NYFF Convergence on Documentary / by KirstenStudio

This past weekend was the second year of Convergence, "... an ongoing initiative of the New York Film Festival focused on the intersection of technology and storytelling.", and the second year I've attended some of the panels, presentations and screenings. This time I just focused on Documentary specific events. Saturday I sat in on the Transmedia Storytelling and Documentary Film panel, which boasted Orlando Bagwell moderating a discussion with representatives from Harmony Institute, Call2Action, along with filmmakers who are all using transmedia to reach and interact with their audiences and even look at what it all means.

Each panelist had the opportunity to present examples of their works and walk through its developments and growths. Bagwell, a documentary filmmaker in his own right, and until just recently, of Ford Foundation's JustFilms, prompted discussion points.

ttwTia Lessin, Co-Producer/Director of Trouble the Water (2008) presented  various ways she and her film partner, Carl Dean, involved not only audiences beyond the viewing experience, but also the subjects of their film and their community.  In this story about failed government infrastructure and racism in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, told through the personal journeys of two residents, Lessin said they approached the transmedia aspect by building robust website. It ultimately became a go-to resource where visitors could share their story, along with the option to host a screening and access study guides. Other outreach arms included one of the main character's music, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, who performed along with screenings of Trouble the Water. What was probably most unique was the opportunity of being included in the HBO dramatic series Treme. Not only did protagonists Kimberly River Roberts and her husband, Scott Roberts appear in multiple episodes, but the documentary itself was mentioned and scenes from the film were shown when a Treme character watches it on his laptop. Lessin also discussed Citizen Koch (2013), a documentary on big money influence on elections, which ironically became a subject in itself on big money influence on public media. See related New York Times article here.

Filmmaker and journalist, Tom Jennings, presented his work through his independent film company, 2 Over 10, which mostly produces Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 2.53.57 PMworks for Frontline. Jennings laid out the various ways he's used transmedia to illustrate investigative storytelling. His examples were Frontline productions, which used video and graphics along with case documents, such as autopsy reports, in a visual compelling timeline on the website. Viewers have the option to just watch video, or to more deeply explore each case. Another example, which I too found equally as engaging (and I'm not a big investigative reporting consumer) was Jennings on camera, telling the story of David Coleman Headley, using graphics that resembled writing on a white board as he explained a case. The graphics were terrific and proved a creative and immersive approach to storytelling of this nature.

Founder and CEO of Call2Action, Charlotte Rademaekers presented next, covering what Call2Action offers, an online service whose "mission is to transform more viewers into doers for purpose-driven campaigns".  The Call2Action site explains what it does best and that is, "by leveraging video, action tools and social media, we remove barriers to participation so people can get inspired AND take action wherever Sparks are posted: on websites, in the Facebook newsfeed, in blog posts and ad spots, and now via mobile." Rademaeker noted that simple direct action options work best, but it depends on the campaign too. She did point out that in many cases bigger asks get bigger hits, so something like "Pledge", a simple and free action, might get fewer hits than something that requires a bigger commitment, such as "Host a Screening". In other words, people want to feel involved when they are touched by a story and are willing to take real action in the moment they feel most touched by something. Call2Action helps facilitate and make it easier for consumers to "do", rather than passively watch.

photo copy 2Debika Shome, Deputy Director at Harmony Institute talked impact and metrics, which makes my head spin, but that alone is just cause for the need of Harmony. Filmmakers working in the social issue realm know that being able to measure the effectiveness of a documentary has become more important in this sphere. Finding time to gather data, learn from the information and then figure out what to do with it seems like a full time job in itself, so Harmony is here to help.  What it does in a nutshell is track the impact of entertainment media on individuals and society. To put it in context to documentary films, Shome sited the example of Waiting for Superman (2010), a story about education reform, where they applied a variety of analysis to look at what viewers were taking away from watching the film. See the case study here.