Thursday, June 24, 2021

Enactive Experience for Streaming Media Services.


Presenters: Mariana Ciancia and Giulio Interlandi
Registration Number: 029
Institution: Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy
Abstract: Since the beginning of humankind, storytelling was the way used by people to understand and shape reality. Storytelling has been acting as a mythopoetic engine and nowadays the power of stories is amplified by technological and digital developments. The "narrative paradigm" depicted by Fisher (1984) encounters the "ubiquitous computing" dimension (Weiser, 1999): the result is the interdisciplinary field of Interactive Digital Narrative (IDN). Starting from the first text-based experimentation of the late 1970s, IDN can be considered a vibrant field, from which different forms of interactive artifacts such as Hypertext Fiction, Interactive Installations, Video Game Narrative (Koenitz et al., 2017), and Enactive Cinema (Tikka et al., 2008) are derived. IDN has been a field of inquiry for more than three decades, but the question remains: is it supposed to be pure entertainment or something more? This paper aims at exploring the possibility of applying the enactive paradigm for designing a tailored experience in using streaming media services. In doing so, we will apply a Research Through Design approach: specifically processes and tools coming from the User Experience Design discipline, using data as raw material for designing meaningful and relevant experiences. Grounding on the research thesis on interactive streaming experiences (Varisco & Interlandi, 2020) conducted at the School of Design (Politecnico di Milano), this work wants to push further the exploration on how the enactive paradigm can be applied, using eye-tracking and emotion-analysis technologies as input for enabling enactivity. Starting from data gathered during the research thesis, it is possible to hypothesize their use beyond the interactive cinematic experience, and towards the design of a tailored media streaming experience. Emotion recognition (through facial expression analysis), and eye-tracking could enable platforms to gather real time data that can impact the user’s watching experience: emotional state, attention, gaze, and environment (presence of other users). The following are relevant questions that are addressed during the paper: what are the possibilities in terms of technologies and data that would enable an implementation of the enactive paradigm? How can this paradigm be applied to streaming platforms and smart TVs, considering the technological possibilities, as well as the user experience? Finally, considering the way in which COVID-19 pandemic impacted our media habits and media environments, what could be the real added values and possible criticalities in applying this technological and interactive paradigm within this existing system? The result will be the proposal of a conceptual and methodological framework for the design of a tailored streaming media service experience to be prototype and tested in a following research.

Bio: Mariana Ciancia
Mariana Ciancia, PhD, Researcher at Design Department, School of Design, Politecnico di Milano. She is a member of Imagis Lab research Lab and Deputy director of the Specializing Master in Brand Communication. Her research deals with new media and participatory culture, with the aim of understanding how multichannel phenomena (crossmedia and transmedia) are changing the processes of production, distribution and consumption of narrative environments. National and international publications include books, book chapters, journal articles, and conference proceedings on transmedia phenomenon, communication strategies, narrative formats (interactive narratives), and audiovisual artefacts.

Bio: Giulio Interlandi
Interaction designer in love with arts, focused on creative and design thinking. Interested in research and prototype for the interaction, passionate with the enactive approach, synesthetic experience, and body language. After a Bachelor’s Degree in Technological Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Catania and a Master’s Degree in Digital & Interaction Design from Politecnico di Milano, he co-founded the design collective the Bench. He is also a teacher assistant in the “Digital Art” and “Interactive Transmedia Narratives for New Media” courses at Politecnico di Milano. His research is currently focused on the unconscious and enactive interaction in the multimedia experience.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Interactive Documentary as Form of Public Narrative in Digital Age: Migration Crises in Borderland and Roxham.


