Onlining the documentary

Australian filmmakers and interactive media artists interested in challenging traditional forms of documentary can now apply for up to $100,000 to produce an online project. The Australian Film Commission recently established an initiative with the ABC to encourage documentary projects that “explore the online environment in innovative, challenging and original ways.” Up to 4 successful works will be selected for production and housed on ABC ONLINE.

The initiative provides a vital space for Australian cultural content at a time when the Internet is primarily a site for commercial transactions, says the manager of co-production at ABC New Media. With the online documentary genre still in its infancy, Domenic Friguglietti says it’s an opportune time to dedicate web space for the development and inclusion of Australian rather than North American cultural material.

Peter Kaufmann, project manager at the AFC, hopes this initiative will encourage filmmakers to redefine the boundaries of conventional documentary. The fund also provides a unique scope for documentaries to be instantly available to an international audience. Audiences can also have the opportunity to respond and engage in an intimate and idiosyncratic way with the content of the online works, making their own contributions. Kaufmann says the AFC definitely isn’t looking to provide conventional documentaries with an alternative delivery and marketing system via the online environment, but is interested in new and radical approaches that explore what is possible within the documentary genre.

Recent Australian examples of the form include a chronicle of the life and work of artist Russell Drysdale compiled by the ABC and the National Gallery of Australia (www.abc.net.au/arts.drysdale – link expired), a work by Carolena Helderman on personal stories of HIV (www.hivaids.webcentral.com.au – link expired) and Fools Paradise, a history of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival documented by Peter Milne and produced by the ABC and the Performing Arts Museum (www.abc.net.au/arts/fools). See also Sharkfeed by John Grech and Matthew Leonard (www.abc.net.au/sharkfeed/index.htm – link expired), an exploration of the social and cultural after-effects of Sydney’s 1960 Graeme Thorne kidnapping. (See Dean Kiley’s response to the work in Working the Screen, page 3, and the authors’ account on page 26 of OnScreen both in RealTime 38, August-September, 2000).

Kaufmann says these should not necessarily be seen as indicative of the kind of projects the AFC will produce, but rather as examples of the possibilities of the form. Filmmakers and new media artists often ask what type of online documentaries the AFC might fund, but besides limiting the content to material based on fact, Kaufmann prefers not to offer prescriptions and hopes people will design and assemble their own unique aesthetic.

Application forms and detailed guidelines can be found on the AFC website www.afc.gov.au (now http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/)

RealTime issue #40 Dec-Jan 2000 pg. 21

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1 December 2000