Interactive Documentary

Film and politics in the digital era

Authored by: James Lyons

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415717397
eBook ISBN: 9781315678863
Adobe ISBN: 9781317392460


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Digital communications technologies have served to usher in what John Postill terms the “digitisation of traditional politics as well as the rise of new forms of political life originating in the digital world” (2012: 165). The impact of web 2.0 and social networking in fostering citizen journalism, and helping to mobilize “global and local ‘action coalitions’” such as the Occupy movement, attest to Richard Allan’s claim that “new technology may fundamentally and irrevocably change the nature of the very processes of political and social interaction” (quoted in Bruns 2008: 362). Discussing the import of ‘digital activism’ to the events of the Arab Spring, Philip N. Howard and Muzammil M. Hussain argue that the spread of social protest across North Africa and the Middle East was facilitated by “digital media [that] allowed communities to realize that they shared grievances and … nurtured transportable strategies for mobilizing against dictators” (2013: 4). One question we might ask, therefore, is how such developments impact on the documentary, which Bill Nichols has described as “the most explicitly political film form” (1991: x). Writing in 1991, Nichols stated that “documentary remains distinct in its representation of the historical world, the world of power, dominance, and control, the arena of struggle, resistance, and contestation” (115). As that world comes increasingly digital (at least for some), in what ways does documentary adapt to maintain that political function? And what challenges might this new era of digital activism and participatory democracy pose to documentary’s own implicit regimes of “power, dominance, and control,” as people come to identify increasingly as ‘produsers,’ – Axel Bruns’ term for individuals and communities “which engage in the collaborative creation and extension of information and knowledge” (2008: 2)?

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