“This show has now made Pokémon creepy to me.” Augmented and Alternate Reality Games, Interactive Narrative and the Documentary TV Series Hellier

Presenter: David Sweeney
Registration Number: 024
Institution: The Glasgow School of Art, Scotland
Abstract: The title of this paper comes from a March, 2021 post on the sub-Reddit dedicated to the online paranormal investigation TV series Hellier (2019 - ). The poster, Dessie_Hull, states they can no longer enjoy the Augmented Reality Game Pokémon GO (released in 2016) after watching Hellier because a ‘goblin’ in the game resembles images emailed to Greg Newkirk, one of the investigators in the series, by an individual who claims these beings are real and dwelling in the Kentucky town that gives Hellier its name. The first season of the series (2019) shows Newkirk receive a series of cryptic communiques, after his first excursion to the town, from a mysterious underground figure associated with both occult practice and anarchism known as Terry Wriste (a play on the word ‘terrorist’) urging him to continue the investigation. As the season progresses, Newkirk, and the investigative team he has assembled, begin to suspect that they are being manipulated by Wriste for his own enigmatic ends: at the end of the second season (2020) they come to the conclusion that the events of the first, including a string of seeming coincidences/synchronicities, were in fact a form of esoteric initiation orchestrated by Wriste which has fundamentally altered their view of the world, even though they never actually encounter the Hellier ‘goblins’. Both seasons are presented as documentary and the team has continued to maintain that the series is a work of non-fiction. If this is true, it is possible that the team was, unwittingly, involved in not an Augmented but an Alternate Reality Game, designed by Wriste. Regardless of whether it is a genuine documentary or not, the series certainly represents the investigative team’s immersion in an interactive quest narrative comparable to such Alternate Reality Games as Joseph Matheny’s Ong’s Hat from 1988 – widely considered to be the first Alternate Reality Game and, like Wriste, associated with both anarchism and occultism - or The Jejune Institute (2008-11) devised by Jeff Hull, which appears to be influenced by Situationism. The team’s immersion parallels the experience of Hellier viewers, such as Dessie_Hull, who are active on Reddit and other social media platforms where they discuss not only the series but also the numerous esoteric texts referenced by the investigators throughout both seasons. It may be, then, that Hellier is not only a work of fiction but also itself an Alternate Reality Game, in which viewers who believe that it is a work of non-fiction are unwitting participants to the extent that, for Dessie_Hull, it has affected their participation in an Augmented Reality Game, the obviously fictional (being based on an existing media franchise) Pokémon GOIn this paper, drawing on recent discussions pertaining to both Augmented and Alternate Reality Games and the consent (or lack thereof) of participants – including claims that the QAnon conspiracy movement is an Alternate Reality Game gone awry – as well as a range of literary, media and game theory, I will discuss Hellier in the context of the history and development of such games, using the examples mentioned above as points of comparison and focusing on the interactive narrative elements of the series.

David Sweeney is a lecturer in The Glasgow School of Art's Design History & Theory department specializing in popular culture, a subject on which he has published and presented widely. Publications include journal articles and book chapters on such topics as music and nostalgia in Twin Peaks: The Return; the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the development of the Marvel comics universe; time travel cinema, digital comics and the relationship between media technology and the ongoing Folk Horror Revival. His critical studies of the novels of Michael Marshall Smith and the Netflix Originals series The OA are due to be published later this year by Subterranean Press and Auteur respectively.

Exploring-Deconstructing Reality with the Interactive Storytelling.

Presenter: Sevcan Aytaç Sönmez
Registration Number: 050
Institution: Yaşar University, Izmir, Turkey
Abstract: Black Mirror is a ground-breaking, sensational, staggering, critical science fiction TV series depicting a dystopic near future and present time. It is concerned with various themes about society, environment, technology, social media, power, dehumanization, and cyborgs. From the beginning of the series, each episode is focused on these themes with an innovative approach by using creative narration styles. But the most innovative boom of Black Mirror is definitely the interactive episode Bandersnatch. Mainly, Bandersnatch focuses on “reality.” With the characters and their actions in different pathways of the fragmented plot, the main issue is “reality” and “perception of reality,” or the illusion of the world. This questioning is being made by a medium—cinematographic narration—which constitutes itself as an art form of representing and reproducing reality but also defined as “illusion of reality” in some theoretical approaches. Nothing could be more creative than to bring together this approach on filmic reality in questioning “reality” with an interactive filmic narration. So, this article combines theories on filmic reality and the main approaches on illusion of reality in cinema, with the narrative style, spectator experience, self-reflectivity in Bandersnatch. Going further on the theme “reality and illusion” we can refer to the extensive literature of philosophy. The philosophers have been asking the question "what is reality" for ages. In relation with the focus of Bandersnatch we can remember William James with his “multi-reality” approach. Or focusing on “time and reality” notion, which is one of the constituting layers of the narrative, we should refer to Henri Bergson and his concept of multiplicity and the notion of time as “duration.” From Bergson, necessarily we should jump to Gilles Deleuze’s “time-image theory” arising from Bergson, in order to understand Bandersnatch as a philosophical narrative interrogating reality by using a new cinematographic form.

