

FT: Newcomers are often frustrated with interactive media because they don’t get a simple answer and feel lost. However, there are a lot of people who enjoy that because they know there are no easy answers. They enjoy that things are not closed: there are possibilities, there are people, and [there is] a flexible way to make sense of things.

It’s a learning process, so they have to learn how to read and how to work with that new medium. We are trained to think in a linear manner by traditional films but it is not necessarily an easy way to make sense of the world. I find it very hard to watch linear films; it’s quite brutal. More people are saying they don’t enjoy that there is a message squeezed into their head when they watch films in a cinema. These people are the ones who are enjoying the flexibility, openness and connectivity of interactive documentaries.

Points of discussion

Filmmakers currently need to dedicate considerable energy to engaging their audiences, who are now considered a resource to be drawn from, either in the form of services or monetary contributions. Audiences can be used towards production, marketing and distribution, or even to solve specific social issues. In that sense, a film’s success might be measured both by the terms of box office revenue and by the impact it has made (Dixon, 2015).

Interactive documentary is situated within a digital, networked environment of public media which carries on the same goals of educating, informing and mobilizing users as its pre-digital predecessors (Clark and Aufderheide, 2009). Clark and Aufderheide see embracing the participatory as a crucial step for democratic culture in public media’s capacity for grassroots mobilization, civic engagement and the formation of publics around social issues. I-Doc makers may emerge from within communities or socially engaged movements or they may join the cause to advance positive social change as documentarists or journalists.

Historically, collaborative co-creation can be traced from Colin Low’s The Fogo Island Process (1967), which opens a dialogue between an isolated fishing community and policy-makers, to contemporary projects such as Bahar and Almudena’s Made in L.A., Funded from All Over (2009), which addresses working conditions in the garment industry. More recently, Hank Willis Thomas’ Question Bridge: Black Males (2012) explores black male self-representation and Chaka Studios, Quipu (2015) provides a communications nexus to the Indigenous in order to address a human rights violation (Rose in Gaudenzi, 2017). The exact roles and degree of agency of both authors and participants are specific to each project.

Although mass audience attention is often used as a metric of success on the Web, for socially engaged i-Docs, the audience does not always equal impact. For instance, a small group of the right type of audience, such as policy-makers, may allow the i-Doc to have significant impact, regardless of the project’s reach (Zucherman, 2011). Dixon claims that outreach is a form of impact and we should measure this impact by the level to which the message has been disseminated. We cannot focus solely on the distribution of the i-Doc or film. The level of impact can increase when filmmakers and scholars use films and i-Docs to effect change in politics and culture (Dixon, 2015). Similarly, collaborative and co-creative audiences may contribute to this end through networking online and by word of mouth.



A question of privilege

Defining the Web audience, to help filmmakers better leverage it, is further complicated by the fact that users can engage with a Web documentary for any duration, at any moment (Dixon, 2015). While the Web allows filmmakers to reach large, global audiences, who may not have previously been aware of their work, users are burdened with the responsibility of finding a documentary online by sifting through a massive amount of Web content (Dixon, 2015). Although the breadth of the Web allows for reaching a massive audience, it can also reach niche crowds. The “core audience,” formed by the most involved followers of a filmmaker, frequently take part in the early stages of the work, either in terms of providing financial help or personal time to test, and help with distribution by sharing through their connections (Dixon, 2015).

Question Seven: Do connected viewing technologies privilege a certain type of viewer/consumer? Who? Why?

KC: On a broad scale, every technology, every medium within it has an exclusive nature to it. There needs to be a distribution of the hardware and technology in order for people to see it; that’s always a factor in understanding how these projects and technologies are used and to whom they are available and to whom they’re not. I’ve worked in Flash and was one of the first to stop. We built the world’s first WebGL documentary in 2011 and really have been part of the movement to create open source documentaries. I’m part of the MIT open documentary lab, for example. Looking back, the genesis of digital documentaries or interactive documentaries as we knew them, for the last five to ten years was really the introduction of Adobe Flash which was a software that got pushed onto every computer because of the commercial market and advertisers, and it became a very accessible player. That allowed for the proliferation of a specific kind of documentary. Of course, Flash saw its death, and HTML5 and WebGL came along to try and find a way to compensate for the loss of Flash and still has ways to go. In the meantime, virtual reality found a foothold due to numerous factors. I think we’ve hit a critical point, we’re in an interesting time where there’s massive transformation in terms of the technologies available to us as documentarians. On the flip side, there is a fragmentation and huge accessibility issues that are very challenging right now because the technologies are just not reaching a lot of people.