Presenter: Weikun Fan
Registration Number: 061
Institution: Communication University of China/ Utrecht University, the Netherlands
Abstract: This paper will examine how migration crises in North America are represented in two award-winning interactive documentary projects—Borderland launched by National Public Radio (NPR) and Roxham presented by National Film Board of Canada (NFB). Though Borderland focused on the US-Mexico boundary and Roxham is centered on asylum seekers around the US-Canada unofficial border, they both portray detailed stories and imply critical point of views through various combinations of images, texts, video, surface designs, and visual presentation. Drawing on a range of previous literature around major aspects, concepts for interactive documentary and digital narratives, such as shared authorship (Nash, 2012) and user’s active role (Aston & Gaudenzi, 2012), this study probes the terrain of unique features of interactive documentary. Based on reflection on interactivity, hypertextuality, and multimediality that are afforded by digital technology, this project is guided by the main research question: how do features of interactive documentary enable this non-linear storytelling structure to be a new form of public narrative? With the analysis of Borderland and Roxham as case studies, remixes of multimedia visual elements, narrative structures, contributions from users and variation in user’s narrative routes are also discussed within sub-questions: how does the story of individual (figures in projects and producers) open emotional dialogue in those two projects? In what way users can experience the shared values through emotion that may lead to moral choice? Public narrative aims to use personal values to galvanize others into action through storytelling (Ganz, 2010 & 2011). A concept in the leadership of practice notwithstanding, this framework that Ganz embarked upon provides an alternative viewpoint when we tap into the interlocking plots and the power of narrative—story of self, us, and now. Two projects will be analyzed by Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis (MCDA) to evaluate the structure of stories and interactivity constructed by moving images, perspectives and storytelling. MCDA is deployed, especially within the visual intertextuality and interdiscursivity (Wang, 2014), to scrutinize in addition to the interplay between texts, voiceover, visual elements, and editing methods. As a conclusion for the aforementioned paper, I will argue that interactive documentary forms a unique public narrative when tackling social issues, allowing self-experience to intertwine with collective experience, and let individuals meet in this temporal public sphere through authorial expressivity, narrative routes, and interactive participatory engagement.

Bio: Weikun Fan is a second-year PhD student in media studies at Communication University of China examining documentary, audio-visual content distribution and cultural industries. Currently, she is a visiting scholar at Utrecht University, where she conducts research on the shifting landscape of European Documentary funded by the China Scholarship Council. Weikun obtained her BA in Drama, Film and Television Literature with a minor degree in Journalism at Communication University of China, and her MSc in Management (Cultural and Creative Industries) at the University of Sheffield. She worked at Phoenix TV and Cheil Worldwide in media and marketing before starting PhD programme in 2019.

Restor(y)ing Indigenous Ways of Being on Screen: Fourth Cinema Documentary.

Photo by April Lindala and Artwork by Elizabeth Doxtater (Mohawk)

Presenter: April Lindala
Registration Number: 053
Institution: Northern Michigan University, Marquette, USA
Abstract: Documentary filmmakers and Indigenous communities have a stormy historical relationship with some early films posing as authentic representations, where non-Native filmmakers often set a cinematic stage of how they thought an Indigenous community should look on screen. Fourth Cinema films, specifically documentaries, have the opportunity to represent tribal nations and Indigenous communities in cinematically sovereign ways and in doing so, such films may operate as both expressions of "survivance" (as explained by Vizenor) and critiques of "cognitive imperialism" (Battiste). Films examined in this study will range in representation of tribal nation / Indigenous community, subject matter, production date, filmmaker, and mode (the specific style of documentary). Frameworks employed to articulate the representation of cinematic sovereignty (a blending of cultural sovereignty from Singer and visual sovereignty from Raheja) will include contributions from multiple Native scholars' voices: Native/Indigenous feminist theory (Tuck, et al), relational accountability and relationality (Wilson), and tribal critical race theory (Brayboy).

Bio: April Lindala has been a full-time employee at Northern Michigan University located on Anishinaabe territory since February 1993. She has worked at WNMU-TV13, the Center for Native American Studies, and Diversity Student Services. She obtained a MFA from NMU in 2006. From January 2005-June 2019, she served as the Director of the Center for Native American Studies. In Fall of 2019, she earned rank of Full Professor in Native American Studies. Professor Lindala has had several poems published in various anthologies and publications. She was the project director for the anthology, Voice on the Water: Great Lakes Native America Now published by NMU Press. She was a top-five nominee for 2021 UP Poet Laureate. She is completing a PhD in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 3, Act 3, Act 3: De-centring the Climax as the Terminal of Dramatic Meaning Making in an Interactive Film.