Bio: Sevcan Aytaç Sönmez was born in Turkey in 1983. She lives and works in İzmir. She is an academic at Yaşar University at Art and Design Faculty, Film Design Department. Her articles were published in national and international journals. Her first book Remembering Through the Movies was published from a well-known national publisher in Turkey. She has written book chapters, which were published nationally and internationally. A chapter entitled “Modernism, Memory and Cinema” was published in Film and Literary Modernism, edited by Robert McParland (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013). The national book chapters are “Hard Times, 1990’s Turkish Cinema” in Reflections of Modernism, edited by Eric van Zührer and Funda Barbaros, in 2017. “We Are All in Blockade, Time and Style in the movie ‘Abluka’” in New Frames: Cinema in Turkey, edited by Serhat Serter, in 2017. She is one of the editors of a recent book entitled Women’s Camera, Women Directors After 2000s, 2019. Her academic study areas are cultural studies, gender issues, and urban studies. Apart from theoretical works, she is engaged with experimental filmmaking and video art. Her films were shown and awarded in various festivals.

Carne y Arena by Alejandro González Iñárritu: Subordinating VR Technology to Refugee’s Human Condition.

Presenter: Hudson Moura
Registration Number: 077
Institution: Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
Carne y Arena by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu is an immersive mixed reality installation that allows visitors to walk barefoot across a beautiful sand desert while experiencing violent incidents by crossing the Mexican–U.S. border with illegal immigrants. Later, the visitors realize that they witnessed real-life accounts, which they can hear displayed in videos at the exhibit’s end. Thus, the visitors can get a better sense and understanding of refugees’ traumatic and powerless experiences.


The installation comprises three different rooms, a waiting (cold) room filled with authentic immigrant shoes, the actual six-minute VR experience, and a wall displaying the refugees’ video portrays. The waiting room is freezing like the rooms migrants stay in if the border patrol captures them. To feel the refugees’ vulnerability, the visitor needs to leave behind all their possessions, including their shoes and socks, before entering the VR area. 


Carne y Arena’s mixed reality combines VR performance with physical components turning it into a multisensory and bodily immersive experience (Jerald 2015; Kors et al. 2016; Lanier 2017; Uricchio 2018; Raessens 2019). While the VR headset creates a 3D virtual world, the installation considers the visitor’s body to invest it, embed it, and inhabit it with physical reactions and emotions provoked by the wind, temperature (heat and cold), ground texture, etc. Thus, sound, smell, touch, and sight operate at once, enhancing refugee’s storytelling. Another crucial component is the documentarian aspect. Engaging real-life stories through VR assist visitor’s recognition of characters’ traumatic experiences and their emotional reactions.


According to Iñárritu, he intended to subordinate technology to the human condition. “I despise technology,” says the filmmaker. According to him, technology does mean nothing unless it can reveal or denounce a human’s situation. Therefore, technology must be subordinated to humans, to humanity, and to the arts. However, has the film lost the power to engage the viewers emotionally? Can virtual reality simulate refugee’s dispossession (the sense of the self) while alleviating society’s consciousness?

Bio: Hudson Moura is a lecturer on film, new media, and global justice at the Department of Politics and Public Administration and an associate faculty at the Immigration and Settlement Studies Program at Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University. His scholarly work has been presented at numerous international conferences and published in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Currently, he is writing a book on refugees in films. As a documentarian, his films portray artists, writers, and culture. He served as a film programmer for several film festivals in Toronto. He has also facilitated numerous hands-on workshops on documentary, mobile filming, and video editing in universities and film festivals. He is a member of the Betinho Project Group, which aims to promote human rights, food security, and participatory democratic processes. He chairs the Interactive Narratives and Interculturality on Film and Media Research Group, focusing on the politics of race, migration, gender, and minorities (Indigenous, Black, anti-racist trans- feminist and queer) related to technology, media, and digital practices. (http://www.hudsonmoura.net)

Origins of the 21st Century: The Impact of Digital Technology on the Construction of the Cinematic Essay.

