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NYFF Convergence: What’s to Be Gained With Immersive Storytelling?

NYFF Convergence: What's to Be Gained With Immersive Storytelling?

We came to immersive storytelling at first because we had a problem to solve: how could we give audiences access to the 3D experience of our video installations on a more accessible (i.e., 2D) platform? It was never an option for us to make a television cut or a theatrical cut of “Empire.” We knew our fragmented approach to the story, the “exploded feature film,” would be lost. The interactive version of the work you see up on the POV site now was our solution to the problem.

However, as (my partner) Eline Jongsma and I went about adapting “Empire” to the web, we realized that we were actually confronting a bigger philosophical problem: How could we enable audiences to simultaneously experience the world through several contradictory perspectives? 

READ MORE: Check Out “The Empire Project,” An Interactive Documentary Premiering at NYFF Convergence

I’d say that every storyteller or team that’s showing work at NYFF’s Convergence this year is wrestling with that question to some degree. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the central artistic question that our generation has to confront. It’s clear that there is no one right perspective on the world, so it’s incumbent upon creators to offer audiences the ability to experience and navigate between multiple perspectives in a single work. And that’s where interactive work really soars and outperforms more established mediums. Every great piece of interactive work is an experiment in empathy.

Interactive work also encourages a level of collaboration that’s missing from today’s mode of production. If you check out our blog or read our book about making “Empire,” you’ll see that the story of “Empire’s” production is the story of a two-person team doing literally everything themselves: shooting, editing, researching, etc. There’s nothing special about this, it’s just how things are now, both because of shrinking production budgets and because of technological advances like DLSR cameras and desktop editing software. Once we started collaborating with our design and development team, things changed. Suddenly we were sharing our vision, and gaining inspiration from our collaborators. It shattered the solitary nature of our practice in the best way. 

READ MORE: It’s Not Film. It’s Not TV. It’s Convergence. Here’s What It’s All About

Kel O’Neill is one half of Jongsma + O’Neill, a Dutch-American filmmaking team who work at the intersection of documentary, art and technology. They spent four years traveling through ten countries to create the interactive documentary project Empire (NYFF51), which was recently acquired by POV. Find them at http://www.jongsmaoneill.com. Check out the Empire experience here (using Google Chrome).

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