Interactive documentaries and ethics: what industrial deep texts teach us


the last decade, alongside a renewed interest in documentary ethics
(see, for instance, Chiu 2015, Namhee
2017), documentaries have gone interactive.
The role of technology fundamentally changes the production
constellation which, in addition to filmmaker, participant and
audience now includes tech companies (Rose 2018). This has
consequences for the ethical questions we ask.

technologies change the way filmmakers are able to create arguments,
since their stories are fragmented and
users need to ‘stitch
together’ a narrative. Filmmakers need to hand over part of their
authorship to audiences, but also to designers and developers, whose
collaboration they need to create their i-docs (to or tech companies
if they use existing software). What does this mean for their ethical
deliberations and independence?

interactive documentaries (i-docs, Gaudenzi
participants are no longer included
in a finished project
and their position in a story becomes
unfixed. What does this mean for the idea of ‘informed consent’,
already a contested issue? Interfaces encourage users to push buttons
and click links (Odorico 2015, Pold 2005), which impedes moral
engagement by users.
Users also increasingly perform labour by
sharing data and content, for instance in participatory projects. The
reliance on telecom and technology companies for creating, hosting
and distributing online i-docs forces us to query issues of power,
public values, and independence.

lot of empirical research in production studies heavily relies on
interviews. For this paper, I explore ethics and interactive
documentaries by analysing what Caldwell (2009)
has labelled industrial deep texts. I
will explore this
professional discourse
to understand how they address these issues. I will specifically look
at interviews with filmmakers, designers and developers as well as at
‘about’ and
other information pages
of interactive projects, press
kits and other professional discourse. I will focus on a number of
interactive webdocumentaries. How
do these texts reflect and
concerns about ethical issues that
surface due to interactive technologies?


Caldwell, John T. 2009. ‘Cultures
of Production. Studying Industry’s Deep Texts, Reflexive Rituals,
and Managed Self-Disclosures’. In Media Industries: History,
Theory, and Method, edited by Jennifer Holt and Lisa Perren, 199–212.
Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Chiu, Kuei-fen. 'The Ethical
Turn in the Production and Reception of New Chinese-Language
Documentary Films.' Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 27,
no. 1 (2015): 44-74.

Gaudenzi, Sandra. 2013. ‘The
Living Documentary: From Representing Reality to Co-Creating Reality
in Digital Interactive Documentary’. London: Goldsmiths, University
of London.

Han, Namhee
(2017) Time in the Camptown:
for Ethics
in American Alley (2008), Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, 9:1,

Odorico, Stefano. 2015. ‘Between
Interactivity, Reality and Participation: The Interactive Documentary
Form’. MEI, no. 39 (December): 213–26.

Pold, Søren. 2005. ‘Interface Realisms: The Interface as Aesthetic
Form’. Postmodern Culture 15 (2).

Rose, Mandy. 2018. ‘The Immersive Turn: Hype and Hope in the
Emergence of Virtual Reality as a Nonfiction Platform’. Studies in
Documentary Film 12 (2): 132–49.