Title: Origins of the 21st Century: The Impact of Digital Technology on the Construction of the Cinematic Essay.

Presenter: James Slaymaker
Abstract: This paper explores the impact of technology on the practice and theorization of the cinematic essay, with a particular emphasis on the ways in which digital tools have shaped the form in the early 21st century. I first argue that the cinematic essay has been associated with technological evolution throughout its history, and then discuss recent examples of the form which utilize aesthetic strategies, editing techniques, and modes of spectatorial address that are rooted in the capabilities of digital technologies. I conceptualize the cinematic essay as a self-reflexive mode of nonfiction cinema that foregrounds the filmmaking apparatus and the production process. In doing so, the cinematic essay launches an enquiry into the ontological nature of the cinematic image, the tools which construct it, and the wider artistic landscape in which it is embedded. Drawing upon theoretical work on the essay by Theodor Adorno and Max Bense, this paper describes the cinematic essay as an experimental, non-systematic form of filmmaking, which offers a mode of resistance to standardized artistic styles and habituated viewing practices. Framing the cinematic essay as a countercultural, political art illuminates the potential it holds to help us better understand the digital networks of information that it itself is embedded within. Throughout the history of this form, prominent cinematic essayists have embraced new technologies as a means of expanding their practice. To illustrate how digitization has opened up new opportunities for essayistic expression, this paper draws parallels between the current use of digital moviemaking tools and earlier periods in which new technologies were utilized to reconfigure essayistic craft. In so doing, this paper highlights not only the differences but also the similarities between the digital cinematic essay and earlier variations of the form. By employing a theoretical framework based on genealogical investigation and sensitivity to the parallels between digital technologies and the cinematic technologies that preceded them, this paper counters a dominant trend in the study of new media which frames the digital as a revolutionary medium that has bifurcated the history of cinema into two neatly divided halves: the analogue era and the digital, or post-cinematic, era. This paper, therefore, frames the digital as the latest in a series of technological transformations that have reshaped essayistic texts. The cinematic essay has always demonstrated an impulse towards articulating a pronounced authorial voice, establishing an open-ended dialogue between the spectator and the text, and challenging traditional notions of documentary truth; the incorporation of digital technologies into the composition of the cinematic essay has refined and revitalized these aspects of the form. The three filmmakers I take as my primary case studies in this paper were central to the establishment of the cinematic essay as a mature form in the context of postwar art cinema and have since produced a variety of work in film, video and digital: Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, and Harun Farocki.

Bio: James Slaymaker is a PhD Student in Film Studies at the University of Southampton, fully funded by a presidential scholarship. His research topics include the cinematic essay, digital technology and contemporary European cinema. His work has been published in the journals Senses of Cinema, Bright Lights Film Journal, Film International, as well as the essay collection ReFocus: The Films of Paul Schrader (Edinburgh University Press). His first book Time is Luck: The Cinema of Michael Mann is currently in development with Telos Publishing. As a filmmaker, his work has been screened at the London DIY Film Festival, the Concrete Dream Film Festival, the InShort Film Festival and The Straight Jacket Film Festival.

"It’s Not Like I Could Change Anything, so Why Should I Care?"—Exploring Political Narratives in Depoliticized White Working-Class Environments.

Presenter: Lena A. Hübner

Registration Number: 027
Institution: Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada

