The future of storytelling according to the Tribeca Film Festival includes robots, crowdsourced films, and interactive self-confessional documentaries. Last week, Tribeca held its Storyscapes program—a collection of five handpicked installations that blur the boundaries between filmmaking, gaming, blogging, and art. Visitors to the program’s home at the Bombay Sapphire House of Imagination had the opportunity to tell their deepest secrets to cute, smiley-faced robots, and remix the Star Wars trilogy and to turn their own insomnia into a stunning work of art viewable by the entire world.
One of the largest displays at Storyscapes was A Journal Of Insomnia, a Canadian project that launched on April 18. Billed as an "interactive documentary," Journal is a hybrid documentary, YouTube-style self-confessional and museum installation. The subject of the interactive documentary, of course, is insomnia.
Any Internet user with a high-speed connection can participate in Journal. Participants go to the project’s website, and make an "appointment" with one of the documentary’s four protagonists to have them call the Internet user in the middle of the night in whatever their time zone is. The Internet user is expected to stay up all night and be a proper insomniac; at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., or whatever the allotted time is, they receive a phone call from someone in the film. For two hours afterwards—and only those two hours—users can view the documentary and browse through the confessionals on the site.
The documentary’s content itself is pooled from thousands of web videos that random Internet users contributed to Journal. Canada’s National Film Board, which released the product, conducted an Internet outreach campaign to have real-life insomniacs worldwide contribute their stories.
Then there were the confessional robots. BlabDroids are cute little robots that roam the Tribeca Film Festival and ask participants intimate questions about their secrets, desires, and beliefs—all in the voice of a young child. Co.Design reported on an early BlabDroid prototype last year called Boxie. The brainchild of the MIT Media Lab's Alexander Reben, the robots are purposely designed to be as cute as possible so interviewees feel comfortable letting their guard down.
Reben calls this the ELIZA Effect. Each blabdroid has a cardboard face with a slight smile etched into it in order to put participants at ease. Blabdroids contain cameras and microphones, which then send information via Bluetooth to a nearby computer or phone. A speaker within the robot asks participants questions, using the voice of a 7-year-old boy, and participants then press an arcade game-style button on the robot to advance to the next question.
Several of the works featured in Storyscapes have been featured in Co.Create before. Last year, Google’s resident data artist Aaron Koblin teamed up with director Chris Milk to create This Exquisite Forest—a collaborative film where professional and amateur animators build a crowdsourced cartoon in which each participant builds on the cartoons of prior participants. There is also Casey Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut, a crowdsourced remake of Star Wars: Episode IV that has Lucasfilm’s blessings and includes everything from endearing amateur acting to excerpts from the 1980s Empire Strikes Back arcade game.
Then there is Sandy Storyline, a collaborative documentary about the travails of ordinary people during Hurricane Sandy. Stories, collected via in-person interviews, text-message submissions, emails, and Internet video submissions, capture Sandy’s chaos across demographics and geographic locations. A large portion of the Sandy Storyline deals with rebuilding efforts following the storm; the team behind the project intends for it to grow over time as more people hear about it. The permanent goal, they say, is to create an ever-expanding archive of stories from Sandy.
[Photos by Simon Duhamel, Sonia Primenaro, Dominique Lafond, and Derrick Belcham]