Julia Scott-Stevenson got her practice-based Ph.D. on interactive and immersive documentaries (aka “i-docs”) and social impact with her i-doc Giving Time. She’s now a research fellow of interactive factual media at the Digital Cultures Research Center at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and she produces the i-Docs Symposium that’s coming up on March 25-27, 2020.

Scott-Stevenson was also an Immersion Fellow in the South West Creative Technology Network where she received grant money that she used to travel to different film festivals to see the latest immersive documentary narrative experiments. It’s from this experience that she decided to write up five experiential design tips into a pieced called “Manifesto: Virtual Futures: A Manifesto for Immersive Experiences.” Here are the five major points of her VR manifesto with some annotations for how I see each of these points fit into the experiential design process.

  1. Stage an encounter — See also: connection, conversation [Me: Mental & Social Presence]
  2. Be wild: Bewilderment is powerful — See also: Joy, awe [Me: Character of Experience]
  3. Move from being to doing — See also: agency, interaction, control [Me: Active Presence]
  4. Embody the future — See also: bodies, voices [Me: Embodied Presence]
  5. Care: the participants matter — Onboarding. Offboarding. [Me: Context switch from IRL to Magic Circle]

Scott-Stevenson also shared a number of pointers to different critical theorists & philosophers including Levinas on encounters, Sarah Pink on Digital Ethnography & tracking how people use technology, how Visual Sociology uses photography & documentary as a form of anthropological documentation, Sharon Clark on immersive theater, Jeremy Bailenson’s work with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and Mel Slater’s work with University of Barcelona’s EVENT Lab (Experimental Virtual Environments for Neuroscience and Technology).

Some of definitions of documentary that Scott-Stevenson finds informative include:

  • John Grierson: “Creative treatment of actuality.”
  • Bill Nichols: “Discourses of Sobriety”
  • Dirk Eitzen: “A documentary is any motion picture that is susceptible to the question ‘Might it be lying?’”

We also talk about about what is and is not an immersive documentary, and whether the definition is changing and evolving. We also talk about how to tell the story of a place, and how there may not be just one singular, central grand narrative. She’s been collaborating with South West Creative Technology Network fellow Coral Manton on an augmented reality app that tries to show many different perspectives on a single location or artifact.

Finally, the biggest issue that she sees that we’re facing is global climate change, and she’s hoping that the immersive and interactive documentaries can help to find new ways to tell the social, environmental, and social impact stories on issues that matter. Perhaps these types of experiences can find new ways to engage and reach new audiences, and help to tell new stories in a way that inspires people to make incremental changes in their behaviors.


Here are the Immersion prototypes from the South West Creative Technology Network:

Here’s Sarah Pink talking about Digital Ethnography

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Music: Fatality

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