Red Tales: A Participatory Interactive Documentary

Red Tales is a participatory interactive documentary about red squirrel conservation in the UK. It is composed entirely of user-generated content from diverse and geographically separated conservation communities across the UK. It features a variety of video, image, sound and text-based content, representing contributions from over 40 individuals. A unique, dynamically-generated introduction sequence (composed from the user-generated content) sets the scene for the documentary and introduces a suite of interactive navigational tools that help audiences explore and create their own interpretations of the content.

Rather than being a ‘standalone’ film, Red Tales integrates with existing ecologies, both online (via social media) and offline (via different co-located communities). Users can ‘curate’ and share collections of existing content, as well as add new content to the “living” documentary. Our aim was to reflect the heterogeneity of the content as well as the ‘unresolved’ nature of the topic. Thus, rather than presenting a linear narrative, audiences are invited to explore and contribute to the documentary through a technical framework and an interaction paradigm that builds equally upon current research in documentary/media studies and social computing, and pioneering interactive documentaries (e.g. Bear71 / 18 Days in Egypt).

Red Tales was produced through participatory workshops and developed in response to an ethnographic study of the red squirrel conservation community that revealed its inherent diversity, shared concerns and hundreds of individuals’ stories. The collaborative, multidisciplinary and participatory approach used in the development of the film demonstrates the potential of a new configuration for academic and third sector engagement, developed by the AHRC Creative Exchange Knowledge Exchange Hub. Furthermore, our ambitious, experimental filmmaking process yielded valuable insights into the practicalities of media production within the ‘digital economy’, particularly in relation to forging new experiences, supporting grassroots communities and production methods for co-creative, non-linear documentary narratives.