Abstract:  In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Montrealers took to the streets to fight racism. While hashtags such as #blacklivesmatters and #LaVieDesNoirsCompte went viral, raising awareness about different types of discrimination racialized citizens face in Quebec, the CAQ government refused to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in the province. Scholars have studied the role online media interactivities play for human rights activists (Pilote & Hübner 2019) and for those who disseminate misinformation about such movements (Gimenez & Voirol 2017). Yet, little attention is paid to the publics these online campaigns are trying to reach, namely those who feel indifferent about the consequences of said political stances. As part of my PhD thesis, this paper explores how white francophone members of Quebec’s working-class who claim to disregard politics come into contact with social and political issues, such as immigration or poverty, in everyday life. I explore if and how the increased fragmentation of public discourse via social media shapes their (a)political stances in order to determine to what extent digital media usage reconfigures their relationship with politics throughout their lives. An intersectional narrative approach (Collins & Bilge 2020, Crenshaw, 1991) to whiteness (McMullan 2005; Du Bois 1922) combining three rounds of in-depth life-story interviews (n=8) (Chadwick 2017) and a one-year ethnographic observation of the interviewees’ social media accounts (Hine 2005) allowed me to analyze class, racial, nation, and gender dynamics via their “mediated everyday political experiences.” The gathered narratives show that participants avoid talking about politics in public settings, including online. Yet, they will discuss issues they care about, such as poverty, in more private settings (Eliasoph 1998). I have found that the way they talk about these issues reveals racist, gendered, classist, and anti-immigrant biases that sometimes draw from particular social media scripts associated with specific media outlets and political perspectives. The sites they access on social media tend to support a white francophone notion of Quebec’s political history, reinforcing key mechanisms of social division. Yet, all informants are aware of these pitfalls and try to prioritize “more reliable” news channels. Apparently, awareness of needing to diversify one’s media sources is not enough to arm white people against adopting discriminatory ideologies. However, analysis of follow-up interviews conducted shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak indicates that increased exposure to polarized messages and misinformation about the pandemic led participants to quit social mediaat least temporarilydespite the fact that a majority of social, political, educational, and professional relations were transferred into the virtual realm. The same participants who occasionally interacted with posts that reinforce social division mechanisms now claim they can’t cope with it anymore. The prioritization of less interactive news channels thus becomes a leitmotiv as the feeling of being unable to contribute to social change settles in.

Lena A. Hübner (Canada) is a PhD candidate at the Université du Québec à Montréal and a scientific coordinator at the CRICIS Research Centre. Her research interests focus on digital inequalities, politics, democracy, and intersectionality. For her thesis, she examines the role informational practices play in the relationship that white members of the Quebec working class maintain with politics throughout their lives, and to what extent digital media usage reconfigures this relationship. She recently co-authored the article “Feminist Mobilizations on Facebook and Twitter: The Case of #StopRapeCulture in Quebec” (2020) published in the French peer-reviewed journal Terminal.

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.

The Hypertext of Estonian Song as Narrative of Nation.

Presenter: Kalli Paakspuu
Registration Number: 063
Institution: Sheridan College, Toronto, Canada
Abstract: One precondition for a self-determination movement is having a common struggle, as in asserting control over identities and localities in an everyday political process. After centuries of successive occupations by Germans, Danes, Swedes, Poles and Russians, a distinct Estonian national identity emerged in response to social justice issues in the 19th century. This presentation will use a cultural studies approach to examine Estonian lyrical texts as hypertexts of nation. Estonian-Canadian composer Roman Toi conducted male choirs in Displaced Person’s Camps and in exiled communities to sing with “fists in the air” against the Soviet occupation of their homeland. Their songs reinforced a political engagement that re-ignited Estonian nationalism through the Singing Revolution that restored Estonia’s Republic in 1991. Excerpts from the feature documentary Maestro Roman Toi Beautiful Songs I Dedicate to You will be shown during this presentation.
The song texts of a choral tradition in Estonia became a political engagement in a separatist movement from the Russian Empire. "Nationalist ideologies use cultural devices to demonstrate the process of collective self-definition, to provide feelings of pride and hope connected with symbolic forms so that these can be consciously described, developed and celebrated" (Geertz 1973:252). How we understand who we are in the contemporary world is shaped by sites of identity production, what Stuart Hall (1992) calls “narratives of nationhood,” constructed by media, the arts, and institutions like museums and galleries. Definitions of nationhood are also created from "below" as during Ärkamisaeg, the Estonian Age of Awakening in the 19th Century, when Estonians acknowledged their right to govern themselves, which culminated into the Republic of Estonia by 1918.
The inception of the first Laulupidu, Estonian Song Festival, in Tartu in the summer of 1869 was when Estonian choral performance evolved from folk song arrangements into living carriers of Estonian cultural values and national solidarity celebrating 50 years of emancipation from serfdom. "'Narratives of nationhood' are stories that an ‘imagined community’ shares and connects to what pre-existed and will outlive them” (Hall 1992, p. 293). Choral music demands connection and for singers is a self-performance of social expression. Emergent narratives are constructed throughout our daily actions to help us remember, understand, categorize and share experience (Galyean, 1995).
The song festival had an electric effect on the growth of organized music and the formation of choirs and instrumental ensembles (Puderbaugh, 30). The same time one singer is performing, another singer is listening and singing with him. Narratives emerge as products of our interactions and goals as we navigate our worlds. A story produced by a group of improvising actors emerges from the interactions among the members of the group—similar to the spontaneous expression of a choir evoking embodied memory through the sensual and somatic. A poem becomes a driving de-colonizing force, building community in a hypertext of activism and as a narrative of nation.