BG: They privilege the connected viewer in 2015. The Internet is very busy. It’s changed quite radically and has centralized quite a bit in the last five years. Using the Internet used to involve clicking around and circling the Web, finding these new things and users. Then everyone had their own blogs and that was creating a diversity of opinions. That’s become quite siloed within large social networks which are, ironically, very difficult to penetrate. The Internet used to be considered a route around the five behemoths of television and their gatekeepers. The challenge now is finding the audience. People generally have their couple of Web sites and social network that they go to and while links can be found on social networks, that’s become quite gate kept by the algorithms sorting through which information to show [30].

Folks who are spending enough time online and have enough diversity of viewing habits can break through, but the industry currently does not have the marketing muscle and the vertical integration required to dominate an online conversation for a period of time. In 2015, attention is the currency of media and gaining that requires huge amounts of luck or money. Fortunately, the Internet is big so you can still have an audience. We’ve had an audience of approximately 800,000 people for Do Not Track. That’s not small; it’s a healthy audience, but not anywhere close to the mainstream numbers. Creators have to reflect on if they are comfortable with that and what their intention is for the work.

JS: It depends in the sense that every project comes down to knowing your audience. It’s one of those things that I think is often taken for granted, or kind of overlooked. People just want to be the storyteller creating media and putting it out there to whoever is interested. It’s really important to put yourself in the shoes of the user or the audience and know why they should care or invest in this and who you’re really trying to speak to.

There are efforts and low-cost technologies that can be incorporated to reach less connected audiences, like the Raspberry Pi [31], which is used a lot in educational settings. Partnerships with organizations can provide access to underprivileged populations, like using public facilities, libraries and such. I really think it comes down to the project and its objective. Not just the story that is being told but the goal and why this is being created and who the target audience is. I feel like it doesn’t have to be a privileged technology, ways can be found to reach people.

FT: It depends. I’m not interested in producing entertainment so I don’t have consumers out there, I have viewers. It basically privileges people who use their brain and are more flexible and open-minded. YouTube has amazingly high-quality, interesting, philosophical and mind-blowing stuff to feed your brain. But there are quantities of idiocies which feed your brain’s stereotypes. It’s like eating healthy versus unhealthy food. All brains are amazing but unfortunately some brains eat too much junk food. If you choose healthy viewing habits, you will have healthier thoughts and collectivity will benefit from that. It’s just a matter of choice.

Points of discussion

Meeting the audience where they are, as a general approach, can speak to all phases of i-Doc production, from concept to distribution. In the context of social justice documentary, Zimmerman argues for a need “to mobilize a new conception of documentary interfaces to materialize and produce public domains” [32]. For example, Chaka Studio’s Quipu project gave voice to politically, geographically, and digitally marginalized communities in Peru through an interplay between a low-tech telephone line and a high-tech digital interface. Olivia Klaus’ film Sin of Silence was designed to impact and mobilize a particular grassroots public to action. It also used experimental and conventional distribution strategies on and off the Web to further social justice issues. In contrast, Kirby Ferguson’s Not a Conspiracy Theory, produced in episodes online, reached and was funded, in part, by his tech-savvy audience based on a pre-existing social media community (Dixon, 2015).

Technological factors may, for some interactive documentaries, be a possible selective or delimiting factor in privileging certain users/audiences. As well, i-Doc projects may seek out niche interest groups for a specific purpose or a specific phase of production. Ramona Pringle emphasizes a strategy of user testing from concept development through each stage of production to custom tailor the most engaging, thought provoking and novel approach for an intended audience’s experience (Pringle, 2017). Despite a perception that the World Wide Web is an unparalleled opportunity to reach these niche audiences, makers are challenged with accessing large-scale audiences. Equally, the Web generates a potential cacophony in which viewers may be unable to find what they want and may not know what is available (Dixon, 2015).



