The Doclab program at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam provides an annual harvest of interactive documentaries from around the world, and is a great way to survey the state of the art.
Like last year, the productions show a great diversity in form and subjects - from coal to sex and from Goa to Chernobyl - but there seems to be less experimentation with interfaces and more emphasis on (relatively) straightforward storytelling. Using text, photos, audio and fullfledged video, the majority of the documentaries limit themselves to a few, by now conventional ways of ordering their nonlinear content, like chapters, maps and themes. One technological innovation is that this year sees the first HTML5-built online documentary ('Highrise: One Millionth Tower').
Also interesting to see is how Arte and Canada's NFB are emerging as the main platforms for interactive documentaries, alongside a fair number of independent and do-it-yourself productions.
One impressive documentary is the French 'Insitu', directed by Antoine Viviani, "an interactive film on ephemeral interventions in public space". In an essayistic, mildly surreal style, the film takes a modern situationist approach to urban activism, public art and recalcitrant philosophy - really any kind of provocative strategy to jolt the public of European cities out of their well-ordered complacency.
In one scene, a voice explains in Spanish over the loudspeaker in a subway (which in itself creates a tantalizing contrast with the bored passengers):
Your attention please. I remember the German baroque era. There were tombs in the churches with inscriptions. On some was written: 'Sta, viator' ('stop, traveller'). Watch out, you who pass by. Watch out, for life is a soft touch, life is catastrophe, life is love, revolution, to sense, a big confusion of things. And art is a 'sta viator'.
'Insitu' collects some great poetic examples, ranging from plans for a theme park in La Défense, Paris, to a pair of giants roaming the streets of Antwerp, and from a floating man on a street corner to another performing a dance with a bulldozer. It also nicely balances visual and narrated ideas.
The film's format is simple, with a linear presentation, but the various chapters contain playful extras while the website's map interface collects many more, user-contributed examples from all over Europe. Recommended to explore.