Documentary making on a new level

12. 6. 2017



In the past few weeks I have been researching the world of (interactive) web documentaries. Often, when the words “web” and “documentary” are joined together the first image that comes to mind is of a linear film, or video playing over the Internet on the computer screen. You divine: it involves much more. I would like to explore with you some singularities of this phenomenon and think about why it could be important to embrace the web as a tool for documentary making.

In conclusion I can say: My fascination in I-docs is for their knowledge-generating potential - a potential to convey multiple points of view and to give us new tools to deal with the complexity of the 21st Century. "The 21st Century is often labelled as the Century of Complexity because complexity of the socio-technological environment in which we live and work has reached the level that no longer can be ignored – complexity affects now all aspects of our lives." (Complexity As The Defining Feature Of The 21st Century, International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics)

But first, what then is a web documentary?

Webdoc, interactive film, I-doc, multimedia: already the variety of names is an indication that a definition of this quite new genre is difficult. Let’s say a webdoc is a documentary made especially for online viewing, which often tells a story in a non-linear, interactive way. Like film documentaries, web documentaries may be short, focused presentations based on a real world issue, or they may be in-depth presentations that take a year or more to produce. Both are designed to provide information, insight and knowledge in an effort to increase awareness about a given subject.

Finally, the combination of subject, voice, perspective and design are essential to the storytelling in both film and web documentaries. The similarities pretty much end there - and that’s where things become really interesting.

In terms of presentation style, the web documentary differs significantly from film docs through the integration of a combination of multimedia assets (photos, text, audio, animation, graphic design, etc) and the requirement on the part of the viewer to interact with, or navigate through the story. Compared to a linear narrative where the destination of the story is predetermined by the filmmaker, a web documentary provides a viewer with the experience of moving through the story via clusters of information.

„Since it is an interactive work, the narrative advances through the actions taken by the users through public interface. The user is able to modify its journey through the documentary based on their responses. This way the participation by the users is the key element that gives meaning to this new audiovisual genre. For the first time in the history of documentary, the viewer acquires control of navigation, in a way becoming the author or creator of his/her own personalized documentary.“ (Wikipedia)

To summarize," the documentary is a finished and frozen product, delivered to an audience (passive group), when the WebDoc is a modular and variable object, proposed to the public (active group)."(

As so often, the best way to understand it is to experience it. Next Monday I will share with you some of my favorite WebDocs!

This article series is researched and written by Tanja S. Since 2016 Tanja works at dubbed perceptions in different and ever evolving roles.

[Go to next: Exploring WebDocs Part 2]