Second Home: Our Here: Collective Workshop Practices in the Interactive Documentary

Second Home: Our Here: Collective Workshop Practices in the Interactive Documentary (2016, 06’10”, UK)

Author: Kelly Zarins (Leeds International Women’s Filmmaking Collective)
Format: Documentary
Duration: 6’10”
Published: October 2017


Research Statement

Research Questions
As a collective we are developing our practice from the ground up. It is our aim to develop discussions surrounding how collective participation and production can be used to sustain collaboration across all stages of building interactive documentaries. Our intentions for impact are aligned with the recent findings and call from the Red Tales project to ‘enable [a] polyvocality’ which allows ‘non-professionals’ to collaborate and shape the form of interactive documentaries (Green, et al., 2017).

Helen de Michiel and Patricia Zimmermann (2013: 356) have highlighted the radical potential for ‘open space documentary’ to record ‘lived social relations’ via an unrestricted use of analogue and digital methods to mobilise citizenship. This research investigates if an openness to creating tangible, handmade crafts together, such as zines (DIY magazines), alongside digital media practices, can enable community co-creators to build a project using their own chosen tools for representation. This open research framework aims to develop new creative/technical literacies and confidence.

This approach invites underrepresented communities of co-creators to establish bespoke self-representational environments, both in-situ and online, seeking to uncover if such practices can be sustained and impactful. Mandy Rose (2014: 6) has highlighted the links between new documentary scholarship and DIY culture, setting out the case for a ‘DiWO (Do-it-With-Others)’ approach to documentary, acting as a ‘stage for the performance of citizenship’. Our project seeks to explore if the ‘stage’ can be both designed and acted upon by non-professional co-creators.

Our practice-based research is informed by our affiliation with the Radical Film Network and exposure to the practices of earlier collectives such as the Amber Film Workshop (see Newsinger, 2009). Our research attempts to question if and how collectives can form via the processes of connecting, learning and making together from the ground up, via trans-disciplinary analogue and digital methods.

Context
I launched the Leeds International Women’s Filmmaking Collective in 2015 with a network of women I had worked and studied alongside for many years. My primary research aim was to investigate methods for co-creation and collective practices with international students, and our wider international community in Leeds.

Alongside members of the collective, this was also one of my early experiences of digital filmmaking and interactive documentary. At first, we straddled the methods of participatory filmmaking and community story-making. Later, our project became more immediately impactful as a social outreach through which we began to explore hands-on crafting in our zine workshops.

Our collective includes (but is by no means limited to) international students, women from first and second generation migrant backgrounds, and British women who support and teach international students. We are constructing a practice which is flexible, allowing us to broaden our workshops across the city. John Dovey (2014: 20) has highlighted this process, where collaborations move into new spaces, in which ‘micro-networks of solidarity’ can, over longer timescales, build a gradual momentum.

I began to see the potential for interactive documentary to move away from digital filmmaking practices, broadening into open and diverse forms of expression. I had already experimented with non-linear assemblage methods in my first interactive Klynt film Closures (2015).

Research Context

The interdisciplinary practices of interactive documentary and community story-making are major areas of scholarship and impact within practice-based and co-constructed research. As we move from the process of defining interactivity towards building a literacy around the methods through which to enable collaboration, our research aims to investigate how trans-disciplinary practices can be utilised by co-creators at all levels of experience.

Established collectives such as the Leeds Animation Workshop (LAW) continue to produce impactful collaborative works, such as They Call Us Maids – The Domestic Worker’s Story (2016). As self-taught practitioners and collaborators in their own right, LAW have paved the way for working between analogue and digital methods, creating a workshop practice which invites community members to learn animation skills and co-create projects based on the narratives they build collectively though conversations and story-making. Our research addresses the meeting point between web-based interactivity and these earlier, analogue-based collectives—which have played a significant role in establishing frameworks for co-creation.

Our project also works within the context that impactful research can take on activist dimensions. Co-constructed research designs can breach the walls of the academy, attempting to overcome the ‘alienation’ which has traditionally denied research ‘subjects’ from shaping outputs which directly relate to them. Leah Lievrouw (2011: 62) has outlined the transitions towards a new collectivism ‘based on community building, interactivity and participation in the design of the media as well as the organisation of the working and operation processes’.

Methods
As newcomers to interactive documentary production, in 2015 we began learning and experimenting with different forms of documentary filmmaking during our workshops—gathering a varying body of collectively shot and edited linear and non-linear media.

