The story comes first | frederic's blogpost @ Memefest
Festival Community
This website is using cookies to. By clicking 'OK', you agree with our cookie policy. More about this.



The story comes first

There I was, sipping coffee. There he was, sipping his. He? Caspar Sonnen, a real nice guy from the hood and IDFA DocLab programmer... as in curator, not code programmer. He was one of the reasons I was in Amsterdam early this summer. A few weeks down the road, I'm putting out this post, as he's putting out his Call for entries (deadline August 1):


I wanted to get an overview of latest developments in all things interactive in Europe. Who better to ask than Mr. Sonnen? The man's coordinating DocLab, a space which « showcases the latest innovations in digital storytelling ». DocLab's docked in Amsterdam's excellent international documentary festival IDFA, but it also docks in Sheffield, UK (Doc/Fest), Austin, US (South by Southwest) and most recently, Rotterdam, NL (PhotoStories).

Our little chit chat got Caspar talking about a few interactive documentaries that he came across lately. Among them, the shoestring budget 'Soul patron' by Frederik Rieckher - a visual and sound delicatesse diving the viewer into an immersive japanese journey. An experiment that found a sensistive voice and created a multimedia artist to be watched out for.

He also mentioned the storytelling delight Welcome to Pine Point, by The goggles, Aaron Koblin and Chris Milk's googlish HTML 5 projects The Wilderness Downtown and and, Ze Frank's ever deepening explorations of human connection through the internet. On a more social and political note, he underlined the NFB's High Rise, the collaborative and crowd-funded 18 Days in Egypt and, Stefano Strocchi's From Zero. His list wasn't exhautive, as we were just talking over coffee on a lazy Saturday morning.


Having made my first foray into the still virgin world of interactive documentary with the GDP project (NFB) back in 2009, I was looking forward to Caspar's words of wisdom regarding internet media production. He didn't make me wait long for this.

Interestingly, he kept coming back to Canada and France, as both countries have taken a lead position in webdocumentary production. Canada with the National Film Board's interactive projects and France, with ARTE Webdocs, but also the Centre National de la Cinémathographie's dedicated funds towards online docs.

Asked about what makes a good interactive doc, Caspar had a straight answer : « For me, the story comes first, then the interface and third, the rest ». Aha, the rest, I was wondering, what the hell could that be? « Well, you know, the surprise, the 'wow effect,' the genius, the artistic quality. » He must know what he's talking about, since he's curated hundreds of multimedia pieces over the last few years.

« Our role is to provide a place for creative interpretations of reality, to motivate the people behind the projects, » he insists. « During DocLab, we're trying to go beyond the online experience. We're creating an installation setting to allow for director navigations or other collective viewing events ».

And to cap things off, Caspar had a little advice for those of you tempted by interactive documentary: « In the 1920s, it's not the theater people who invented film. It's no different today. We're in the digital revolution, so don't worry too much about filmmaker's being defensive and not wanting to recognize interactive documentary ».

Click on the following links if you're ready for the digital revolution...

18 Days in Egypt :
ARTE webdocs :
From Zero :
GDP Project :
High Rise :
IDFA DocLab :
NFB interactive : :
The Wilderness Downtown :
Sould Patron :
Welcome to Pine Point :
Ze Frank :


South By Southwest:
Sheffied Doc/Fest:

Frédéric Dubois is a reporter, interactive documentary maker and Memefest comrade.

Photo: By Bert Kommerij under CC licence, available here:


To comment, please create a Memefest account, it will take you only 2 minutes!
Login here if you already have one.

11 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing the links and your chat with Caspar. Just goes to show that creativity has no limits and certainly many possibilities yet to be indulged. Best wishes. Shoaib.

11 years, 4 months ago

Hey, you're welcome Shoaib. I'm still to post 2 short portraits from our time in Nijmegen: Of Vlad and of Matthieu... I'm just somewhat busy with a new web documentary at the moment.
Do you think interactive documentary could garner much traction in the UAE?

11 years, 3 months ago

This is great that you are sharing- keep pumping this stuff into the memefest blog- there has been a bit of a fall off since our time in Nijmegen. We need to try to get back to the discussion...

11 years, 3 months ago

hey frederic,

this is really great. as with all new things, the established culture will have troubles to see the benefits of this new format.

what is the media reality in terms of financing online documentaries. i know you have been working on a big online documentary project about canadian reality in times of the global financial crisis. would you say there is already a shift in terms of how important this format is for media and for journalism and money starts to become available for this types of productions or is it still very difficult to produce anything substantial because of lack of resources?

thanks also for this great selection of projects and festivals!

11 years, 3 months ago

Three comments! Great. This is rare on Memefest.

@Sttwn: I have two more blog posts to write... can't seem to make space for this though. Maybe in the meantime you have something short to say about radical design in the US?

@Oliver: The short answer to your question would be "I don't care about the established culture". But the more serious one is that in reality, interactive documentaries (not documentaries put online but documentaries that are made for the web) have a hard time attracting funding. There are exceptions with kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing platform, plus with publicly-funded webdocs. It is possible to produce something substantial, especially when using the tools that are out there and simple documentary & web techniques. As the title says, it's the story that comes first. Then, the technology, inventiveness and cash can help, but not make the entire difference.

I would say that if you doN,t have the chance to work with institutions such as the GOOGLE LABS, NFB, ARTE or the DUTCH public broadcasters, just to name the main drivers of interactive documentary, you can always come up with decent projects in the university setting. Kosakow films come out of the university setting, Ushaidi comes out of that too, I believe. There are many experimentations. But yes, nothing convincing funding-wise to attract the mainstream. But do we really need the mainstream to make good interactive documentaries?

11 years, 2 months ago

Hi Frederic,
it took me longer for that one to answer. We have finally moved in to our new place and things are getting back to normal. I am still in the research phase in terms of local scene here in Brisbane and Australia in general.

To answer first your question- no, i don't believe we need the mainstream to make good interactive documentaries. What has been done so far outside of the mainstream is very impressive already and as it looks like there is immense potential in this format.

The question to me is how to bridge university settings with less institutionalised cultures and than include the mainstream in order to make the impact of the doc. as big as possible.

For that, i think, we need to establish a platform where this cultures can create a dialogue. For example, there are fantastic research and theory findings within university environments that could be used as a basis for a documentary. I know this is not really now, but it could be mad ein a more integrated manner. This could actually become a new format in itself. One that could help solve the self referentiality of university research- papers read only by academics etc.. One that could help interactive documentarists on several levels too.

Another dimension that is interesting for me is how to use interactive documentary practice as a research tool. Investigative journalism is research in it self, but how can this be merged with academia, to establish a culture of interactive research based empowerment?

I would be interested to dig more in to this an maybe we could bring more people in to this discussion, if this is something you see potential in?

11 years, 2 months ago

I certainly do see potential in the dialogue between webdocumentary practioners, academics and the mainstream media journalists. But how to get this going? You might want to link with Sandra Gaudenzi She works on interactive documentary as a research object. She also co-organizes a webdocumentary forum. There are several people in the UK already working on webdocumentaries from an academic perspective.

At my end, I'm trying to get research entities such as media@mcgill interested in interactive documentary, in the idea of using academic material as a basis for a new webdocumentary experiment. But we're not there yet. More news on this later.

There are also this guy:

Wanna bring them into the discussion?


10 years, 11 months ago

Hi Frederic, I haven't forgot about this. Need a bit more time- it is holiday time now here in Australia, but will get back to you once I have some news. I sugest- once we know more we can think about involving other people too.





Frédéric Dubois