Next Gen Storytelling and How to Transform Documentaries into Interactive Masterpieces

Posted on August 23, 2015


Big things are afoot in documentary storytelling. As online audiences grow more accustomed to choosing how stories develop, interactive documentaries show the way.

Documentary wiki

Documentaries are changing and it is not because the subjects are less interesting when told as a traditional linear story – beginning, middle and end. Web technology and the rebirth of virtual reality means that documentary storytellers have almost limitless ways of creating and showing their stories.

Web and VR are young technologies and developing all the time. What we have seen in the past few years are a number of incredible projects – Prison Valley, Fort McMoney, Hollow, High Rise (Out My Window) – that play with ideas like gaming, curation and cinematic video to create online worlds and communities that traditional doc shooters could only dream of.

Dive In
First of all, massive praise must go to the National Film Board of Canada and Arte TV, who are really leading the way in this medium, plus New York’s Tribeca Film Institute/Festival and Sheffield Doc Fest in the UK, for their educational efforts and events showcasing interactive documentary.


If you want to get a sense of how these projects are made and where the technology is heading, then try MIT’s OpenDoc Lab. You will find a considered history of innovation in documentary and an incredible array of resources on how storytelling is changing, including a link to the MIT docubase, an interactive database with the people, projects and technologies making things happen.

Work your way through this little shortlist at Docubase for starters:

  • The Enemy
  • – a VR gaze into the soul of fighters in conflicts throughout the world.

  • In Limbo
  • – an interactive work exploring digital memory and the internet.

  • Last Hijack
  • – step into the midst of a Somalian pirate ship hijack.

Docubase also has a great list of tools to enable anyone with ambitions of making their own interactive docs or just looking to add those elements to their digital video. Encounter publishing tools, smartphone and mouse/keyboard controls for VR video, and gaming software to transform the way you work.

Show Me The Money
OpenDoc Lab also has two great articles on how to go about financing an interactive doc. Within you will find a comprehensive guide to the organisations putting up money to help digital storytellers get their projects off the ground, helping you to connect with influencers, and meet people to work and collaborate with.

FoST sensory stories

For extra juice, check out the Future of Storytelling website. FoST holds an annual summit (in the US) bringing together leaders in digital tech and storytelling. On the site there is also an excellent blog and video collection.

On a final note, one resource which I find particularly helpful as a journalist is the Nieman Lab. Video and documentary are one of hundreds of topics covered on this site dedicated to helping journalists navigate digital technology and the internet era. Everything from chat apps to podcasts, VR to social media, and much more is discussed and analysed in depth. Learn a little something and see how journalists are working today.