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    Desktop Documentaries: Indie and Popular

    Documentary filmmaking is an incredible experience, and in many ways it’s a visual recording of a research process. Today, there are a variety of narrative tools available that can help filmmakers develop low-budget, yet still effective documentary stories. Much like 8 mm cameras and VHS cameras turned the art of photography and filmmaking around in the 1960s and 80s, the screenlife genre is revolutionising the modern filming process. Let’s take a look at how filmmakers have adapted the screenlife format for documentaries over the past 10 years.


    In 2008, an artistic 7-minute film called Flat Earth introduced a fresh, narrative format and emerged as a pioneer. Flat Earth is described by its creators, Thomson & Craighead, as a desktop documentary. Fragments of narrative pulled from blogs and satellite imagery, freely available on web snippets and Flickr, form a single storyline. Along with the narrator, the audience travels on a unique journey around the globe.

    Thomson and Craighead have since produced more than 50 artworks and documentaries, which merge media formats. They’ve also adapted a screenlife format for their installations; most notably in the work ‘CNN Interactive Just Got More Interactive’, which allows viewers to customise soundtracks on the CNN interactive website to broaden the infotainment and make newsfeeds more cinematic.

    Why Go Vegan

    This 10-minute, DIY documentary by Karleigh Murphy is an attempt to bring the documentary genre into a more “open to all” format. The creator uses her desktop as the frame for the documentary, opening captions in pages and scenes, as well as videos from the desktop. The author browses through web pages and Google searches, which gives the audience a hic et nunc feeling. The experience of this film is more like a dialogue between the documentary author and the audience, the author shares her personal experience and opinions about the subject matter (Veganism), and the audience is able to view websites and lectures that support her argument.


    This is the final semester project of Brazilian filmmaker and Freie Universität Berlin student, Leandro Goddinho. The author tells the story of four Brazilians, who use their Youtube channels as platforms to talk openly about their experiences of living with HIV. In their content, these digital activists share things like their daily routines, worries and problems, doubts and inspirations. The film itself makes use of a variety of formats; with Leandro incorporating talking heads interviews, his own online research and webcam therapy-style chats into the mix. As a result, we can see how effective this simple (and cheap) method of production is when combined with people’s stories, particularly in the private interviews and the glimpses of social media pages.

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