Defining documentary has never been easy, all the more because of different cultural traditions. The English-speaking world often looks back to the British documentarian John Grierson’s definition of the form as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’ — a useful phrase that he first used to describe Robert Flaherty’s Moana, but one that inadvertently wedded the documentary project to the linear narrative.
Other cultures have used other descriptors, embracing radically different types of filmmaking in their understanding of the documentary. Today’s interactive documentaries compel us to revisit our assumptions.
We take an expansive view of documentary, and are above all interested in the pas de deux between representation and technology, and the resulting capacity to see the world with new eyes.
We are interested in history, in connecting the dots between our latest endeavors and those conceptual pioneers and technological prototypes that came before them. We consider innovation both in the creative application of new technologies and in the creative impulse that lead documentarians to invent new technologies.
We are interested in continuities and disruptions, in tracking down origins and inspirations. Although our theme is evolutionary, we do not assume that recent instances are better than earlier ones – they are different, and our goal is to recall those earlier instances, to learn from and to celebrate them.
For these reasons, MIT’s Open Documentary Lab and IDFA’s DocLab have joined together to put the long story of documentary innovation into perspective, and to speculate about its future.