A shift in the documentary landscape

Beyond the participation model that interactive docs have provided, we have also seen a rise in policy changes in response to new forms of media production and innovative forms of funding and outreach. Filmmakers are required to quickly adapt to new innovations and practices, not always knowing which of these will remain constant (Dixon, 2015). Documentary makers now need to learn to communicate with new collaborators such as programmers, designers and digital firms and vice versa (Kopp in Nash, 2014a).

Documentarians who rely on participants to provide content also need to change roles from narrator to facilitator (Gaudenzi, 2014). The interface of i-Docs allows the creator to define the kind of choices users can make, which results in different distributions of power (Gaudenzi, 2014). Interactivity allows users to take part in the representation of reality by letting them change the sequence of content or creating content, thus modifying the traditional relationships between filmmaker, content and audience [33]. Participatory projects work particularly well with a focus on social causes as they turn viewers into participants and, correspondingly, into activists (Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012). Participatory projects are possibly changing the documentary format into “story leading to action” [34].

Mehta (as cited in Nash, 2014b) claims that the field currently has more questions than answers, which calls for experimentation, more than established practice. He also emphasizes how interactivity generates many ethical issues. For example, while participatory projects retain their purpose only if they are maintained, there is no best practice in terms of when the work should end, if it should be transformed, or what happens if it goes on indefinitely.

Distribution paths normally follow technological changes. The dawn of broadband has allowed distribution to morph to a more independent model in terms of management and has improved the capacity to reach audiences, specifically niche markets (Dixon, 2015). Because of its prolonged afterlife, a documentary could also experience a resurgence in popularity at a later date; for example, because of new events related to the issue or simply through recommendation algorithms (Dixon, 2015).

Reflecting some of these changes, a 2016 survey of documentary industry members states that “key players in the documentary field often are diverse hyphenates, wearing multiple hats on the same projects, from fundraising to writing to shooting to editing to marketing and more” [35]. For example, current project credits on the National Film Board of Canada’s interactive site indicate a shift from a singular authorial ‘Director’ to multiple ‘Creators’ in a creative team. Meanwhile, issues of concern for documentary filmmakers continue to be sustaining a career and funding their work, the difficulty of which obligates many to make a living through other means [36]. Crowdfunding is now an assumed reality for new Web documentaries.

Question Eight: How are interactive documentaries changing the industrial landscape of the documentary genre?

KC: In the same way that the age is transforming every part of our lives. We’re seeing radical shifts in the economy, in the labour force, even in psychology and sociology and how our cities are shaped. These are massive changes that are happening on a global scale and down to the technology on a cellular level in the body — there are emerging technologies that implant into your body and measure your sugar levels and give you insulin doses. It’s a radical disruption and documentary is not immune to that and part of a much larger picture. One example of how we need to frame the impact on documentary are the discussions around shareable economy or the Uber economy and Airbnb, and how those are actually having a huge impact on who gets to live where in our cities. These are big questions.

BG: They’re definitely changing it. In Canada, an interactive component is required to apply for the Canadian Media Fund [37]. Broadly defined, it can mean a Web site about your project or it can be a more involved interactive work like Do Not Track. Now that there have been interactive works that feel compelling enough, or [are] of similar quality as professional film projects, creators who are not Web natives themselves may want to explore the medium. Determining how to get a work done needs to be made part of their strategy.

The change is fundamental for public broadcasters who commission works and are creatively involved, given that their audience is the world as opposed to their own territory. It is challenging for them to even fund the work under the existing structures since their requirement is to inform their population. Once they do, it’s liberating because they are getting their message and their brand into a global conversation. Not everybody agrees with that. There are lots of reason why citizens should want to encourage the public broadcasters to be focused only on their population. Is it creating a new culture that’s connected, or is it erasing cultures?

JS: I tend to fight the idea of creating widget platforms for interactive documentaries because I am concerned that we’re putting them into a box where everything has to work within a certain template, like film has been. I understand there are new business models and funding models and things which would allow something more stable to stand on. The great thing with the Web medium is that it’s constantly changing and keeping people on their feet. New technologies are always coming out so we can continually rethink our approach to interactive documentaries. It’s a constant learning experience which takes some people aback because they want to feel some stability. That is counter to the nature of the medium itself.

