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Living, Breathing, Transmedia: Navigating the Non-linear

By Josh Freund

LOPTraditionally when making a documentary, filmmakers present a film that reflects only a sliver of their amassed content. We shoot and shoot and shoot some more, then edit and cut the vast majority of the content to fit the hour or 90-minute mold dictated by broadcast or theatrical release. You see one streamlined version of events: the one we’ve authored and edited, no more no less. However, this shoot, slash and sausage method is no longer the be all-end-all for documentary films. Or, in the case of Land of Opportunity and other transmedia projects like ours, a documentary is no longer limited to the padded confines of its linear feature film manifestation.

I recently joined the project as an editing assistant, which means I’ll be helping to curate and edit an array of multimedia content that users will access as they navigate our interactive video experience. As a fresh pair of editing eyes, I am wowed (and a little intimidated) by the sheer breadth and depth of the Land of Opportunity archive: 1500+ hours shot over six years, representing hundreds of stories and perspectives. Even though it’s been carefully logged and organized, it can be daunting to dive into this vast ocean of material.

Then I realized what an awesome opportunity this really is. This wealth of never-before-seen material means one thing – possibility. The first rule of transmedia is: explode the confines of “linear” storytelling (well, that’s what it would be if we wrote the rulebook anyway). What better way to do that than allow users to trace their own path through a treasure trove of curated footage through interactivity options A-Z  (as last week’s blog divulged). I’ve begun looking through our log notes and scene outlines and am already visualizing new videos, fresh associations, meaningful juxtapositions. Moreover, I see the old content as a catalyst for new content. Storylines that took place three or four years ago are re-framed with current updates that keep recent history relevant.

Josh Freund: Heading to the Land of Opportunity from Land of Opportunity on Vimeo.

Which brings me to a second crucial point: the hundreds of hours of recent New Orleans history gathered for this project are a crucial and unique archive of an unprecedented moment in our nations’ history. This is especially important to me because I’m moving to the city in September. I have begun to understand the complexities of the post-Katrina landscape that I will inhabit through the diverse stories I’ve encountered in Land of Opp’s footage. Because of our interactive video experience, this multifaceted history won’t be buried in our hard drives and instead will be accessible to educators and advocates in cities around the country. This experience allows us to surface important material and say, “this exists, come watch it, interact with it, share it, and add your voice to it.”

The Tillman StoryWe are not the only crazy kids participating in this exciting new way of re-contextualizing recent history. Our fellow Living Docs filmmaker, Amir Bar-Lev’s is developing an interactive experience around his acclaimed documentary, The Tillman Story. Amir describes cutting out footage that doesn’t make it into the feature film as “killing your babies” (How Faulker of him). By providing access for users to view and interact with important supplementary content (instead of throwing it to the dogs), these interactive transmedia projects allow people to be moved, touched and inspired by the ‘marginalia’, as Tillman phrased it, Going deeper into the material through nav (igational) capabilities and related content.

This is a really exciting time for Land of Opportunity and documentary filmmaking in general. We have the unique opportunity to be story archivists/revivalists and, thanks to our interactive web video experience, foster a growing community that is living and changing history.

Want to start the dialogue on recent NOLA history now? Or share what’s what in your own city? Comment here! (Or do the Facebook and Twitter thing).