Our early production methods were informed by digital filmmaking techniques which have, thus far, been the dominant form used for interactive documentary. We filmed our workshops using a variety of digital cameras (DSLR, broadcast standard camera systems and wearable GoPro). Although we began with the purpose to learn and develop as a filmmaking collective, it became clear that not everyone felt comfortable or, indeed, engaged in sharing their stories on camera. Co-creators suggested that we explore video diaries; some cameras were borrowed for this, but went largely unused, as people found this to be an isolating and pressured mode for self-representation. It became apparent that the project could be most impactful through group social interactions and more informal, immediate modes of practice.

Most co-creators were interested in gaining ‘taster sessions’ to develop creative skills, with some interested in learning digital video editing and others being more eager to plan workshops. One of our early findings was that there was a profound desire to produce media and crafts in a group and in-person, rather than online. David Gauntlett (2011: 2) attests to this enactment of citizenship, highlighting that it is through making and sharing that ‘we increase our engagement and connection with our social and physical environments’.

Our project had no professional filmmakers or web developers on-board, and with only one full-time co-creator it was challenging to sustain participation in our workshops. Whilst collaboration at our workshops took root gradually, the uptake of co-creators contributing media created outside the workshops garnered very little response. Immediacy and connectivity, in terms of production output and reaction to political events, were the factors which eventually engendered the highest levels of collaboration. We planned our first analogue workshop at a key turning point in our practices, when co-creators had expressed a wish to come together to discuss Brexit and the rise of hate crime we were witnessing in the city. Abandoning our cameras, we decided to take up zine making- resulting in our first zine-in-a-day workshop and a peak in our community impact and development as a collective.

Outcomes
This research highlights the potential of working with analogue and digital workshop methodologies, and building collective practices from the ground up in interactive documentaries. Our framework aims to work the trans-disciplinary possibilities of collective practice into this form, to reveal that non-professional, ‘everyday’ media and handmade crafts (see Gauntlett, 2011) can broaden the uses and impact of these projects and platforms.

Co-creating interactive documentary is a powerful method for communities to build creative confidence and positive representations of their narratives. Our engagement with accessible platforms and production techniques weaves into the conversations surrounding the need for media practitioners within the interactive documentary project to further develop a ‘sociotechnical toolkit’ (Green et.al, 2017) to enable co-creators to shape the design, in addition to contributing content. Our research will suggest inroads into this form and open methods for interactivity, aimed at the networks of radical and community filmmakers and exhibitors that have inspired and informed our workshops.

Dissemination
As the only full-time co-creator and author onboard this project, I receive a PhD scholarship from Leeds Trinity University (LTU). We operate the collective on a low budget: running our workshops in free spaces locally and accessing our equipment from the LTU Media Centre. Funding awarded to us by the Radical Film Network’s ‘Sustaining Alternative Film Cultures’ project, enabled co-creator, Roya Alimalayeri to attend Sheffield Doc Fest in 2016.

Our platform will be launched at a public event in Spring 2018. We are currently sharing our work-in-progress across several open-source platforms and via our WordPress site.

Conference Presentations and Screenings:

2016- Paper: Building Communities of Practice: learning from the Ground-Up in the Interactive Documentary. Screening: Closures and Second Home Our Here at Storymaking: a one day Symposium about making stories with not just for an audience, The Liverpool Screen School, Liverpool John Moores University.

Paper: A Report on the Leeds International Women’s Filmmaking Collective. Screening: Second Home Our Here at #0/Showcase, (iRIS) International Research Centre for Interactive Storytelling, Leeds Trinity University.

2015- Paper: Collaboration and Collectivism in the Interactive Documentary. Screening: Closures and Second Home Our Here at Mix 03 Writing Digital Conference, BathSpa University.

Paper: Self-Representation and Collaborative Filmmaking Practices in the Interactive Documentary. Screening: Second Home Our Here at Rethinking Re/presentation: A Postgraduate Screen Studies Research Symposium, University of Manchester.

Leeds Trinity University Public Talk: Interactive Documentaries and Collaborative Filmmaking Practices. Screening: Second Home Our Here at Horsforth Public Library.

Impact
As our project is still ongoing, we will be taking the opportunity to gather feedback from a wider audience at our launch event, which will invite international students and workers from across the city to interact with our platform. We hope to offer further opportunities for in-person and online interaction as a key part of the impact.

At this stage, I have gathered some feedback on how co-creators have experienced the project. One has welcomed the ‘interpersonal skills’ she has developed through our workshops, adding: ‘connecting can be through art, film, photography anything. I definitely learnt how Brexit has not just affected me… but other people in other circumstances… while you see on the internet that lots of people feel the same way about Brexit, actually meeting them in person and talking about it was far more cathartic than just ‘liking’ things online from behind the screen’.

