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Documentary Production
Focus on interactive

Production of interactive documentaries

Next update March 2017


Screen Australia’s documentary production data covers documentaries intended for cinema and/or TV release. Recent years have seen a growing number of interactive documentaries produced for online delivery, in addition to the traditional broadcast documentary slate. Australian interactive documentaries are mainly supported by the television broadcasters (predominantly the public broadcasters ABC and SBS) and federal and state film funding agencies.

Interactive documentaries, also known as web documentaries or i-docs, are multimedia documentary projects distributed via the internet. They are defined by a number of characteristics:

  • Like film or television documentaries, they present a creative interpretation of actuality.
  • They feature video content as well as various other media such as images, text, audio, hyperlinks and user-generated content.
  • The user navigates through the components of the project autonomously and/or contributes, for example by uploading content.
  • They may be standalone projects, or launched in conjunction with broadcast documentary series, where substantial content is produced specifically for the interactive component of the project (as opposed to a companion website which may feature repurposed broadcast material or minimal original content.)
  • Interactive documentaries are distinguished from online archives or databases by the interpolation of media assets within an overarching narrative or point of view.
  • They generally display a consistent and distinctive visual style.

The profile of interactive documentaries has grown in recent years. Film festivals such as Tribeca, Sundance and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam have begun to showcase interactive documentaries as part of their programs. They have featured prominently at awards events such as the South by Southwest Interactive Awards and the Webby Awards. Internationally, European public broadcaster Arte and Canada’s National Film Board are regarded as leading producers of interactive documentaries.

Locally, the former Film Australia (replaced by Screen Australia in 2008), a government-owned company charged with producing documentaries of national significance, began exploring the convergence of documentary and interactive digital media in the late 1990s with the production of multimedia documentaries distributed via CD-ROM.

The ABC was another early innovator, partnering with Cinemedia in 1999 (now Film Victoria) on a Multimedia Production Accord. The accord saw both organisations commit funding to collaborative multimedia projects between the Victorian-based independent production sector and the ABC.

The ABC and the former Australian Film Commission (replaced by Screen Australia in 2008) jointly established the Broadband Production Initiative in 2002 and the Broadband Cross-media Production Initiative in 2006. These initiatives financed interactive fiction and non-fiction projects specifically developed and produced for broadband delivery.

The ABC continues to produce interactive documentary through its ABC Innovation division. Its most recent interactive documentary, The Opera House Project, enables users to explore the history of the Sydney Opera House through archival materials, original interviews and 3D visualisations.

SBS has produced a number of award-winning interactive documentaries including The Block: Stories from a Meeting Place, which explores the social and political history of the Indigenous-owned housing precinct, and Immigration Nation, which accompanied the television series of the same name.

ScreenWest has been particularly active in supporting interactive digital productions in recent years, including interactive documentaries, through development and production funding. In addition, the ScreenWest/SBS Digital Factual Initiative 2011 was targeted specifically at interactive documentary, providing funding for a project by a Western Australian digital content producer to be hosted on the SBS website. 

Screen Australia has supported interactive documentaries since its inception in 2008, through funding programs such as the Multiplatform Documentary Production program, the National Documentary Program, and the Documentary Producer program.

The creation of interactive documentaries requires a combination of documentary filmmaking skills and techniques as well as digital media expertise, for example programming, web design or user interface design. In many cases, documentary makers and digital agencies or freelance digital media practitioners have collaborated on the production of interactive documentaries.

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