We met the curator of Arena – Video and Beyond, the new section at Cortona On The Move showcasing experimental video, installation and transmedia works and we discussed producing transmedia work, what is going on in the sector, joys and pitfalls.
Tell us more about Arena, the new section of the festival you will be curating with Amber Terranova.
I’ve had a pleasure of working with the festival’s artistic director Arianna Rinaldo in the past on the occasion of other festival programs and publications. We have been talking for the past couple of years about the possibility of showing some projects that expand beyond the medium of photography. As someone who has shown, edited and produced video and installation pieces created specifically by photographers for over a decade now, I was incredibly excited by an opportunity to contribute to establishing a recurring festival platform that showcases this kind of work.
When we conceived this section together with the festival we decided that the core of the program would be pure video with the doors open for other formats now and in the future that are adding to the projects’ still and moving image, such as data visualization, virtual reality. Video work shot by photographers is very different in its narrative quality and density than video art or documentary intended for broadcasting (en masse), simply because it is well researched with a great deal of thought given to the formality of the frame. Also the largely short form is their final destination and not ‘gammas’ that filmmakers play while they are training for a feature.
Could you talk us through your selection process? And specifically, what inspired you when selecting the works for Arena?
Obviously, there’s a lot of video produced by photographers every year and in the end it comes down to making an interesting mix of the work from the artists you have been following for years and something you just researched or discovered by chance. I watch a lot of content every year coming from all directions, sometimes from judging competitions and that’s how I found Sheng-Wen Lo’s amazing project on the struggle of great white bears in captivity. Some works are graciously forwarded to us by colleagues from all over the world – fellow curators, film programmers and artists.
At this moment in time, it was pretty clear that we wanted to concentrate on the idea of ‘otherness’ and how we as humans, have been doing ourselves a disservice for caging, alienating, polluting various living things including fellow humans and just plain not listening to what they have to say. That is of course, a vast and endless subject but I’m happy with what we have to show and hopefully the viewers will have plenty to reflect upon.
Dominic Bracco II, from ‘Paso del Norte’
What is transmedia journalism? How is it different from multimedia journalism?
Transmedia journalism is applying the principles of telling a story across multiple platforms to journalism – a film, a live performance, a book, while multimedia is just using several types of media within one format.
But then in the end, all these – multiplatform, multimedia, transmedia, broadcasting, publishing, mixed media installation – are just words. The point is to have a story to tell and decide which form it should take and what platforms serve this story best. The rest is logistics.
From our perspective, visual journalism is living through very exciting times. As people are consuming and producing so many images and videos daily, journalism becomes very limiting in its audience outreach potential without the visual context.
And then, in the era of fake news and the notion that the media has failed its citizens, visuals have more of our trust than words. It’s not great, but it is what it is. It creates opportunities for visual journalists to make more complex narratives and collaborate with writers, data journalists and editors in a meaningful way.
More importantly, in the reality where these complex narratives cannot be sustained solely by the editorial media, we need to make an effort and expand our production methods to other markets that can help us produce these stories.
Again, because of the political nightmare we are all living in, everyone from brands and non-profits to the entertainment industry, wants to be clear about where they stand when they speak to their audiences and consumers. They all need real storytellers to help them deliver these messages, not scripted commercial productions.
How do you turn a multi-platform project into an exhibition? Is it challenging to make it accessible in all its levels?
If the project is great and has many layers it’s not difficult to do an exciting show out of it, the challenge is usually to boil it down and pick only the pieces that work in an exhibition format, leave the rest for the cinema screen or a book.
Louis Quail, from ‘Big Brother’
Looking back to the exhibitions you previously curated featuring multi-platform and transmedia projects, what did you learn?
