Technology is changing how we tell stories on many levels, but perhaps most importantly it’s the role audiences now get to play in guiding the narrative. Take participatory documentaries, which have emerged as a way to share stories about communities by including the voices of people in the community itself – both in the making and distribution of the content.
Naturally, projects that deal with people impacted by a situation — from economical and geographical to social and political — gravitate to this type of format. The storytelling process becomes both inclusive and collaborative, where the end result is a co-creation between documentary makers and the community at large. Here’s our Top 5 pick of participatory documentaries, some of which are never ending stories that change every day and couldn’t exist without people’s participation, whether local or global.
Housed on both the storytelling platform Cowbird, and on its own website, Sandy Storyline serves as an ongoing repository of testimonials about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on neighborhoods, communities and people’s lives. Stories are submitted by calling in, sending a picture or text message, or posting online, and audiences discover content in a multitude of ways. Start with navigating by location, storylines, or type of media, like video or voice recording. Or go by date. A year on since the hurricane, but the stories of loss and rebuilding continue pouring in.
We took an in-depth look at the power of crowdsourced stories in Hollow in this slideshow interview a couple months back. It’s worth noting how this beautifully designed and compelling interactive narrative about brain drain in rural America was a remarkable feat of participation. The local residents of McDowell County in W.V were given the tools – in how to capture footage, for example – and a platform, built by the makers, to add their own personal stories, photos, and voices that create a visual record and draw a clearer picture of ways the community continues to be impacted by a depleting population.
It only seems fitting that a documentary about insomniacs would rely on the involvement of insomniacs to tell that story, and it’s precisely what these sleepless and willing participants did. Though part one of this cutting-edge participatory documentary launched at IDFA last year (where we interviewed the makers for our video Profile), it was the second part we were eagerly anticipating – where audiences could interact with insomniacs and feel their experience. Head over here to enter a sleepless world and discover the thousands of stories and drawings submitted by insomniacs to questions initially posed by the makers.
At the heart of this still in-beta ongoing participatory documentary is the sharing of immigration stories — fitting for the US, a country built on immigrants, and one that relies on immigrant communities for many labor and service industry needs. Whether through its short documentary films or the website that features both video and photo and text stories, audiences are prompted to reflect on these heartfelt immigration and family histories and add their own stories, which make up a large portion of the narrative. Browse stories by content, year, and word, or simply go through the timeline visualization featuring stories.
Part documentary, part continuing traveling art project that is still being translated to the web. Question Bridge aims to create a safe and uninhibited platform for a group of black men to join an intimate and difficult conversation about their identity and stereotypes in America. Questions like “Do you really feel free” or “Why is it so difficult for black men to be themselves” “What is common to all of us?”, and many more, come with video responses and prompts that include additional answers, enabling a mediated and honest question and answer exchange. Watch out for this one – many more contributions from audiences to come!
Katy worked at Submarine Channel as an editor, social media manager and digital producer. She's now contributing as a freelancer from her home in NYC. Katy is a new media thinker and film junkie with a passion for digital storytelling.