Photo by Sergei Kibus

Bio: Kalli Paakspuu was awarded a doctorate from the University of Toronto for her research on early indigenous use of photography in international relations. She has published widely on film and media and teaches in the animation and design programme at Sheridan College in Oakville, Canada. Her dramatic and documentary films have toured internationally. Currently she is completing the biography music documentary, Maestro Roman Toi Beautiful Songs I Dedicate to You and developing a documentary about choral music as healing therapy.

Virtually Real—Aesthetics and Perception of Virtual Spaces in Film.

Presenters: Christian Iseli (PI); Miriam Laura Loertscher, Thomas Gerber, Valentin Huber, Michael Schaerer
Registration Number: 070
Institutions: Zurich University of the Arts and University of Bern, Switzerland
Abstract: Due to the rapid pace of the digitalization process, virtual production in film is gaining importance. This paper focuses on an interdisciplinary research project that investigates the effects of virtual production on visual aesthetics, on the changing workflows of filmmakers and actors, and on the perception of a cinema audience. In order to systematically compare conventional filmmaking with new virtual forms of production, two short feature films were shot both conventionally (in real locations) and virtually (in the digitally scanned versions of these locations). The filmmakers aspired to keep all parameters of the production the same so that wherever possible, the only differences would be in terms of spatial representation. The process of virtual production included shooting with green-screen and pre-visualization on the basis of real-time image rendering in moderate quality. The high-resolution variants, however, were still processed in post-production. Theoretical concepts from film and media studies served as an orientational background for this project, while the methodology comprised a combination of qualitative, practice-based research and quantitative methods, in the tradition of mixed methods. The following results are discussed from the perspective of the qualitative, practice-based approach: – In terms of visual aesthetics, the two film variants were hardly distinguishable. Digital artificiality due to visible compositing artifacts in the those with virtual backgrounds could only be determined in specific shooting situations. Furthermore, they were dependent on the resources that could be invested into post-production. – Due to the technical effort, the virtual production processes showed a strongly increased complexity of the workflows. Shooting in the studio was therefore much more labor-intensive. – For the actors, the virtual production process resulted in a high degree of abstraction of their working methods. In the green-screen studio, the spaces could only be experienced via monitors or, at best, with virtual reality goggles. The lack of immediacy in the experience required a high degree of additional concentration. Preliminary results of the quantitative audience study are also included: – The subjects, who neither knew the context nor the actual focus of the comparative study, did not realize that the backgrounds in one film variant were virtually simulated. To some degree, however, they were aware of the different image qualities of the variants. As virtual production continues to develop, green screens are being replaced by large arrays of LED displays, as in, for example, The Mandalorian (Lucasfilm & Fairview Entertainment, 2019). The present study shows that in the first phase of virtual production, in which green-screen procedures are still predominant, composition artifacts occur mainly in the context of moderate production resources and are still measurable in terms of image quality.

Christian Iseli, photo by Pierre Mennel, 2019

Bio: Christian Iseli
Christian Iseli has been teaching and researching at the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK since 1995. He holds a professorship for Immersive Arts, heads the Immersive Arts Space and teaches in the MA Film program. After studying history, German, and English literature at the University of Bern, Iseli was a director of documentary films and worked in editing and cinematography on feature films and documentaries.

Bio: Miriam Laura Loertscher
Miriam Laura Loertscher is the head of the Film Research Unit at the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film. She has been working as a research associate at the Institute for the Performing Arts and Film since 2014, focusing on film perception, digitalization, and acting research. She has worked in the field of cultural education and communication for over 15 years (film festivals / art museums) including video commissions and collaboration in short film productions.

Bio: Thomas Gerber
Thomas Gerber works as a director and editor for feature films and TV series, oscillating between the comedy and crime genre. He teaches directing and editing at the Zurich University of the Arts, where he also is a research associate. Having used CGI effects in many of his own movies in the past, he is interested in the blending of real and virtual worlds. He is currently working on new teaching methods to bring film and game design students closer together by using the tools of virtual film production and looking at cinematic narration through a new lens.

