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.