While there are many cynics in the film community when it comes to interactive storytelling, there’s no denying that artists working in emerging media are pulling and prodding at traditional storytelling practice. Some of their experimentation is successful and some less so, but I believe that filmmakers can learn a lot from the questions these practitioners are asking and the avenues they are exploring.

Of course, there’s also lots of crossover between traditional filmmaking and immersive storytelling, and several filmmakers are among those expanding their practice into forms like VR and AR. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that film festivals have become an important platform for showcasing interactive work. One of the most prominent of these is the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). IDFA has become Europe’s most prestigious documentary festivals in its 30-year history and has been at the forefront of new media exhibition since 2007 with its DocLab programs.

Not tied to any particular medium, the DocLab exhibits a wide range of projects during the festival. The 2017 panel of judges for the interactive program issued a statement describing a challenge of their roles: “We have to judge and compare almost incomparable projects: from a 360 VR experience, a text messaging app, a game, to wandering through Amsterdam on an audio walk. Makers are exploring more and more digital platforms to tell their stories." However, the judges see this as a good problem to have, adding that this diversity "reflects the vibrant potential for the ongoing development of the age-old tradition of storytelling."

IDFA Doc labStill from Lauren McCarthy's presentation of her project 'Follower,' an app that provides users with a person to follow them throughout the day.

In addition to the annual exhibition, DocLab runs an Interactive Conference during IDFA, featuring some of the world’s most innovative storytellers. If you weren’t able to attend but still want a front-row seat, IDFA has now made a majority of the most recent presentations available online. With each talk running between 15-20 minutes, they’re worth a look just to see how stories are approached by someone with the professional title “Food Artist and Experiential Designer” (Emilie Baltz), or what the heck “Algorithms for Cognitive & Emotional Awakening” are (in a talk by Turkish computational artist Memo Akten.)

Presenters also include Yasmin Elayat, who joined us on the No Film School podcast when her project Zero Days VR premiered at Sundance last year. Elayat's company, Scatter, is a pioneer of volumetric filmmaking, which she describes as the "marriage between gaming and film" where you can walk around in room scale inside the story you are watching.

If you are interested in the direction of the field at large, there’s also a 45-minute panel discussion led by Ingrid Kopp from the Tribeca Film Institute about the state of the emerging media industry and the "hype cycle" of virtual reality, which she leads off by saying that "Creatively, there is incredible work happening...but how we fund that work and how we talk about that work is another matter."

Watch all of the talks from the DocLab Interactive Conference at IDFA 2017 here.

Featured image from IDFA DocLab presenter Memo Akten