Bio: Valentin Huber
Valentin Huber is a visual artist based in Zurich. With two colleagues he founded the company Das alte Lager, which works in the field of visual effects, 3D animation, color grading and visuals. He also works as a research associate at the Zurich University of the Arts with a focus on virtual production, where he is co-developing an interactive tool for previsualization.

Bio: Michael Schaerer
Michael Schaerer is a film director and editor and holds a professorship for film editing at the Zurich University of the Arts. He is the head of the annual conference ZFiction and a research associate at the Institute of the Performing Arts and Film. Besides his own narrative work, he is particularly interested in using the tools of virtual production for world-building and the crafting of storyworlds with real-time game engines.

Non-Fungible Tokens: Authenticity and Connoisseurship in 21st-Century Digital Art.


Presenter: Irina Lyubchenko
Registration Number: 051
Institution: Independent Scholar, Toronto, Canada
Abstract: Authenticity of a work of art has always been a major concern for art dealers, collectors, museums, and art historical scholarship. Historically, authentication involved art experts, such as art historians, scholars, museum curators, and art dealers, to attribute a work of art to a particular artist, culture, or era. Despite common assumptions among the members of the public, attribution is rarely based on scientific tests of works of art and mainly relies on connoisseurship, or “sensitivity of visual perception, historical training, technical awareness, and empirical experience needed by the expert to attribute the object.” This paper looks into the history of connoisseurship and attribution of artworks, focusing on the latest chapter of this development, the non-fungible tokens or NFTs. The latter fully replaced the need for expert advice and “sensitivity of visual perception” and substituted the often-contested author signature for the computed digital signature or token, authenticating a work of art. Crypto-art and crypto-collectibles have flooded digital markets, offering authentic and unique art. Recently, Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days, the first digital artwork fitted with a non-fungible token offered by the major auction house Christie’s, sold for $69,346,250 on March 11, 2021. It is the third most expensive artwork sold by a living artist, following Jeff Koon’s sculpture Rabbit (1986) and David Hockney’s painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972). While Jeff Koons and David Hockney are the artists, whose theoretical perspectives are well known and have a secured place in an art historical canon, Beeple’s work and that of other digital NFT artists has not been fully investigated to be positioned in relation to art history, seemingly existing in a theoretical vacuum. The absence of artistic statements that usually accompany artworks contributes to this effect. Is it possible to think of the 21st century NFT-backed digital artists as the avant-gardes, who, like their 20th - century predecessors, confronted and condemned the art historical tradition? This paper claims that the transformation of the attribution process from that which relies on connoisseurship to the one dependent on computation alone may shed light on this question. Using historical and textual analyses, this essay provides a critical response to the recent artworld trends driven by the decentralized networks and currencies existing in fully digital ecosystems.

Bio: Irina Lyubchenko holds a PhD in Communication and Culture, an MFA in Visual Arts, a Bachelor of Technological Education, and an Honors BFA in Photography Studies. Her research investigates intersections between theories of historical avant-garde and digital culture. She is an educator, a researcher, and a practicing artist, who creates and theorizes digital media experiences. Throughout her career as a media artist, Lyubchenko worked with a range of creative tools, analog and digital. Currently, she investigates creative potentials of Virtual Reality and game development, using Unity and Oculus VR system. She is on her way to receive certification in Game Development from George Brown College. Lyubchenko is an avid proponent of experiential learning, which she practices daily in her own work and her classrooms.

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.


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.

