Industry Report: Documentary
Interview with David Dufresne, mentor of the "Web Lab"
by Muriel Del Don
The concept of the web documentary is understood through a combination of different elements (video, sound, graphic design, text, images and photos), which succeed in creating a dynamic and consistent whole that puts the viewer at the heart of the story.
Cineuropa met up with David Dufresnes, mentor at the Web Lab, who explains how the viewer will be at the heart of the story inasmuch as he or she will have to engage with it; in this way, the web becomes an enabler of free speech.
Why are web documentaries important from a journalistic, documentary point of view? What is their added value over traditional documentaries, what do they have that’s new?
First of all, web documentaries don’t replace traditional linear documentaries, they’re a new form of media. From a documentary or journalistic point of view they really are a revolution, a new way of telling a story and rendering reality in all its complexity. What I find fascinating about web documentaries is that they can be very complex but never complicated. A second difference lies in the perspective of the viewer, which is not the same at all. What I particularly like about web documentaries is that viewers become stakeholders in the documentary they’re watching. They can choose, build their own narrative. In my latest documentary game (Fort McMoney), the idea was really to try and get viewers to get to grips with the subject matter and debate it, to engage with it: they register their names, they’re at the heart of the narrative. Their points of view change, since they are part of the documentary itself. I think you can, and have to trust your viewers, by getting away from spoon-feeding them everything, telling them what to think, how to think, as soon as possible. Web documentaries make this change possible, they allow freedom of speech.
In my opinion, what’s so innovative about web documentaries is that they can be both the messenger, i.e. that which sparks debate, and give viewers the tools for such debate as well.
How does the filmmaker show his perspective in a web documentary (or in a documentary game)?
For me, the quality of the image is essential. I think the concern for quality is one of the reasons you choose to make a documentary: you pay particular attention to the frame, the photo, the light. You film everybody with the same level of respect; the “powerless” are entitled to the same treatment, to the same quality as the powerful. This is hardly ever the case in the world of journalism.
Indeed, the filmmaker’s point of view changes in a web documentary. This change takes place most notably in the editing. With a web documentary the editing is a bit difficult to “grasp” because it’s partly done by the viewer, i.e. the Internet user. We could say that the filmmaker’s perspective lies in the information base, in all the pieces of information the viewer can access. Each piece is chosen, weighed up and worked on just as much as in linear editing. In a nutshell you could say that at the end of the day it’s me that’s laid the table.
In a web documentary the filmmaker’s perspective, his point of view, can sometimes be less obvious than in a classic documentary, but in actual fact it is simply expressed in a different way.
Why did you once again choose a web documentary (or rather, a documentary game) for your new documentary (Fort McMoney)?
I had already made a web documentary with Philippe Brault, called Prison Valley. We used video game codes on that occasion too, but for Fort McMoney I wanted to go further by creating an actual video game, a video game documentary. News games already exist but it’s not really the same thing. This is the first time a video game documentary has ever been made.
Aren’t you afraid that this very experimental format is not easily accessible for those who aren’t used to it?
We’re doing all we can to make sure it’s not difficult. When I put the Fort McMoney project forward to the National Film Board of Canada (ONF) they told me that in Canada there’s something called the « green fatigue », which largely encompasses all the films on environmentalism that nobody is interested in. There have been some superb films on FortMcMurrey (the town of reference for Fort McMoney) but they didn’t necessarily get through to the public. I therefore don’t think these viewers who would be lost on “fortmcmoney.com” would watch a more “classic” film anyway. There’s going to be a film on FortMcMoney and we’re already at the editing stage. We went there to see how people do things down there. There will therefore also be a linear film for Arte.