“We’re all strangers in an unknown city, yet pretending like we own it and hoping for something better, which at its very best can be called Utopic,” writes Anubhav Chakraborty in a Facebook post. He’s the chief producer of the web documentary Latent Dreams: Tales of Daily Wage Migrant Workers in Delhi . Anubhav, who hails from Bengal, is a post-graduate student of Convergent Journalism, at Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi.
This multimedia-interactive project, developed by a group in the college, as a part of their curriculum, is based on the lives of daily-wage migrant labourers, who can be spotted at numerous ‘labour chowks ’ in Delhi. The aim was to “attempt to build channels of emotional empathy between the city and its workers” reads an introductory note on the website, where the content resides.
The work comprises edited documentary footage in a series of nine parts; an audio profile of a labourer reading aloud a letter he’s writing to his mother; a section that features photographs clicked by two daily-wage labourers; articles around the lives of the communities involved; and a photo essay. This makes it a 360° experience.
- A term coined by Professor Sandra Gaudenzi, at the London College of Media, i-Docs refers to interactive documentaries. She is a co-founder of the i-Docs Project (i-docs.org), a community of practitioners, researchers, students and enthusiasts.
- There are three levels of interactivity that determine the type of documentary: semi-closed (the user can browse but not change the content), semi-open (the user can participate but not change the structure of the interactive documentary), completely open (the user and the interactive documentary constantly change and adapt to each other).
- Anubhav’s documentary Latent Dreams falls into the first category (semi-closed). Prison Valley (2009), a web documentary by French journalist David Dufresne and Journey to the End of Coal (2008) about the lives of Chinese migrant workers, both fall under the ‘semi-open’ interactive category. There are interesting experiments around the third type: the remake of the classic 1929 documentary Man With a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov invited people from around the globe to interpret original scenes and upload their videos to the site. Today, a new version of the film is built every day.
The cameras (both still and moving), and sometimes a pen, follow the lives of three labourers, as they go about life, singing, creating poetry, sometimes taking on politicians at a community gathering. The idea is to tap into the personal, to get a glimpse of how the ‘new’ urban landscape, employers, and people around affect the migrant.
Inspired by the interactive multimedia project Puerto Rico by The Washington Post , Anubhav stresses on the need for more interactive content: “The unification of multiple mediums (audio, visual, text) is important, so that a large section of people can understand the story better.”
The main challenge in creating such content is to bring technology and journalism together, for tech specialists like coders and VR specialists to get involved with documentary journalists and scholars.
Ironically Shankar Rai, one of the two labourers featured in the documentary, hasn’t seen the project yet. He doesn’t know what a web documentary is, and though the film is available online, he has no hope of going online. He asks for a CD that he can keep just in case he’d like to watch it some day. He couldn’t make it to the first screening in college, but, “If the documentary is screened anywhere now, I’ll make sure to bring my family along.”
In 2010, Nonny de la Peña, an American journalist, pioneered the concept of immersive journalism. In 2014, the World Economic Forum included her Project Syria about a bomb explosion in a Syrian town.
It was only last year that a Mumbai-based Virtual Reality production firm Memesys Culture Lab produced non-fiction VR content on varied themes. Their projects include: Caste is not a Rumour , Submerged, and When Land is Lost, do we Eat Coal? These immersive projects are blurring the lines between the viewers and the experience. They facilitate the core mission of connecting, contextualising, and creating empathy.