This blog post will present a brief case study of the online interactive documentary ‘Thanatorama’ – found here.
This ‘webdocumentary’ experience takes us on a journey to the grave and afterlife. In quite vivid detail, the viewer is treated as though they are a corpse experiencing the trip from being prepared for the funeral ceremony to being buried. Along the way they are encouraged to make decisions about their own death journey. In this way, making various choices to direct the narrative, the experience is interactive.
My first reaction this interactive documentary was ‘ewwwwwwww’! Although the concept is very interesting, and the viewer is challenged to imagine what their own afterlife experience will be, it is still shocking and unsettling to see what actually takes place – especially as the body is being preserved and prepared for the funeral. This is quite shocking and unpleasant to experience.
Despite this creepy nature of the piece, it is still engaging and challenging. Though definitely in a documentary style, this project features minimal interaction from viewers. Audiences do not get a chance to add their own content to the project, but they do get to direct the order of the narrative. This style resonates with Galloway’s idea of an ‘active adaptive’ interactive documentary, ‘where the viewer is in control of the documentary’s progression’ (Gaudenzi, pg. 30), as well as Nash’s ‘narrative webdoc’, which ‘tends to propose a dominant narrative, even if the user is free to navigate through it with different logics’ (Gaudenzi, pg. 31). Essentially, the story runs like a choose-your-own-adventure. It is still a truly interactive documentary, yet it does not go to the next level and allow people to add to it themselves.
Much like any usual documentary in form, Thantorama presents the common features of the genre: “use of interviews and observational sequences, sound and images collected on location, and commentary either in the form of voiceover or text” (Nash, pg. 198). Images and film are used to introduce characters throughout the documentary, and one main voice narrates the entire journey. Audio is also used to add a mysterious, eerie mood to the piece, the subject matter obviously warranting this.
Because this example does not heavily rely on social media, I will instead outline a way in which this could have been incorporated. Clearly the webdocumentary could be ‘shared’ on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and a link could have been provided on the site to encourage and enable this. In terms of using social media to give audiences an opportunity to contribute to the piece, this could have been done by allowing users to send in footage, audio and requests for further options. The only option I can find within the documentary for direct user interaction is a separate ‘condolences’ page, in which people can upload their own condolences/eulogies online about their deceased loved ones.
It is also possibly necessary to mention that this webdocumentary is spoken in French! It was created by Ana Maria de Jésus – who is clearly French. We are provided with English subtitles so we can read along and follow the narrative, yet primarily this is a French documentary. (Could there be cultural differences/differences in translation perhaps?) The format of the piece is a website, and it appears to have been created just as a usual website would be.