At the talent campus of the Berlin International Film Festival 2011, experts met to discuss film in the era of the internet. One major question that everyone was asking was: are future films going to be forced to become ‘interactive’ and include elements of video games to keep young people fascinated with cinema? Ricarda Saleh takes a look and asks whether ‘crossmedia documentaries’ are a sign of things to come…
So, what is the future of film going to be? According to the discussions in Berlin, crossmedia documentaries like Prison Valley or Collapsus - so called ‘webfilms’ - could be the guide for future film on the internet. These ‘crossmedia’ productions connect documentary films with game elements and partly with fictional story-telling components. The viewer can influence the story and play short games which are integrated in the film. But are they the way of the future?...
Jane McGonigal is one of the advocates of the theory of the future fusion of film and video games. A leading American game scientist and game designer, she has also taught at universities including the University of California, Berkeley. Her focus is on alternate reality games and location-based games; in other words, where the location of the gamer is measured and the gamer participates in a paper chase and pursuit, which takes part on the internet and at real places. Jane McGonigal strongly believes that young people have new expectations towards film.
The pioneer argues that a 20-year old today has spent 10.000 hours of his life in school and – another 10.000 hours playing video and computer games. So, the younger generation is as expert in video games as they are in all other subjects! McGonigal concludes that young people got used to story-telling through computer and video game narratives and that these game elements are necessary to capture and fascinate young people. But what could these films be like? Are webfilms films at all? Or is this crossmedia theory maybe totally nonsense?
So far, there are only a few cross media films. On behalf of ARTE, the web documentary film Prison Valley – Industrial sector penal system was developed. The documentary was shown in June 2010 on television and since then, is also available online as a web documentary. The innovative film by David Dufresne and Philippe Brault deals with the ‘prison city’ Cañon City in Colorado. With a population of 36.000 inhabitants and 13 ultra modern prisons, in which 16 percent of the whole population of the city is living, this city is an exceptional case in the USA.
On www.prisonvalley.arte.tv the viewer can ‘watch’ the 60-minute long documentary or better say ‘interact’ with it. After every chapter of the film the viewer can access more information online in the form of text and pictures. They are also offered the option to discuss the film in panels and talk at specific dates with families of the prisoners in Live-Chats.
“Crossmedia films are new. The borders and possibilities of this genre still have to be explored and defined”, thinks Michel Reilhac, the French director of ARTE France Cinéma and the conductor of film acquisition at ARTE France. “I estimate that in the next 5 years there is going to be a change in crossmedia. In following years from now, filmmakers are going to experiment with crossmedia forms like they are today, until it will be tangible what crossmedia films are and how story-telling techniques are going to be extended with interactive elements in future“, he explains.
Another example of a crossmediafilm is the webdocumentary film Collapsus about energy and resource shortages. Whereas Prison Valley can be called an interactive documentary film Collapsus moves away more and more from the classical documentary film and towards a merging of media.
This crossmedia project is online since spring 2010 and consists of three parts. These parts are game elements, documentary film elements and a fictional story. On www.collapsus.com the viewers can follow the 10 figures of a fictional story about resource shortages which take place during the next decade. They can get information through interviews with climate scientists and energy experts and they can influence the fictional story. The viewers/gamers become, for instance, the mayor of London and have to make political energy decisions when London is affected by blackouts, energy shortages and debts. Collapsus was made under the direction of Tommy Pallota. Responsible for the innovative project is the Dutch film production company Submarine, which is a world leader in this area.
So - should future documentary films combine fiction and game elements? It is controversial if this fusion is desirable. Nevertheless, according to Bruno Felix, the director of submarine, Collapsus got positive feedback from viewers under 30 years old, and is working successfully towards its aim to communicate the topic of energy and resources shortage to a young audience in an interesting way.
What is your opinion? What do you think about crossmedia films like Prison Valley and Collapsus? Modern televisions have internet access – is this technology going to change the behavior and expectations of viewers? Are interactive webmovies the future or maybe totally nonsense? And if so, what does this mean for cinemas?
Here you can watch the walkthrough of Collapsus and the trailer of Prison Valley.