Visible Evidence: Notes from a conference

I have just attended the exciting conference Visible Evidence XXII that was held in Toronto 19-22 August. Together with Elena Pollacchi, Stockholm University, and Zeng Jinyan, the University of Hong Kong, I organized a panel on Witnessing and Activism in Chinese Documentary Film. My own paper dealt with the new forms of civic engagement and witnessing that digital technologies have enabled, and which we see reflected in the many remarkable independent documentary films that have been made on the Sichuan earthquake.

Given my own research interest and our project, I tried to attend those panels at the conference that focused on citizen journalism, socially and politically engaged documentary films, web documentaries, and issues related to the use of new digital technologies and the Internet in documentary filmmaking. I attended several interesting panels on activist documentaries and the use of the Internet in different countries (including the Ukraine). I also attended a panel that discussed the film Citizenfour, which of course is a film that all interested in issues of surveillance and the Internet should see. There were also some interesting panels on more technological stuff, including using smartphones to make films. It is amazing what you can do with your smartphone as this film iPhone Commute shows. I also went to a panel on interactive documentaries i-docs which is not something Chinese documentary filmmakers have attempted yet as far as I know. The only interactive documentary focusing on China I know is a French film, Journey to the end of coal, about coal mining in China that was made in 2008.

Finally, since the new documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, just was released here in Toronto, I of course had to go and see it. It is an interesting account of the man and his visions that offers much food for thought on how digital devices, particularly out mobile devices, are changing the way we live and work.

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