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Living Docs: Filmmakers are Makers

Announcing the launch of Living Docs!

Living DocsThe partners in the Living Docs Project believe that the ethos of the web – collaboration, constant learning, and iteration — offers a fundamentally new way of producing documentary. We hold events, celebrate projects and share code to explore the unique possibilities that the web offers to documentary creators.

Check out the Living Docs website and follow @livingdocs for more blog posts, events, projects and the latest news. In the meantime, here's my post on how "Filmmakers are Makers":

Make magazineDocumentary filmmakers have more in common with sellers on Esty than you might realize. Dale Dougherty, Founder and Publisher of MAKE magazine, says that being a maker isn’t necessarily about being an inventor; it’s about participating and doing the things that matter to us. That’s a mission that social documentary filmmakers in particular can get behind, and it begins to explain why filmmakers are part of the #maker movement.

Independent documentary filmmakers have always been makers in the basic sense of the word. They’ve also always been part of the DIY community. From DIY production to DIY distribution, documentarians paying and paving their own way have a real sense of ownership over the approach. In the words of John Dewey, we learn by doing.

It is the hope of the Center and the many partners of Living Docs (Mozilla, Tribeca Film Institute, ITVS, and BAVC) that filmmakers will continue to feel a sense of ownership over a vision of the next wave of documentary film: living documentary. These living docs continue in the maker tradition as it has been revolutionized with the culture of the open web. And it embodies the core elFilmmakerements of independent and consequently social documentary filmmaking: “collaboration, constant learning, and iteration.”

In practice living docs refers to the inception of documentaries on the web first, using the latest in open source programming to experiment with the latest greatest forms of interactivity—a prominent element of social documentary in particular. You may still be wondering at this point what that really means. There’s a difference here from the multi- or cross-platform conversations we are used to having. It’s not just that the documentary incorporates web media. It’s that it started and lives on the web—with a few exceptions of traditional form documentaries being translated, such as Living Docs project, Tillman Story Interactive.

But the best way to really understand a Living Doc, is to see it. One that has already caught the attention of our audiences is Kat Cizek’s Canadian Film Board produced “One Millionth Tower,” which debuted simultaneously online through the website of Wired Magazine, and live at the November 2011 Mozilla Festival. This living documentary is part of the larger project of “Highrise” designed both to engage with and re-imagine life in the highrise, housing for millions of people across the globe. Go to highrise.nfb.ca to interact with it yourself.

Luisa DantasThe Center for Social Media wanted to understand how those of us without major support from CFB can take part in this movement. So we teamed up with Luisa Dantas, director of Land of Opportunity, who is entrenched in the building another of the living docs that’s being translated. The film tackles the rebuilding of New Orleans and how it reflects the vision of 21st century cities. Luisa started with perhaps one of the foundations for a “web native” project—a whole lot of footage and short stories to work with. This content is the basis for an interactive web player, demo soon to be made available for perusal.

The Center is tossing its efforts in with Land of Opportunity to begin the process of documenting practices, which we hope will lead to best practices, which may even lead to standards. Here is where the collaboration fostered by open web culture is key, often as filmmakers we work in silos, built out of necessity and out of the intensity of getting the job done.

We’re breaking open the Land of Opportunity silo. Graduate fellow at the Center and talented filmmaker, programmer, and game theory enthusiast, Nick Ray, has joined the Land of Opportunity team to help with translation between filmmaker and developer worlds, and notably, to encourage the blogging of what’s actually happening in the process: the decisions, the success, the failures, the partnership building, and the communication.

Future TenseSome of the insights from the Future Tense “Tinkering with Tomorrow” conversation held February 29 at the New America Foundation may begin open up translation between the maker movement as it emerging in open web development and documentary film. We’ve already touched on collaboration, and over the coming months, we hope to illuminate some of the other indispensable characteristics of the maker movement: tinkering with tools and entrepreneurship.

Filmmakers tinker with tools every day. We’re just adding one more item to the box: code. The filmmaker attitude has always included “what can we do with what we know.” With the help of Living Docs you may be inspired to get to know code and how it can help you meet your mission. The movement of Living Docs is encouraging filmmakers to join the larger movement of makers who think like hackers. We live in an age and a growth of generations who believe in a world where all things can be changed and connected, documentary film needn’t be any different.

HotdocsYou can get your start by applying to the Hot Hacks two-day documentary workshop as part of Hotdocs 2012. More events are to come.

And we haven’t forgotten about entrepreneurship. The maker movement has yet to concretely answer the age-old question of how we make social good commercially viable. But with new fundamentals for DIY business burgeoning on the web, whether crowd-sourcing or craft-selling, we’re keeping a close watch. I asked a panel at Future Tense to tell us how these revenue generating sources can work for social documentary (or social good) in the long run. They didn’t have an answer, but we’ll continue challenging movement leaders and hopefully the first generation of Living Docs will open up new possibilities.