Interactive documentary and transcultural understanding

Judith Aston

Interactive documentary and transcultural understanding

My recent engagement with interactive documentary and live performance has been brought about by a desire to challenge the disembodied nature of virtual reality and screen based media, to explore more sensory forms of human experience and to bring digital and analogue interfaces into critical engagement with each other. At the heart of this is my background in anthropology, my refusal to become boxed in by genre and mainstream thinking, and my enduring interest in the potential of interactive documentary as a tool for thought to enhance transcultural understanding.

Drawing on a range of examples from my engagement with teaching, research and wider professional practice, I will outline what first drew me to the field of interactive documentary over thirty years ago and what continues to sustain my interest. I will show how the organizational principles of juxtaposition and multiple windows, database narrative and multiple pathways, which i-docs (in the broadest definition of the term) can afford, creates a wealth of opportunity for examining complex issues from a range of perspectives. I will consider how this potential can be used to help us to think through contemporary problems relating to our understanding of similarity and difference.

As part of this discussion, I will reference my aesthetic thinking around antithesis and parallelism, my conceptual thinking around deep and surface structures, and my practical, albeit editorially-led, engagement with different authoring tools. In so doing, I will argue that interactive documentary in its various incarnations has the ongoing potential to make an important and relevant contribution to the enhancement of transcultural understanding. I will also endeavour to illustrate how this applies as much to hyper-local as global issues, and that it is a relevant way of thinking not just for schools, colleges and universities but also for wider communities and business interests.