Campus Reboot


Presenter: Susan Cardillo

Registration Number: 001
Institution: University of Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Abstract: Campus Reboot is a crowd-sourced, interactive and collaborative web-based documentary project and course. The project will be a living document of the historical times of college during the Covid19 pandemic and its aftermath. Working with 15 colleges around the world, students created videos, based on prompts, to share their feelings about college during Covid. Campus Reboot allows students to not only create works that speak to the voice of their generation, in the midst of a historical pandemic, but it also allows students to work with the footage from other schools, around the world, to create a broader story of our times. According to Nichols (2001), documentary projects are about telling stories concerning our shared world and how we want it to be. This generation grew in participatory art, video and community to begin the discovery that documentary could be about making purposeful stories with people rather than just about them (Rose, n.d.). This project uses crowd-sourced documentary to tell important stories and create a rich learning environment. Collaborative, crowd-sourced and interactive sites are all examples of Participatory Media. Participatory sites such as Youtube have changed the landscape of digital video storytelling. It can also be argued that social media sites are the new breeding ground for both collaborative and crowd-sourced video work. Campus Reboot uses Youtube as a cloud-based participatory site for video uploads and currently Wix as its cloud-based website placeholder and Klynt interactive software to create the home base. Collaborative documentary allows the scope of the documentary to expand with the addition of user-generated content. User-generated content can be remixed, reworked, and built upon to enrich the story (Bhimani, 2012). According to the MIT Open Documentary Lab, collaborative or co-created documentaries interpret the world, and seek to change it, through a lens of equity and justice (Clark & Cizek, 2019). Enabling students to learn and create in this international environment affords them new ways to interpret, understand and engage in the world through the experiences and insights of their peers. With interactive documentary the viewer is invited to become a creative partner in the story. It also enables a global access at any time through many entrances, including social networks (Uricchio, 2019). All of these documentary styles come together in unison to help both students and instructors work in new and collaborative ways to tell important stories in Campus Reboot.

Bio: Dr. Susan Cardillo has a Doctorate of Computer Science in Emerging Media concentrating on Interactive Documentary (digital storytelling) for Social Change. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Journalism at the University of Hartford. Dr. Cardillo was recently awarded the Innovations in Teaching award, as well as the Women’s Initiative Fellowship at the University of Hartford. Her area of research is Interactive and Micro-Documentary for Social Awareness and Change. Campus Reboot is her latest work, in progress.

Book or Music Video?: How Own Voices Picture Books Revolutionized Verbal and Visual Media.

"If you think writing for children is just practice for writing for grown-ups, think again. [Children] can spot a fraud a mile away." Andrew Melrose

Presenter: Pavlina Ferfeli
Registration Number: 016
Institution: University of Athens, Greece
Abstract: This paper examines the staggering rejuvenation of children’s picture books in the last decade, as a direct result of emerging narratives that celebrate racial identity, underrepresented culture, and heritage at the point of extinction. Awarded works such as Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated, Carole Lindstrom’s We are Water Protectors, and Tami Charles’ All Because You Matter, push the boundaries of children’s literature to its limit, by challenging concepts related to appropriacy, narrative structure, subject matter, iconicity, and reception. Simultaneously, the Covid pandemic influenced the children’s publishing world no less than the “Own Voices” picture book, contributing to an entirely new landscape in the domain of digital storytelling. In a post-pandemic world, we witness a dramatic change in the practices of most publishing houses, which dare to explore uncharted copyright territory, and graciously grant more permissions to writers, teachers, and librarians to share picture book content through various media platforms. The combination of the momentum of the “Own Voices” picture book and the newly emerging licensing landscape had amazing repercussions in both storytime reception and children’s publishing dynamics.  Apart from an unprecedented boost of sales, rise in readership, and the founding of new imprints, the very fact that in digital read-aloud storytime a staggering amount of artistic media intersect, leads to the birth of a hybrid new genre – that of the picture book video. However, although this uncharted intermedial territory of “Own Voices” picture book video is one to follow, there are additional voices raised that speak of cacophony. In March 2021, BIPOC young adult author Rin Chupeco made an unusually poignant remark. Unhesitatingly sincere, Chupeco tweeted that the #ownvoices picture book has been metamorphosed into a punitive “cudgel” used on the part of publishers. The tweet soon gathered thousands of likes, raising a fiery and challenging question: Has the “Own Voices” literary edifice painstakingly erected itself into a prison cell with bars of freedom?

Pavlina Ferfeli portrait 
by Lily Kapetanaki

Pavlina Ferfeli is an independent scholar from Greece who was awarded a Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Athens for her work on the American poet Mina Loy. Her academic work has been presented, published, and reviewed internationally. Her monograph Poetics of Identity: Mina Loy Voicing the Fluid Female Body, is available from Peter Lang. She has been awarded various poetry prizes, notably from the British Council, and forms an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators). Her research interests include postcolonial theory, corporeality, representation, and the semiotic intersections between poetry and the fine arts, with a special focus on media and media art.

Indigenous and Migrant Embodied Cartographies: Mapping the Inter-relations of the Odeimin Runners Club.