Still from The Limits of Consent (2020) Michael Keerdo-Dawson

Presenter: Michael Keerdo-Dawson 

Registration Number: 010
Institution: Tallinn University, Estonia
Abstract: As part of my PhD, I am conducting artistic research into interactivity and filmmaking and reflecting on how interactivity opens possibilities and restrictions for the creative process. This paper will examine how interactivity and film dramaturgy complexify the meaning-making process.
Playwriting guides, creative writing handbooks, and screenwriting manuals are replete with guidance on how writers should express their themes, as a reoccurring idea that underwrites the entire story through what the characters learn or how they change, proving their position on an issue, etc. But the majority agree that the theme is most clearly expressed at the climax of the story. The climax is where theme, character, and the narrative’s result often converge in the terminal of dramatic meaning-making; if the theme is established and elaborated on during a film, then its climax is where the film’s author expresses their position on the matter through the narrative’s result or a lack thereof.
As part of my PhD artistic research, I have written and directed an interactive film, The Limits of Consent (orig. Nõusoleku piiril). The film follows a tree structure where the narrative splinters at the end of the second act and presents four nodes with two options, and thus five separate climaxes for the film. Each climax is significantly different in its character focus, action, tone, and, crucially, its expression of the film’s themes.
The meaning that a film expresses may be transmitted in concert but received differently, the author of a story affects the perception of their audience through a communicative act that is narrative; this effect might be exactly what was intended, or it might fail completely, or it might land somewhere in the middle. There is, however, an entirely new dimension to a film being potentially taken to different thematic statements during different viewing experiences depending on whether one or more of the film’s climaxes are explored, effectively offering a more explicit opportunity for the co-construction of meaning. The Limits of Consent has many themes, but as the film’s title makes explicit, the grey zone of sexual consensual practice is one of those themes. The selection the viewer makes at the nodal junctions effectively change the film’s thesis on this issue (e.g., the consequence of a consensual violation can be overcome or forgotten; the consequences cannot be overcome and continue as maladaptive schemas, etc.). The nodes present clues as to what the character will do next if one or another branch of the story is selected, allowing, within limits, for the thematic expression to be chosen and meaning-making to be diversified beyond ambiguity or interpretive possibility by adding interactivity.
In this paper, by examining how the thematic portfolio of The Limits of Consent was established and then elaborated on in different ways depending on the selected ending, I will explore the implications of this difference between a traditional film and an interactive film.

Bio: Michael Keerdo-Dawson is an artistic researcher at the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School (Tallinn University). After ten years of working in the British film and television industry in a variety of roles, including as writer and director (his output includes a feature film and two award-winning short films), he moved to Estonia and began a career in academia, completing a MA in 2018 in Literature, Visual Culture and Film Studies. He is currently in the second year of his PhD in Audiovisual Arts. His areas of research include interactivity, screenwriting, sexuality, the Romanian New Wave and epistemic violence. His first academic article was published last year in Studies in Eastern European Cinema on the Romanian film Tuesday, After Christmas, where he analyzed how the film’s poetics undo any potential epistemic violence the film might commit.

How to Make Immersive Technologies More Equitable: Confronting the Medium’s Colonial Legacies and Role as an Empathy Machine.


