Just over a year ago, we launched our Special Initiative on Emerging Forms of Documentary Storytelling to explore how creative documentary projects including photography, virtual reality, interactive documentary, participatory and other cross-platform projects, contribute to social change in unique ways. It is an exciting time to work in this space but it remains complex and fluid as technology continues to rapidly evolve, influencing how stories are told and delivered to audiences.
We are encouraged by the projects being developed and how they are being used. We have seen projects reach and engage policy makers and influencers around critical policy issues. For example, Collisions by Lynette Wallworth, premiered at the World Economic Forum in 2016, where an estimated 600 attendees viewed the film in 15-person synchronized screenings and 75 saw the film in a main session that featured a world-first synchronized screening of the film (broadcast live by Swiss Television) and a moderated panel with Lynette, Nyarri (the film’s main subject), his grandson Curtis and wife Nola. It went on to screen at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and, more importantly, was used as a tool in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty meetings in 2016 and screened at other high-level meetings.
Francis, a virtual reality film about mental health, premiered to 400 health and finance ministers from around the world and other top international leaders in health, finance and development in conjunction with the 2016 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund. The high-level convening “Out of the Shadows”, hosted by the World Bank Group and the World Health Organization, was the focus of an effort to put mental health on the global development agenda. It continues to screen at various meetings addressing global mental health.
Other projects have successfully engaged local communities through local installations and the storytelling process. Water Warriors directed by Michael Premo combines photographs, large-scale video projections and an audio soundscape. The project collaborated with community-based organizations on lively, participatory events, creating a dynamic forum to deepen community engagement and discussion on critical issues. The Oakland Fence, a city-wide participatory art experience is a public photo exhibition that is designed to connect artists and communities. It includes a free augmented reality mobile app enabling visitors to experience the stories and hear the voices “behind” the images. Local artists have seen their work exhibited on an outdoor fence, in galleries and covered by the local media. The NannyVan by lead artist Marisa Morán Jahn (Studio REV-) has morphed into The CareForce. It continues to chronicle the growing movement for domestic workers rights through the eyes of nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers and hosts hands-on workshops, exhibitions, dance sessions, and pit-stops at museums, parks, libraries, worker centers, transit stops, and public spaces to collect and share stories from domestic workers.
Similarly, the Quipu Project, a transmedia documentary project directed by Rosemarie Lerner and Maria Ignacia Court, makes visible the stories of 300,000 women and men who were sterilized in Peru in the mid-1990s. Many did not give full consent or were forced. Using a specially-developed telephone line, an interactive documentary, a radio campaign and film, the project provides a framework for those affected to tell their stories in their own words to a global audience. It launched in Peru in early 2016 and, working with women’s organizations and Amnesty International, delivered a petition to the President of Peru demanding recognition and reparations to the victims.
Other projects have focused more on digital engagement. The Whiteness Project: Millennials by Whitney Dow is a story-based, multi-platform media project that engages millennials on the concept of ‘whiteness’ as a racial identity. It launched with an installation at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It also lived across multiple digital channels (e.g. Facebook, Snapchat and Website). In its first month, it received millions of video views and hundreds of thousands of webpage views in 150+ countries. And, on Snapchat, over 85,000 people generated over half a million video views.
In 2017, we will continue to explore the potential of different forms of storytelling. We were thrilled to see virtual reality project Tree by lead artists Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, which Diana Barrett co-produced, profiled in a recent article in the New York Times article about Sundance Film Festival’s focus on climate change and we look forward to seeing how audiences experience the project and engage with the issues. Similarly, we are eager to see if the virtual reality project, El Proceso de Paz Colombiano, by Dan Archer can help promote local dialogue and healing as Columbia works to reach a lasting peace. We also are exited by the potential of Unrest VR, which is still in production, to deepen and extend the impact of the feature documentary, Unrest, directed by Jennifer Brea, a Fledgling Engagement Lab project, which will premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
We see great value in creating opportunities for collaboration, dialogue and brainstorming among makers, funders, academics, activists and others interested in how these new forms can be used to help advance social change. For that reason, in 2016, we supported Magnum Foundation’s VR Lab, MIT’s Open DocLab’s Virtually There conference, American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact’s Story Movements conference, the Sea Change Program’s early evaluation work for Across the Line. And, in partnership with Tribeca Film Institute and MIT Open DocLab, we launched IMMERSE, a Medium publication designed to cultivate creative discussion of nonfiction storytelling.
Look for us to continue our work in this area with support for individual projects and field building.