The findings and experiences of this research are also contributing to my teaching on undergraduate modules at LTU, through which we are developing educational frameworks for producing media which has the ability to affect action and change.

This project has offered recognition and celebration of how migrant workers and students shape and strengthen our city. This has come at a time when many in our collective feel that our international way of life is threatened by the rise of anti-immigration stances and hate crime.

During the final period of this project I will invite feedback from everyone involved, including those who were unable to continue collaborating, in order to pursue findings on how to enable more sustainable and accessible participation.

Bibliography/Filmography

De Michiel, H. and Zimmermann, P. (2013) ‘Documentary as Open Space’. In: Winston, B. (ed.) The Documentary Film Book. London: British Film Institute, pp.355–365.

Dovey J. (2014) ‘Documentary Ecosystems: Collaboration and Exploitation’. In: Nash K et al. (eds.) New Documentary Ecologies: Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses. Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan, pp.11–32.

Gauntlett, D. (2011) Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Green, D.P, Bowen, S, Hook, J, Wright, P. (2017) ‘Enabling Polyvocality in Interactive Documentaries through Structural Participation’. In: Proceedings of the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2017. ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2017, 06–11 May 2017,  [Online] Available at: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3025606&CFID=768954709&CFTOKEN=24970339.

Leeds Animation Workshop. (2016) They Call Us Maids – The Domestic Worker’s Story. Film. Available on DVD.

Leeds International Women’s Filmmaking Collective. (2015- ongoing) Second Home: Our Here. [Online] Available at: https://ourherecollective.com

Lievrouw, L. (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Newsinger, J. (2009) ‘The Interface of Documentary and Fiction: The Amber Film Workshop and Regional Documentary Practice’. Journal of British Cinema and Television. 6(3): 387–406.

Rose, M. (2014) Making publics: Documentary as do-it-with-others citizenship. In: Boler, M. and Ratto, M. (eds.) DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media. Boston: MIT Press, pp. 201–212.

Zarins, K. (2015) Closures. Klynt film. [Online] Available at: https://closuresvideothesis.com

Additional Information

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Roya Alimalayeri, Tony Dowmunt and Chris Norton for their helpful feedback on this submission.


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:

Review 1: Invite resubmission with re-edit of work and/or statement

The text is incredibly clear, well written and well researched, with a good use of examples and references. In terms of impact it would helpful to make clear what field of study it is contributing to.

I think it would benefit from a clearer definition up front that explains the difference between ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’ production methods. I was impressed by the interpretation and translation of ‘DIY’ methodologies into collective filmmaking processes; however, I found the following sentence contradictory:

The heroic days of collective practice have passed, as they must’, this work hopes to demonstrate that collective practice is still a viable method for creating and disseminating radical outputs—through both analogue and digital forms.

On the one hand you suggest that these ‘days have passed’, while on the other you propose that these methods are still viable, perhaps needs come clarifying.

You mention the ‘Workshop Movement’ in passing, would be helpful to know how exactly this historical moment and movement informed your methodology in practical and/or theoretical terms? What happens when one transposes old ideas and approaches in new social and political and contexts?

It would helpful if you could expand on the relationship between filmmaking and the production of a zine, how did the process differ? I would also be interested to understand what is gained and lost by working with groups in a room, together, rather than online?

The video itself does not refer at any point to the relationship between who is behind the camera and who is being recorded. Some participants of the workshop we only hear and others we see their faces, would perhaps be helpful to find a way to be clearer about the methods used to make the video in the video itself. It might also be interesting to introduce a section in the text on how collective practices relate to ideas of shared ownership and authorship of materials and ideas and how this was translated into the production of a zine.

In the video one interviewee described the project as “a very nice idea”. Neither the video nor the text refer to any problems that might have occurred during the project and present it as a very harmonious process. Was there any room for feedback or critical reflection? How did you manage and make your agenda and intentions for the project and did these affect the outcomes?

Review 2: Invite resubmission with re-edit of work and/or statement

The first thing I want to say is this is a very important project, both because of its topical subject matter, and because of the exploration that it attempts of collective/participatory/interactive documentary making.

However the 5 minute video as submitted is not in my view ready for publication. Though it was interesting and engaging to an extent, I was unable to fathom why the introduction was voice-over + stills. The more ‘documentary’ style interviews in the second section were very interesting, but I found the lack of clear presentation of the visual zine material occasionally frustrating.

It may be that further down the line – when the work is in the form of an interactive documentary as they propose – this will be highly publishable.

The statement is well & clearly written and outlines the fields in which the research seeks to make a contribution very successfully. I’m less clear from it, though, HOW those are currently impacting on the work: maybe it’s too early to tell/write about.

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.

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