FT: Whenever I attend conferences and media festivals everyone keeps talking about how important it is to have a non-linear component in documentary projects. Over the years, I have been teaching ‘film documentary workshops’, and they’ve become a ‘documentary workshop’ because people say the outcome is a documentary, not a film in the traditional sense. In reality, interactive documentaries can take on the form of all kinds of things, a Web talk, an installation or even a radio piece. So producers are more concerned with the topics rather than the formats and genres.

Points of discussion

I-Doc producer Hugues Sweeney (2016) advises filmmakers to think more about diversifying away from big broadcasters and licensing by publishing independently in order to circumvent structures that define programming while William Uricchio (2016) posits that the lack of interactivity on TV is about conservation of the industry and TV executives’ reluctance to develop something that will not make money, but cost money. Winston, et al. (2017) claim professionalism and distribution are elitist and a means of control, while Dixon (2015) raises the important question of “whether corporate conglomerates will subsume all of the potentially liberating technological developments” [38] in the playing field for indie filmmakers. She consequently advocates for more exploration of how documentary filmmakers are operating economically on an ever-shifting terrain in terms of freedoms and limitations (Dixon, 2015).



Concluding thoughts: Where do we go from here?

The fuzziness (Gaudenzi, 2013) often associated with interactive documentaries is slowly fading with makers like Cizek, Gaylor, Soyk and Thalhofer who continue to push boundaries of content and form in an effort to redefine and allow for a fluid definition to exist. I-Docs are here to stay but will likely look or feel very differently in a year, or even months. First, creative makers will continue to push the envelope of both form and content in an effort to expose all facets of what interactive documentaries can achieve and what their true limitations are. Second, makers and audience members are also creating, commenting and being exposed to a spectrum of very important socio-political subjects and content that are told via the Web, instead of adapted for the Web. We have reached a moment in interactive documentary where material is being produced for a specific medium rather than as a secondary mode of delivery, or merely a transmedia project. Lastly, because of ongoing technological developments such as markup languages and the Internet of Things, creators and audience members have come to terms with the constant changes in how the technology influences the content and vice versa. What is most promising about interactive documentaries thus far, is that no matter how sophisticated the technological developments are, the content remains the priority and piques the interest of the audience.

Based on conversations with Katerina Cizek, Brett Gaylor, Jeff Soyk and Florian Thalhofer, it might seem evident that there are three aspects summing up the current state of interactive documentaries: their playfulness in terms of stories; their technical sophistication and delivery/dissemination; and their privilege in regards to who can access them, but also in how their content and form tend to privilege certain topics and participation modes that are often overlooked or ignored; finally, the way they challenge viewers and call into question the general assumptions of the documentary genre.

Playfulness allows a media maker’s creative output to be fluid, essentially offering viewers multiple points of entry and the ability to explore a theme or subject differently with every engagement. A key element in understanding new media documentary from the perspectives of both the new media documentary audience-user and the filmmaker may be Johan Huizinga’s broad conception of play. Huizinga’s concept of play covers many realms of life and also includes all types of games. Convening through modes of collaborative co-creation, participants may help to “develop new kinds of mediated citizenship characterized by the pursuit of self-organizing, reflexive, common purpose; they learn about each other and about the state of play of their interests though media” [39].

The notion of privileged access for interactive documentaries can be interpreted in several ways. A common assumption is that digital natives, operating from a high level of connectivity, may have an advantage in being able to easily locate content on the Web and are most familiar with and adaptable to new experimental forms. Conversely, certain i-Docs privilege specific niche interest groups, such as grassroots communities that will participate or be served by a project’s objectives. As Dovey notes, “we should not assume that because mutuality and collaboration are characteristic of this milieu that its enactive relationships are always lateral, horizontal or equal” [40].

The challenges facing i-Doc creators encompass change on multiple levels. Creators who come from traditional documentary encounter a novel structure of production processes in which their authorial role and control may be redefined through collaboration with designers or programmers and their subjects, who may now be participants or co-creators (Permutter, 2014). In this developing field, the ability to earn a living through documentary filmmaking is a major concern (Chatoo, 2016) as broadcasters and funding institutions search for sustainable business models on new platforms. Although the technology for independent production has become more accessible, there is still a gap between amateur and professional in terms of industry standards and access to visibility through recognized distribution channels. As well, there exists a certain level of audience expectation for familiar cinematic language (Winston, et al., 2017).

