The MIT Open Documentary Lab held it’s first official event back on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 a day-long summit called “The New Arts of Documentary.” Part of the MIT Open Doc Lab’s mission is to bring “storytellers, technologists, and scholars together to explore new documentary forms with a particular focus on collaborative, interactive, and immersive storytelling.”

William Uricchio is the Founder & Principal Investigator of the MIT Open Doc Lab, and he’s got a background in painting, philosophy, and a Ph.D. in film where he’s studied new communications mediums in the phase before they’ve crystallized into commonly accepted standards for the affordances, language, and uses for storytelling. So he’s particularly interested in tracking the evolution of immersive storytelling potential within virtual reality.

I had a chance to catch up with Uricchio at the IDFA DocLab 2019 where we talk about a number of the open questions that the MIT Open Doc Lab is currently investigating, a little bit about how virtual reality fits relative to other mediums from a Comparative Media Studies perspective, and some of the challenges he sees for virtual reality. There hasn’t been a consensus about what language to use from and which theoretical scopes work best when talking about virtual reality experiences as it’s pulling insights from film, video games, theater, immersive theater, literature, web design, magic, audio tours, performance art, and psychogeography.

We have a brief debate as to whether 360 video should be considered VR, and there are a number of other points of disagreement that I elaborate on in my takeaways at the end of the podcast interview related to whether or not the immersive technology stack is stable enough to build critical frameworks on top of.

Other things worth calling out here in the show notes is the Ph.D. paper by Deniz Tortum on Embodied Montage in Virtual Reality. Uricchio also mentioned the film semiotics scholar Christian Metz who has done a lot of pioneering work in showing how film can be seen as a language. There’s still a lot of work being done in trying to determine how much of the cinematic vocabulary is present or absent within VR, and overall Uricchio is also really excited about the many potentials of telling data stories with AR that are overlaid a specific geographic context.

Overall, the MIT Open DocLab is doing a lot of great work in this space, and there’s also quite a bit of overlap with the work they’re doing and the work I’m doing here with the Voices of VR podcast. They’ve been publishing quite a bit of articles and information on their Immerse News Medium hub covering what’s happening in the immersive storytelling space with XR and AI. There’s a great interactive white paper called Moments of Innovation that helps to contextualize the history and evolution of different communication modalities. They’re keeping a database of innovative interactive and immersive documentaries at Docubase. The Co-Creation Studio is a new initiative to look at the collaborative production of documentary content. Finally, there’s a page with all of the MIT Open Doc Lab’s research since it’s beginning in 2012.


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Music: Fatality

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