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idfa doclab: do not touch

From an oilfield boomtown documentary that is also a sims game, to a crowdsourced music video that makes your cursor part of a swarm - this year's Doclab program at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam showed that 'interactive reality' has matured to the point where it's the idea and story that count and not the fact that you can click on it.

To be sure, there are still plenty of experiments exploring the possibilities of new technology - such as Arcade Fire / Chrome piece 'Just a Reflektor', which creates an interactive experience by connecting your phone to your computer screen, and Bot & Dolly's 'Box', a robot performance exploring projection-mapping on moving surfaces.

But the most interesting projects are those that curb their fascination for technology to let the story take center stage. The three examples below also show what happens when documentary crossbreeds with a variety of other genres. Their interactivity is really the only common denominator.

'Fort McMoney' is a live unfolding, interactive documentary on an epic scale about the Canadian oilfields near the town of Fort McMurray. Investigating the influence of the oil industry on this modern boomtown, whose social and ecological fabric is stretched to tearing point by the influx of oildiggers from all over the world, the documentary let's you explore the town and meet its inhabitants. But it also let's you in on a series of political debates that, while locally framed, clearly have global relevance. Where this project really gets big (and perhaps a little too big for its own good) is that the results of the weekly user referendums are visualized in an aimated town simulation, creating a kind of parallel reality. Very interesting to immerse yourself in, if you have the time.

'Type:Rider' is a video game that traces the history of typography, with each level exploring a well-known font, from classics like Garamond, Futura and Helvetica to the infamous Comic Sans. Beautifully designed and very playable, the game also includes written chapters on each of the fonts, and while probably not everyone will bother with this educational aspect of the project, 'Type:Rider's strength is in the way it employs gameplay itself to evoke a great and often underappreciated part of our cultural history.

Light Light - do Not Touch

'Do Not Touch' is Moniker's video for Light Light, the collaboration of Dutch bands zZz and Saelors. (Incidentally, zZz already have a track record of great videos, including 2008's 'Running with the Beast'.) In what Moniker describes as "a celebration of the nearing end of the computer cursor", this web-based video tracks your mouse movements across a series of fun tasks and shows the aggregate of all visitors' cursors in one great swarm. This humorous and playful project, using inventive yet fairly simple interactivity, offers a great example of crowdsourced interaction, creating a video that continually evolves with each new viewer. It also makes the by definition individual experience of operating your mouse into a crowded phenomenon that behaves with an uncanny group instinct.

This was the harvest of two live screenings earlier this week, 'Playing with Reality' and 'The Age of the Interface', but the Doclab website contains many more projects.

a phony doc

'Salinger' is the kind of documentary you have to be glad the famous writer didn't live to see. The sensational tone, bombastic music and papparazzi zoom lenses all add to an uncomfortable invasion of J.D. Salinger's literary legacy - which is conveniently reduced to 'troubled genius' and 'we have a right to know what's in the safe'.

You could also argue the other way, that 'Salinger' tells the important story of a cultural obsession, America's paradoxical relationship with literary rite of passage 'Catcher in the Rye' (1951), which both held up a mirror to a phony society and became the professed inspiration for several acts of senseless violence. The film indeed epitomizes this obsession, but nowhere does it manage to reflect on it, as most of the interviewees are far too busy recounting their own little adventure stalking the troubled genius.

However, the documentary, which showed at IDFA this week, does make some intriguing claims about new Salinger books to be published starting in 2015, providing a first answer to the long-standing mystery of what the author had been working on since his last publication in the 1960s up to his death in 2010.

This half century of reclusive writing would, according to the filmmakers' unidentified sources, include new material about Holden Caulfield and a chronicle of the Glass family, as well as works dealing with Salinger's experiences in WWII and a religious manual on Vedanta Hinduism.

Now that's something to look forward to, but it doesn't mean you need to see the film: this article tells you all you need to know.

Update: And this article, reporting three stories leaked online, including a prequel to 'The Catcher in the Rye' titled 'The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls'.

come up for air

A chance discovery, Norwegian band The White Birch, who named themselves after a Codeine album. Their 2006 album 'Come Up For Air' would probably be labelled chamber pop, with melodious, melancholic songs revealing a fragile beauty. The album cover reflects the music rather wonderfully.

The White Birch - Come Up for Air

The quiet atmosphere of 'Come Up For Air' and its crystalline yet intimate production recall Talk Talk, while the slow-moving songs and male-female duets remind of Mojave 3's 'Ask Me Tomorrow'.

Album highlights include 'Your Spain', 'Seer Believer', 'Stand Over Me' and 'The Astronaut'.

Despite the long tail we were promised, this one's hard to find. But well worth seeking out!

november light

In his recently discussed poem 'November', J.C. Bloem describes the peculiar Dutch light of this month of rain and gloomy fog as "ongekleurd namiddaglicht", literally "colorless late afternoon light". So what does this light look like? It seems impossible to photograph in any evocative way because it would just look grey and, well, colorless.

Two years ago I posted some shots of November fog in the polder. Here are a few more attempts...

November near Kokengen - 1

November near Kokengen - 2

November near Kokengen - 3

November near Kokengen - 4

To be fair, there are also some beautiful November days, when the light is clear and crystalline, and the sun sets in a slow, deep burning of color...

November near Kokengen - 5

November near Kokengen - 6

November near Kokengen - 7

November near Kokengen - 8

(Photos taken near Kokengen - on different days.)


To start off November in suitably stoic fashion, here is J.C. Bloem's poem 'November' - a classic in Dutch literature. From its famously gloomy opening line (how much more dreary does it get: "it's raining and it is November"!), it proceeds with utter resignation to describe how age and the habit of life, as Pessoa would say, slowly force us to submit to the dull march of time, until even the memory of youthful dreams has faded and only an empty eternity remains.

Is it really that bad? Well, yes, this is Holland, it's raining and it is November...

It's raining and it is November:
Autumn lays siege now to the heart
That sadly, though more wont than ever,
Endures its secret pains apart.

And in the room, where resignation
Sees daily life pass as it may,
From streets that speak of desolation
A bleak light falls at close of day.

The years pass by but never alter,
The difference will soon be gone
Between dim memories that falter
And what is lived and is to come.

Lost are the ways I knew of gaining
Release from time in earlier days;
Always November, always raining,
Always this empty heart, always.

Translation by John Irons. (It seems there should be another translation, in an English collection of Bloem's poems, but I haven't been able to find this.) Anyway, here is the Dutch for comparison:

Het regent en het is november;
Weer keert het najaar en belaagt
Het hart, dat droef, maar steeds gewender,
Zijn heimelijke pijnen draagt.

En in de kamer, waar gelaten
Het daaglijks leven wordt verricht,
Schijnt uit de troosteloze straten
Een ongekleurd namiddaglicht.

De jaren gaan zoals zij gingen,
Er is allengs geen onderscheid
Meer tussen dove erinneringen
En wat geleefd wordt en verbeid.

Verloren zijn de prille wegen
Om te ontkomen aan de tijd;
Altijd november, altijd regen,
Altijd dit lege hart, altijd.
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