I think the most important lesson is still the one back from ‘Projections of Reality’, the large exhibition of video and interactive works created by photographers we curated back in 2010 with Jamie Wellford. We weren’t sure how to explain that we were going for providing a dignified installation experience for experimental work from visual journalists which at that point mostly lived online. So when we were writing the ‘pitch’ to the audience in our press materials we stressed the attention on innovation, new tools and platforms and all that stuff that in the end doesn’t matter to the viewers. It’s all back-end, as web developers would say, only relevant to us in the industry. People care about the stories and all they want to know is what happens in each exhibited piece and who is it about. It is when I watched members of the audience spend up to 3 hours at our show simply because they had been taken by the narratives that I realized we should do a better job in selling them stories as opposed to explaining how they are done.
You founded Screen, a visual storytelling production company. What does Screen do?
In the past few years we have worked with many talented visual storytellers emerging from the tradition of journalism who are venturing into fields beyond photography and video – interactive web, mixed media installation, VR, feature films, theatre, you name it.
A lot of this content is challenging to sustain and is hard to place between film, editorial and art markets. So our mission has always been to support the network of the storytellers who are pushing the boundaries of visual documentary and the ways we reach audiences with complex multi-layered stories.
It takes literally years to get these projects come to fruition, but then that’s the normal speed for feature films and art works production cycle. There are no shortcuts to doing something different, educational and meaningful for diverse audiences. From the projects that you see coming out during these past two years our most exciting and elaborate productions are Zackary Canepari’s Flint is a place [http://flintisaplace.com], a cross-platform episodic series about Flint, Michigan and Dominic Bracco’s The Backs of Men, a hybrid fiction/non-fiction trilogy that explores the roots of migration from Latin America into the United States.
Flint is a place has resulted in an interactive website, installation, short films, a book etc. and has taken a village to produce. We have learnt a lot while making it and are really glad the project is getting into film and photography festivals alike and getting recognition across the markets, including the Webby award. With Dominic we have started showing the first installment of the project, The Northern Pass, a theatrical performance and installation about Ciudad Juarez. We presented it last year in Mexico City and now have a general fiction book and a full blown installation/performance in the works in the US.
With these and other projects our role is to provide creative direction and executive production, starting from conceptualizing it with the author and packaging for the pitch to reaching out to all markets the deliverables require, building a production team, raising funds and seeking licensing, building an outreach and distribution strategy and curating final exhibitions/installations. In other words, we have been doing full circle agile production for what we are all learning on the go.
But then I’d like to stress that all these crazy projects are only possible with the immense dedication to the stories from the creators themselves.
Phyllis Dooney, from ‘Gravity is Stronger Here’
Katia Repina, from ‘I Don’t Need to Know You’
How did you get started working with transmedia projects? What compelled you to do it?
I think it was just about seeing a critical amount of work out there that needed production support. Photographers, filmmakers, writers, activists – who have a great story to tell but little understanding of how to package it and find the means and the team to support and deliver it.
Today you can make in-depth and exciting work using a combination of markets and resources. We are trying to inject this kind of thinking into the mindset of visual journalists through training and curated programs such as Arena.
In the past couple of years we ran a couple of production Labs and the projects that were part of that training and mentorship program have since come out, got published, exhibited and what not. To name a few:
Gravity Is Stronger Here, a creative nonfiction collaboration of the photographer Phyllis B. Dooney and writer-poet Jardine Libaire. The project is a book, short films and installation resulted from a five-year-long documentary about a dynamic Southern American family.
Big Brother by Louis Quail, an intimate photographic portrayal of Quail’s brother and his struggle with schizophrenia, revealing a mental health system in crisis. The project resulted in a book, a video piece and is heading towards a scripted performance.
I Don’t Need To Know You by Katia Repina and Luca Aimi, a collaborative transmedia project about cruising in Cataluña, Spain, released as a short film and video installation.
Arena – Video and Beyond is a new section at Cortona On The Move festival showcasing experimental video, installation and transmedia works created by photographers at the intersection of photography, film and technology. The section is curated by Liza Faktor and Amber Terranova from Screen.
Cover image: Phyllis Dooney, from ‘Gravity is Stronger Here’