Just like a decade ago, when the internet began to converge with traditional media, the future of interactive and immersive media is once again unknown and being shaped by pioneers working in very different disciplines. That is why IDFA DocLab has opened up its platform and launched a five-year R&D program in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Open Documentary Lab).
Instead of focusing on a single medium, technology or discipline, IDFA DocLab has been openly and independently showcasing the best interactive documentary art and storytelling since 2007. It has become a key international platform for new talent, artistic innovation, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Meanwhile, new developments in immersive technology—like virtual reality, as well as AR, MR and AI—have introduced explosive new opportunities. But as new immersive consumer devices are being introduced to the masses, key questions still exist around how to successfully live up to the true potential of immersive media.
The IDFA DocLab Research & Development Program uses the festival as a living lab for experimentation, research, and development. The program is aimed at the growing international ecosystem of artists, developers, scientists and entrepreneurs working in interactive and immersive content, and each year we will focus on specific research questions that arise from developments in the field.
In 2018, the first year of the program, one of the research domains was aimed at developing a robust evaluative framework for AI-based storytelling systems. We undertook this by investigating how makers and their audiences conceptualize Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In 2019, the second research domain was the narrative coherence in VR/AR experiences. The starting point here was the evident tension between strategies based on ‘story-telling’ and those based on ‘story-finding’—between makers trying to communicate a particular narrative, and users being free to explore and find their own—often different—stories.
The 2020-2021 research initiative explored the battery of augmentation technologies and techniques used by communities, documentary makers, and artists to claim, reclaim, and reimagine their public spaces, both physically and digitally.
We are currently starting the fifth year of the R&D Program, building on the knowledge and experimentation of our findings. This year, we are looking into hybrid spaces that support and mix both digital (online) and analog (‘real world’) encounters. We are trying to understand how participants orient themselves, how they make sense of their individual and social experiences, and what this might mean for their encounters with media projects.
An integral component of the research program is the R&D Summit, a think tank event for experts from all corners of the interactive and immersive storytelling industry to explore next steps in developing the medium. The program presents information gained from research, case studies, prototypes, and demos of interactive and immersive storytelling experiments in progress, and cross-sector expert meetings. By invitation only.
Through our living lab framework, all festival projects and participants contribute to our growing ecosystem of research and development. The R&D Summit, DocLab Exhibition, Interactive Conference, and DocLab live events all play a role, to name but a few components. Artists working in the field of interactive/immersive media have the opportunity to participate in the R&D Program through the annual IDFA DocLab Call for Festival Submissions and our Open Call for Festival Commissions, which both open up during the first half of the year. To learn about other avenues for involvement, sign up for IDFA’s new media mailing, and keep an eye on this page.
IDFA DocLab is supported by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy of the Netherlands, CLICKNL, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Netherlands Film Fund, and IDFA Special Friends+.
DocLab research collaboration partners include MIT Open Documentary Lab, Beeld & Geluid, ARTIS-Planetarium, Diversion cinema, National Film Board of Canada, POPKRAFT, Cie Gilles Jobin, The Immersive Storytelling Studio (National Theatre) and Flemish Cultural Center de Brakke Grond.