Update or Die

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5 May 2017

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A one-day conference curated by the MIT Open Documentary Lab and Phi, in collaboration with IDFA DocLab and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

Unstable platforms, rapidly changing technologies, and shifting investment priorities are the new normal in today’s media landscape. As attention turns to the next big thing, digital games, artwork, interactive news features, and web-based documentaries made as recently as five years ago face obsolescence.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Documentary Lab and Phi propose a one-day multi-disciplinary conference to discuss the pressing issue of disappearing digital documentaries. What remains and who decides? What kind of artifact is an interactive documentary from a preservation perspective? What kinds of obsolescence do these often networked and platform-dependent documentary forms face in fast-changing technological, cultural, and even legal ecosystems? How can non-profit organizations, news agencies, and independent media makers manage constantly changing technology platforms and dependencies on external operating systems and APIs? What should we expect from cultural institutions, governments, and for-profit technology companies to help ensure the survival of our digital culture? Given the current preservation strategies of emulation, migration, and re-creation, how do we best memorialize and document those artifacts that we cannot save?

We will bring together global leaders from media and arts organizations, libraries, archival institutes, game and technology companies and initiatives to address these questions, learn from each other and our past attempts at preservation, and collectively discuss and tackle the unique challenges posed by documentary in a fast-changing and often proprietary digital media landscape.

Ironically, the digital information age is at risk of losing its memory in ways unthinkable in the analog past. Unless we are resigned to losing a foundational chapter in interactive, participatory and locative documentary, we must act now.

Many international leader on these urgent questions will be gathered at the Phi Centre to discuss these issues:

  • Professor William Uricchio, from the MIT Open Documentary Lab
  • Rick Prelinger, from Film & Digital Media
  • Patricia Falcao, from Tate
  • Dr. Nancy Y McGovern, from MIT Libraries
  • Chance Coughenour, from Google Arts & Culture
  • Marianne Lévy-Leblond, from ARTE France
  • Erwin Verbruggen, from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
  • Jason Scott, from Internet Archive
  • Christiane Paul, from The New School (School of Media Studies) and The Whitney Museum of American Art
  • Brett Gaylor, from Mozilla
  • Caspar Sonnen, from IDFA
  • Henry Lowood, from Stanford University
  • Katerina Cizek, from the MIT Open Documentary Lab (Co-Creation Studio)
  • Sandra Rodriguez, from the MIT Open Documentary Lab and EyeSteelFilm (Creative Reality Lab)
  • Vincent Morisset, from AATOAA
  • Hugues Sweeney, from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
  • Jepchumba, from African Digital Art
  • Zachary Kaplan, from Rhizome
  • Janine Steele, from National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
  • Jean Gagnon, from the Cinémathèque québécoise
  • Catalina Briceño, from the Canada Media Fund
  • Julia Kaganskiy, from the New Museum
  • Sarah Wolozin, from the MIT Open Documentary Lab
  • Mark Beasley, from Rhizome

Full schedule will be unveiled shortly. Note that the conference will be held in English.

Drawing on MIT’s legacy of media innovation and its deep commitment to open and accessible information, the MIT Open Documentary Lab brings storytellers, technologists, and scholars together to explore new documentary forms with a particular focus on collaborative, interactive, and immersive storytelling. The Lab understands documentary as a project rather than as a genre bound to a particular medium: documentary offers ways of exploring, representing, and critically engaging the world. It explores the potentials of emerging technologies and techniques to enhance the documentary project by including new voices, telling new stories and reaching new publics.

The Lab is a center for documentary research that offers courses, workshops, a fellows program, public lectures, and conferences; it incubates experimental projects; and it develops tools, resources, reports, and critical discourse. These activities, and the partnerships with artists, journalists, technologists, and media makers that they have enabled, aim to push documentary’s boundaries and deepen the impact and reach of innovative reality-based storytelling. In the spirit of MIT’s open courseware and open-source software movements, the Open Documentary Lab is inclusive, collaborative and committed to sharing knowledge, networks, and tools. ‘Open’ in its understanding of documentary’s forms and potentials, the Lab is a catalyst, partner and guide to the future of reality-based storytelling.


Cultural activities