Presenter: Anna Gedal
Registration Number: 062
Institution: The New School, New York, USA
Abstract: Today, immersive technologies—like virtual reality—are celebrated as empathy machines, capable of fostering meaningful cross-cultural understanding. My MA thesis project interrogates this assumption. I analyze two early 20th-century case studies of immersive rides: A Trip to the Moon (1901), from the 1901 Buffalo World’s Fair, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1903), from Coney Island’s Luna Park. The rides complemented the ethnographic villages surrounding them. The villages allowed visitors to experience a speculative past and present. Taking on the role of anthropologists, they plotted a global racial hierarchy. The immersive rides, however, offered them a glimpse of the electrified future promised by American imperialism. Through the rides, the visitors embodied the role of colonizer, “discovering” new frontiers. Though perhaps experienced simply as entertainment, the rides were consciously designed as a powerful pedagogical and epistemological tool for cultural knowledge sharing that transmitted the imperial imaginary through a collective, multi-mediated performance. The impact was profound, garnering mass public support for American racial segregation, immigration restrictions, and imperialism. Drawing lessons from my case studies, I argue that the early rides were precursors to 21st-century immersive environments, thus it is imperative to critique the medium or risk reinscribing the imperial gaze into contemporary experiences. And the examples of this are endless. This project centers on the pressing need to reconnect immersive tech to its historical context to more fully understand both the medium’s possibilities and limitations. To move toward this goal, I offer fellow cultural producers, curators, strategists, technologists, and designers the beginnings of a shared language to highlight the medium’s fraught legacies and a path toward a more equitable cultural production process.

Bio: Anna Gedal (she/her) is a graduating MA student in Media Studies at The New School in New York. Her MA thesis “How to Make Immersive Technology More Equitable” centers on two historical case studies of early 20th-century immersive, interactive rides, which she argues were designed as embodied colonial travel fantasies. She then brings the story into the present and current iterations of the medium, identifying the manifestations of its inherited legacy in contemporary experiences. She ends with terminology to identify these manifestations and a set of questions pushing toward a more equitable design process. Her goal is to both confront the medium’s risks and explore its possibilities as a space for community healing, historical justice, and memory preservation. Her thesis won the Media Studies Distinguished Thesis Award. Anna is also a senior experience strategist, writer, and researcher. She creates immersive media experiences for museums and brands across the U.S. Her approach is story-driven, community-centered, and aesthetically informed. Her professional background in historical research, writing, journalism, and communications along with her MA in media production, theory, and the ethics of technology all enrich her creative process.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Short of Breath: A Narrative Podcast Series.


Presenter: Dustin Morrow
Registration Number: 015
Institution: Portland State University, Oregon, USA
Abstract: My presentation will detail the production and content of my four-part narrative podcast series Short of Breath. As a filmmaker, I had to rethink narrative structure and media production to tell this story in the podcast format, using elements of filmmaking, radioplay, and new media strategies.
Set in the days leading up to the election of Donald Trump, the series follows Olissa, a single mother in her early 30s who loses her factory job in the series’ first scene. It’s terrible luck and even worse timing. This event, which happens at the end of a shift on a Friday (as layoffs so often do), starts a ticking clock for Olissa. A judge refuses to postpone a custody hearing for her young daughter scheduled just three days away. Olissa is trapped in an all-or-nothing, last-chance scenario. She has only that weekend to find a decent job and clean up her act once and for all, or risk losing her daughter. Although she means well and tries her best, Olissa is one of those people to whom bad stuff is always just happening. It’s always one thing or another with her—drama just seems to follow her everywhere she goes. She’s missed hearings and appointments in the past and has demonstrated other irresponsible behavior, and the system is now past caring. Complicating her situation are her battles with addiction and with terrible asthma, made worse by years of abusing her body. Her inhaler is never far from reach.
I conceived this series in response to the challenges faced by working Americans following the election of Donald Trump. I was influenced in part by the Dardenne brothers’ film Two Days One Night (2014), in which a pending deadline presents potentially devastating socioeconomic consequences for its protagonist. I also thought a lot about Kelly Reichardt’s film Wendy and Lucy (2008), in which a traveling woman on the brink of homelessness loses her dog after her car breaks down in a city with which she is unfamiliar. What I responded to in that film is how sympathetic everyone is toward Wendy, but how few people can actually help her. This is a version of the world we rarely see in narrative media, one in which people are basically decent, but must grapple with the limits of how much they can assist someone else when they probably need a little help themselves. That was the reality of 2016 among an increasingly desperate working class, and it seems only to have gotten worse in the years since Trump’s election.
As we struggle to recover from another recession, this time brought on by a worldwide health crisis, I believe Short of Breath is a prescient series—an urgent series. 

