Interactive Village –
A shapeshifted interactive media production
Interactive Village is a prototype media production using interactive multimedia production tools developed as part of the European research project NM2 (New Media for a New Millennium). The production, which offers a documentary profile of the Czech village Dolní Roveň, allows users to piece together an individual viewing based on their own interests and choices. These can be selected through interaction with the user interface which facilitates navigation through the village to meet the inhabitants and to determine subject and depth of the information.
Human interest stories
The documentary approach taken in Interactive Village intends to address “human interest” stories. Its purpose is not to offer a programme formula as such, rather to test out a variety of strategies that could be easily adapted to future programming scenarios.
We, the producers had visited the village on a regular basis over a period of 2 years and worked in close collaboration with anthropologists from the University of Pardubice in order to identify and collect relevant information. This included shooting of video material, establishing shots, archive images (still photographs and, in some instances, paintings made by local children), video diaries and cut-away details. It was always evident that its significance would not be fully realised without allowing the user to navigate in the village. This not only mirrored the exploratory nature of the filming process, but developed a virtual landscape in which the viewer could explore the village. In the gathering of material for the production, rather than shooting a definitive storyline (or storylines), we found ourselves looking for “story potentials” in the style of the early stages of investigative journalism - bearing in mind it is a ‘story’ that does not have to be finally “written-up” in a definitive manner. Consequently it is up to the users to develop the narrative building blocks provided by the media tools into the “story” of their own choice. The “shapeshift” production tools, developed by the NM2 project, provided the ideal environment for making such a user-navigable production.
The Interactive Village User-Interface
The interface presents a map of the village (at the bottom of the screen), a selection of thumbnails (left) representing different video clips that can be accessed and a viewing window (right). Below the window are A, B, C & D buttons that enable users to steer the narrative in terms of its duration – button A extends the narrative; button B reduces it. In addition the narrative pathways can be steered by responding to on-screen prompts by selecting button C or you can choose a voice-over explanation with button D.
For example, viewers can choose an ’unofficial’ view of the village from Mr Zevl, the newsagent or the ‘official’ view of the mayor, Mrs Vinarova.
However the users may prefer the expert ‘outsider’s’ view and select anthropologist Peter Skalník who comments on recent social and political change. Or, yet another view of the village can be selected, perhaps from a female anthropologist. In this case, Hana Novotná can present a different perspective and considers the central role of Mr Zevl in the village community.
The Interactive Village production offers a new kind of formula to existing documentary genres, offering a range of unique interactive experiences on a sliding scale from news headline presentation to in-depth documentary, or from automatic presentation to user-explored/contributed ethnography. Each configuration provides a personalised interactive experience, where the source sequences are configured seamlessly in real time to suit the personal wishes and needs of engagers.
You can find more information on The Interactive Village at the NM2 production page http://www.ist-nm2.org/media_productions.html
Please send us your comments on this article.