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Interview of Susanna Lotz, mentor and coordinator of the “Web Lab”


- Susanna Lotz, mentor and coordinator of the “Web Lab” at the “i_doc workshop”, and online editor for the web department of “Arte”, helps us to better understand what the new challenges and opportunities of digital storytelling are.

Interview of Susanna Lotz, mentor and coordinator of the “Web Lab”

Following the successful first edition of "i_doc workshop", the laboratory of visual culture at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Italian Switzerland (SUPSI) and the Visions du Réel International Film Festival - and, more precisely, its Doc Outlook-International Market (DOCM) - have decided to renew the event.

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The concept of the web documentary is understood through a combination of different elements (video, sound, graphic design, text, images and photos), which succeed in creating a dynamic and consistent whole that puts the viewer at the heart of the story.

Cineuropa met up with Susanna Lotz, organiser of the Web Lab, who explains how this year's simultaneously very varied and complementary selection is based primarily on the desire to promote European cultural diversity.

Can you tell to us a bit about “i_doc workshop” as you planned it this year?

i_doc workshop has these two essential components, on the one had there’s the actual workshop itself in which every project is analysed, discussed and developed; on the other there are the case studies, which take a practical approach to finished, successful projects which we liked and therefore decided to use. We’re very happy with this year’s selection (of projects for the workshop/Web Lab) – it’s very diverse, heterogeneous and complementary at the same time. Our aim is to promote European cultural diversity after all.                      

How do interactive documentaries fit into the European cinematographic scene?

Things are rather difficult, at the moment in Europe there are perhaps around ten important projects doing the rounds, being discussed in various forums: from cinema schools to actual festivals themselves. For example, there’s “Dok Leipzig”, who is doing something very similar with his “Dok Net Lab” to what we’re doing here at Visions du réel. Production, on the other hand, rests on specific websites, on television networks that support this type of project. Interactive documentaries rely above all on public broadcasters – in Europe, there’s ARTE, and almost even more so, ARTE France. Then at a global level you have the Canadian ONF, with its two websites, one in English and one in French. I should also mention the “Idfa Doc Lab” which is a documentary festival held in Amsterdam. They have an extremely well-designed and interesting website where all projects are listed. Interactive documentaries really are an up-and-coming genre.

How are interactive documentaries perceived, above all compared to traditional documentaries? Have they met with any resistance or are they seen more as a possibility for the future?

I think it’s a bit unclear, and it’s not even a question of generation as one might think. Broadcasters, i.e. public television channels, promote this type of project. Increasingly more often, they ask not only for the actual linear documentary itself, but supporting web content (not the interactive documentary) as well. Television channels understand that we’re dealing with new ways of communicating, new ways of storytelling, a new way of filming and broadcasting content. Because at the end of the day what’s it about? It’s about broadcasting different content using different platforms for different audiences.

Then you have the producers and directors. Their conviction depends more or less on their level of awareness. I think that the more informed they are, the happier and more in favour they are. There are moments, situations and content that require mult-iplatform broadcasting, and others that don’t need it.

What is clear is that these are different, complex projects… but not complicated ones(!). And it is this complexity which can, at times, scare a producer.

In concrete terms, what are the options for a producer who wishes to learn more about interactive documentaries?

Spreading awareness among producers is precisely one of the things we do at ARTE. It’s important to explain to them how to develop an interactive documentary, because of course there are different ways of storytelling, different structures, different situations. There are participative projects that may also include a platform for discussion, and projects that are delinear from the start. Ultimately, producers are used to working with images, so they are able to identify this new type of product easily and quickly. We therefore usually run short training courses, lasting two months.

Many production companies employ someone to take care of web content (in general) – when this is the case, our contact person is no longer the producer but this person who becomes a sort of translator, a go-between. There are also very good agencies specialised in web content, such as UPIAN, for example, which did, among others, Gaza Sderot, Prison Valley and, more recently, 24 Hours in Jerusalem.

A question as to the role of the writer in interactive documentaries. How does he express himself compared to in a linear documentary?

It’s true, this is a problem, like a legal problem which requires you to draw up the contracts carefully. There are cases in which the role of the writer is recognisable, clear, it’s him managing the project, asking for the help of the people working under him etc. Then there are more complex projects, where the basic structure is much more horizontally-aligned and there are multiple writers – where, for example, the sound or the structure of the story has a leading role. People from any one of a number of vocations can find themselves taking on the role of writer. Obviously the structure is more complex than with a simple linear film.

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