Presenters: Debbie Ebanks Schlums, Adrian Kahgee, and Rebeka Tabobondung
Registration Number: 045
Institution: York University and MUSKRAT Magazine, Toronto, Canada
Abstract: The Odeimin Runners Club is a new Indigenous and Black-Persons-of-Colour (BPOC) media collective creating an online story map using an open-source satellite mapping platform. By tracing activities and connections in our engagements with each other and our communities, our counter-mapping project re-traces trade and ceremonial routes between the north of Turtle Island and the Caribbean archipelago, linking stories, videos and artworks to traditional territories. Our objective in this first project phase is to make short films using Bolex film cameras and process cinema methodologies that incorporate plants and organic materials in film processing. The short films are themed on human survival, land connection, rematriation, and BIPOC counter-mapping as a means to thread our knowledges and stories together as we visit each other’s territories in order to connect and share traditional wisdom that imparts important knowledge and strength to help navigate current political and environmental instabilities facing our communities. As a collective of Ogimaakwe—women warriors, Indigenous and Caribbean—we have rejected a decolonial framework. Beyond the “decolonization is a metaphor” critique outlined by Tuck and Yang (2012), we argue that decolonization inherently embeds failure because it is premised on the one hand, on a defeated peoples, and on the other, on achieving or restoring a way of living, working and being in the world prior to colonization. Instead, we propose an a-colonial approach based on odeimin teachings. Odeimin means heartberry, or strawberry, and it grows and thrives by sending out runners, creating a networked lattice of relations between individual plants. These plants are a metaphor for individuals and communities—one cannot survive disconnected from relations with each other. A framework of Odeimin Teachings converges with what Eades and Zheng (2016) refer to as a “resisting practice,” with the ethos of Marcus Garvey’s self-reliant philosophy and strategy. This a-colonial framework resists oppressive capitalist systems while taking a different path: one outside of colonialism’s hegemonic frameworks. This project shows contemporary relations on a continuum rather than as “new encounters,” outside the language of discovery and within a concept of time immemorial, activating and re-activating the long ties between Indigenous communities, between Black and Indigenous peoples on the mainland and between the islands and the mainlands. This is not to discount the contested position of immigrants as settlers on the territory, but to say that we can build a different relationship outside of a white colonizing paradigm, one that might be less attached to ownership of land. The purpose of this project is to ground our cultural identities in the land of northern and rural Ontario—land that has been dispossessed through colonization by which Indigenous and Black POC’s histories were buried or made invisible as if we did not belong.

Bio: Debbie Ebanks Schlums
Debbie Ebanks Schlums is an art-researcher, PhD student and Vanier Scholar in Cinema and Media Studies at York University. Her research explores methodologies of Caribbean diasporic archiving in the Jamaican Diaspora through storytelling and media installation. Debbie is a recipient of the Susan Crocker and John Hunkin Scholarship in the Fine Arts, and Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council grants. She was a founding member of the Out of a War Zone and To Lemon Hill Collectives, both addressing the Syrian refugee crisis. She is a former Co-Director of the Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film and Co-Producer of Saugeen Takes on Film.

Bio: Adrian Kahgee
Adrian Kahgee, (Saugeen First Nation), founding member of Odeimin Runner’s Club, is an artist and Community Arts Educator, currently teaching Visual Arts and Indigenous Studies, with the Bluewater District School Board. She is former Co-Artistic Director and Community Co-ordinator for the Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film. Adrian is Co-Producer of Saugeen Takes on Film, a community-based film program working with artisans, youth and knowledge keepers from her community. Her current artistic practices, of painting, performance activated installations and film, are centered around continuous research, exploration, and sharing of familial and communal knowledge, on our existence upon Turtle Island since time immemorial. Her work has been featured at Creemore Festival of the Arts, Reel World Film Festival, imagineNATIVE, FADO, ANDPVA and CBC Radio.

Bio: Rebeka Tabobondung
Media and story creator Rebeka Tabobondung is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of MUSKRAT Magazine.com, a leading digital Indigenous arts and culture magazine established in 2010. Rebeka is also a filmmaker, writer, poet, and Indigenous knowledge researcher with a strong body of work focused on Indigenous birth knowledge. Since 2017, Rebeka has been working as a creator, researcher, and writer with award winning Montreal based Rezolution Pictures, who along with APTN are partners in the Spirit of Birth web series and interactive Spirit of Birth mobile App and digital platform. In 2011, Rebeka produced and directed the short doc, Spirit of Birth in partnership with the National Screen Institute, which screened across Canada and internationally. Rebeka’s written works are published in numerous books, journals, and anthologies.