The emerging practice of web-based collaboration and production in nonfiction film
Avery, Samuel S.
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The world of collaborative nonfiction filmmaking between filmmakers and filmmakers and film subjects has changed drastically over the past decade. Nonfiction film collaboration and production has expanded beyond the confines of geographical proximity and traditional access. The World Wide Web has evolved into a global network of communication that has redefined society's notion of community. This relatively new opportunity has completely reshaped the way in which filmmakers, more specifically nonfiction filmmakers, orchestrate their craft. During my time as an MFA candidate at the University at Buffalo, I have completed three collaborative nonfiction/documentary film projects: Healing in Volumes, Not Without Us, and Making Green Trees Yellow . All of these films utilized the Internet as a tool to facilitate collaboration between the filmmaker and subjects. This thesis will compare new models of collaboration with older forms as well as examine the tools of emerging filmmaking over the Internet. A primary focus of this investigation will be on my latest feature length documentary Making Green Trees Yellow which was filmed over a year's collaboration via the World Wide Web between Rheli Mugisha (the film subject) in Mbabane, Swaziland and myself in Western New York. Making Green Trees Yellow is a reflexive nonfiction film that addresses the (ir)responsibility of being a filmmaker and the inevitable separation between maker and subject by dissecting the role of perceived power structures and the pressure created from that relationship. From my fieldwork/research, I will analyze what proved effective and what was problematic and/or damaging on technical, aesthetic, and ethical levels. The online collaborative production of nonfiction films cooperatively constructed by makers and subjects and decentralized across the world transforms traditional categories of authorship and narrative voice. This transformation, in turn, gives rise to new practices, such as 'cyberstudios' (i.e. Youtube Channels) and 'absent filmmaking' modes of production. In mapping the trajectory of documentary filmmaking into the 21 st century, this paper will explore documentary film's place in the ever-changing online world as well as address the many directions and forms nonfiction film may take by examining viral web documentaries, such as Jason Russell's short film Kony 2012 and Elaine McMillion's/Jeff Soyk's community participatory documentary, Hollow . This paper will also suggest methods that documentary makers might follow to better engage with this emerging collaborative frontier.