Dossier: Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments



Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments

By Reece Auguiste, Helen De Michiel, Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz, and Patricia R. Zimmermann

Speculations on Theories and Practices

  1. We are now living in one of the most vibrant historical moments in documentary media ecology, with changing affordances, changing politics, and changing vectors.
  2. Participatory and collaborative documents are multiplying across a staggering variety of interfaces and technologies, prompting new debates and theories.
  3. Collaborative, collective, community-based, and participatory documentaries extend cinematic practices from the histories of documentary and other artistic practices around the world, elaborating and recalibrating them in the context of new affordances and new political realignments and exigencies.
  4. We must work to reclaim these repressed histories of collaborative documentary in order to learn from their successes and move forward from their failures and challenges.
  5. This form of documentary responds not to big issues and individual portraits, but to the micro and the multiple.
  6. This form of documentary creates new discursive spaces and new places for practice.
  7. This practice of documentary moves across analog, digital, and embodied forms.
  8. This practice of documentary is multivocal, characterized by multiple discourses. It mosaics of stories dislodge unified narratives.
  9. Collaborative practices in documentary engage not only communities but collaborative teams, displacing the role of the auteur and the artisan in favor of the collective, the designer, and the team aggregating many different skills.
  10. Participatory and collaborative documentary modes in new media are place-based and locally sited.
  11. These works tell community stories through personal agency derived from encounters on the ground and open processes of co-creation.
  12. Participatory and collaborative new media documentaries are iterative, responsive, and shape-shifting. In other words, they are the film that never ends, continually changing form and location.
  13. Participatory and collaborative work mobilizes many of modalities of production, from alliances across institutions, to amateur/professional coalitions, collaborative teams, community animators, the designer, the director, and the project director.
  14. These practices remind us that the collaborative, the collective, and the participatory have been marginalized in programming and documentary histories. Instead, these have valorized the auteur model, which fits more easily into corporate systems, with festivals and the academy often complicit.
  15. New platforms and new digital tools can extend participatory practices beyond video and film. These participatory and collaborative works are community-driven, creating convenings across heterogeneities, and are place-based.
  16. Participatory and collaborative works design built-in encounters. This perspective on audience building and audience engagement is no longer confined to a cinema and to passive watching. Encounters also include relations among camera/filmmaker/people/experiences situated in lived experience.
  17. Digital affordances have flattened out traditional barriers to entry, making possible the horizontal structures necessary for collaborative documentary. Regardless, collaborative, collective, and participatory modes have still been marginalized in programming and exhibition.
  18. Participatory and collaborative documentary is format- and technology-agnostic: it uses, to paraphrase Malcolm X, any technology necessary.
  19. There is not just one definition of participatory and collaborative documentary, but a complex spectrum of practices where concept, location, people, political context, and technology converge.
  20. Participatory and collaborative practices recalibrate the documentary project away from deductive arguments, auteurs, and self-expression and toward open generative systems, people, and place.

Inquiries for Future Work

1. How does collaborative and collective work function differently from auteur or industrial production practices?

2. What are the challenges, contentions, debates, and difficulties that emerge in collaborative documentary practices?

3. How can we reclaim and reconnect the histories of collaborative and collective work from their marginalization in scholarly discourse?

4. Why are collaborative and collective documentaries significant?

5. Why are collaborative and collective documentaries necessary?

REECE AUGUISTE is a transnational documentary artist and assistant professor of critical media practices at the University of Colorado, Boulder. For more information see HELEN De MICHIEL is a filmmaker, author and community engagement designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose new book Open Space New Media Documentary: A Toolkit for Theory and Practice, co-authored with Patricia Zimmermann, is forthcoming from Routledge. For more information see AGGIE EBRAHIMI BAZAZ is a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor of film studies and media and communication at Muhlenberg College. For more information see PATRICIA R. ZIMMERMANN is professor of screen studies at Ithaca College, co-director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, and author of many books on documentary. For more information see

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