We have seen that there is continuity in documentary’s civic role linking past and present, yet with regards to the experimental nature of i-Docs, it is still unclear whether the more active user engagements they require translate into outcomes like sustained attention, greater narrative comprehension, enhanced learning, empathy or civic engagement (Flynn, 2015). As new forms continue to emerge, questions are raised about “what i-Doc engagement might look like and we need to be open to the fact that it might not be reflected in a barrage of user-generated content, clicks and shares” [41]. Gaudenzi asks if there might not be a more qualitative measure for i-Docs than the traditional broadcasters quantitative metrics (Gaudenzi, 2013).

Based on opinions and viewpoints shared in the meta-collaborative i-Doc project, COME/IN/DOC (2012–2016), i-Docs are attracting considerable interest from a range of professionals: filmmakers, journalists, designers, programmers, scholars and social activists alike are delving with enthusiasm and optimism into the open and experimental terrain ahead. As scholar, Richard Lachman (2016) comments, there are no two interactive documentaries alike and of more importance than seeking taxonomies that risk confining form, what is needed is a new common language for creators, collaborators, audience and industry to facilitate working together as we move forward. End of article


About the authors

Giuliana Cucinelli is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Technology Program in the Department of Education at Concordia University.
Direct comments to: giuliana [dot] cucinelli [at] concordia [dot] ca

Émilie René-Véronneau is a M.A. student in the Educational Technology Program in the Department of Education at Concordia University.
E-mail: emilierv [at] gmail [dot] com

Belinda Oldfordis an Animation Filmmaker and a M.A. graduate in Media Studies of the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University.
E-mail: : belinmotion [at] gmail [dot] com



This paper is an edited transcript of interviews which took place via Skype between 6 July 2015 to 6 July 2016..



1. Galloway, et al., 2007, p. 330.

2. Aston and Gaudenzi, 2017, p.126.

3. Lietaert, 2012, p.125.





8. Bajak, 2015, paragraph 6.





13. Thalhofer, 2013, paragraph 5.


15.Rules-based films are a series of short video clips in which viewers can choose different paths. They are managed through a system of rules and tags created by the author.

16. Kopp, quoted in Nash, 2014a, p.125.

17. Antonopoulos, quoted in Bajak, 2015, paragraph 6.

18. Brachet in Aston and Gaudenzi, 2012, p.130.

19. See episode 5 of Do Not Track at

20. WebGL is a JavaScript programming interface which enables the display of interactive 3D and 2D computer graphics within compatible browsers; see more at

21. Gaudenzi, 2014, p. 393.

22. FitzSimons in Nash, 2014e, p. 385.


24. Winston, et al., 2017, p. 7.

25. Dovey, 2014, p. 28.

26. Dovey, 2014, p. 14.

27. Dovey, “Who wants to”, paragraph 5, 2017.

28. Dovey, “Who wants to”, last paragraph, 2017.

29. Gaudenzi, 2014, p. 14.

30. This is further discussed in episode 6 of Do Not Track at

31. The Raspberry Pi is a pocket-sized, low-cost computer that has capabilities similar to those of a desktop computer and can also interact with the outside world; see more at

32. Zimmerman, 2008, p. 285.

33. Nash, 2014c.

34. Cecchine, 2010, paragraph 2.

35. Chattoo, 2016, paragraph 2.

36. Ibid.


38. Dixon, 2015, p. 69.

39. Hartley, 2010, in Dovey, 2014, p. 17.

40. Dovey, 2014, p. 21.

41. Nash, 2014d, paragraph 6.



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Editorial history

Received 26 September 2015; revised 27 February 2018; accepted 22 April 2018.

Copyright © 2018, Giuliana Cucinelli, Émilie René-Véronneau, and Belinda Oldford. All Rights Reserved.

Interactive documentaries and the connected viewer experience: Conversations with Katerina Cizek, Brett Gaylor, Jeff Soyk, and Florian Thalhofer
by Giuliana Cucinelli, Émilie René-Véronneau, and Belinda Oldford.
First Monday, Volume 23, Number 5 - 7 May 2018

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.