Bio: Dustin Morrow is an Emmy-winning filmmaker, bestselling author, film programmer and professor based in Portland, Oregon. His films have won numerous awards and have been shown in venues around the world. He has received grants for his work totaling more than half a million dollars. Before re-entering academia, Morrow was an editor and director of short-form projects and series television in Los Angeles, for such clients as Sony Pictures, MTV, FoxSports, the Discovery Channel, and for such filmmakers as Spike Jonze, Michael Apted, and Steven Soderbergh. He continues to operate his own independent production company, Little Swan Pictures, for which projects have taken him as far away as the Aleutian Sea. Among his recent works are the book Kathleen Turner on Acting: Conversations about Film, Television, and Theater, a collaboration with the iconic actress that was published by a division of Simon and Schuster. The book was endorsed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Sofia Coppola and was featured on Larry King Live, CBS Sunday Morning, Good Morning America, and in The New York Times Book Review. Prof. Morrow also recently finished Black Pool, a feature-length thriller that he wrote and directed, which tells a taut revenge story set against the backdrop of the political conflict in Northern Ireland. The film was shot partially in Dublin and Belfast, and was picked up at the Cannes Film Festival for worldwide distribution. Learn more about that film at its website,

Making a Digital Human: Will Smith, Visual Effects, and Post-Racial Ideology.

Will Smith - Gemini Man (2019) Ang Lee

Presenter: Tanine Allison
Registration Number: 026
Institution: Emory University, Georgia, USA
Abstract: Gemini Man, a 2019 action film directed by Ang Lee and starring Will Smith, arguably created the most sophisticated fully computer-generated digital human to date. Notably—and for the first time—this CG main character is Black. The film tells the story of an assassin (played by Smith) confronting his own younger self, a clone who has been raised as an ultimate killing machine. To create the clone, the production pioneered new digital visual effects processes, including new techniques for the subsurface shading of skin, the procedural generation of pores, and the naturalistic simulation of eyes (specifically the conjunctiva) and lips (to produce a slight stickiness as they open). Although Gemini Man’s production and promotional materials do not explicitly address Will Smith’s racial identity—and the producers had originally imagined a white actor in the main role—it is clear that race was something that they had to address in the creation of Will Smith’s digital double. As the most famous and well-paid actors in Hollywood are white, so too are the digital doubles created for them, whether for CG stunt work or for de-aged flashback scenes. A few examples of digitally created/altered African Americans precede Will Smith in Gemini Man—such as the de-aging work done for Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel (2019)—but this marks the most extensive visual effects work to create a Black digital human to date (discounting CG aliens played by Black actors, such as some Na’vi characters in Avatar). As such, the production confronted new technical issues, like needing to calculate the impact of melanin on the reflection of light in various layers of the skin and the way that digital facial hair, such as the clone’s peach fuzz, would look on an African American digital face. This paper contextualizes Gemini Man in our present moment amidst a national uprising about racial injustice. The production of a young, digital Will Smith begun several years ago, reflects post-racial ideology, following a longstanding practice of choosing to ignore or downplay Will Smith’s racial identity. Accordingly, the production literature, reviews, and audience responses typically do not address race directly. Yet, the themes of the film mirror the behind-the-scenes technologies in interesting ways, opening up the possibility of a timely reflection on the value of Black life and its digital simulation.

Bio: Tanine Allison is an Associate Professor of Film and Media at Emory University, where she teaches courses on film, video games, television, and digital media. Dr. Allison is the author of Destructive Sublime: World War II in American Film and Media (Rutgers University Press, 2018), which explores the aesthetics of combat sequences in WWII films and video games. Her essays on motion capture, race, war media, and digital visual effects have appeared in New Review of Film and Television Studies, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Journal of Popular Film and Television, and a number of other journals and anthologies. She is currently writing a book about motion capture and digital performance in film, animation, and video games.