New media meets old

The 16th edition of Amsterdam's documentary FORUM adds website projects to Europe's most acclaimed pitch sessions. Marc Glassman has a look at how innovative prodcos are at adding interactivity to their projects.
December 1, 2008

Cross-media pitches represent the latest ‘first’ at the prestigious Dutch FORUM, the industry event that annually attracts hundreds of producers, broadcasters and filmmakers to IDFA, which wrapped this weekend. Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, the FORUM’s veteran producer and her long-time professional colleague, festival director Ally Derks’ interest in cutting-edge approaches to documentary was exemplified by the controversial Opening Gala, Enjoy Poverty. A successful FORUM pitch in 2007, this critique of the West’s liberal – and paternalistic – aid and ‘appreciation’ of the grim reality and culture in Africa and Asia was cosponsored by the city’s influential contemporary art Stedelijk Museum and featured projections of ‘enjoy poverty’ images on Amsterdam’s cobblestone streets and squares as well as on the screen.

With strategies on media convergence influencing producers and filmmakers worldwide – and a public eager to respond – a frank discussion on cross-media was inserted into the heart of the FORUM’s first day proceedings. Broadcasters around the room included NHK Japan, UK’s BBC, ARTE ZDF (France-Germany), SBS Australia, and the Nordic countries were asked to report on what they were doing with new media. The responses were not innovative. In fact, most of the commissioning editors acted somewhat chagrined as they announced ongoing ‘studies’ on new media. Most broadcasters are streaming series episodes and one-off docs on their websites for limited periods of time. And that constitutes the conventional ‘casters’ approach ’til now.

So it was impressive to see the three cross-media pitches at the FORUM. 24hBerlin – A Day in the Life, a German-French ARD/RBB and ARTE coproduction, will cover remarkable and mundane events experienced by Berliners on September 5, 2009, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Amateur filmmakers can upload their personal responses to Berlin at a website – and the main film will be available digitally as well as through TV stations.

Just as ambitious is Gaza/Sderot, Life in Spite of Everything, an ARTE France production, which will record the lives of six families on opposite sides of the Palestine (Sderot)/Israelis (Gaza) border, on a website and eventually as a film. Viewers will be able to follow individuals, whole films or the day’s events as they unfold over the weeks of the shoot. The screen will be split via computer graphics, encouraging viewers to look at the contrasting lives of Israelis and Palestinians living three kilometres (1.9 miles) apart.

Revolutionary in its approach to copyright and copyleft is Montreal-based Eyesteelfilm’s Open Source Cinema, which proposes a completely new approach to websites and films. Using software created by RIP director Brett Gaylor, this third FORUM pitch suggested that new software allowing audiences to add their own material to already broadcast films would energize their presence in the new media world.

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