Israel's International Student Film Festival Presents First Interactive Feature
Presented at the Fourteenth International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv (held from June 2-9, 2012), Turbulence, directed by Nitzan Ben-Shaul and produced by Daphna Cohen Ben-Shaul, is subtitled 'First Hyper-Narrative Interactive Movie (HNIM).'
Whether it is, indeed, the first narrative film to use mobile applications to enable an audience to determine the direction and outcome of the story or not, the film and its technology are a significant advance on expanding the entertainment experience of theatrically released narrative films.
According to Ben-Shaul, the interactive component is much more engaging that 3D, which thrusts images at audiences, or perhaps creates for them the sense that they are in the action, but is an entirely passive experience. Giving the audience the ability to influence the outcome of the narrative is quite another matter. It isn't passive, but they can still sit back and enjoy the action -- without working at it excessively, as they must when participating in an interactive game, for example.
Turbulence uses an android-based application to enable the audience to actually influence the outcome of the story by 'voting' at pivotal plot moments, determining the directional flow to be taken by the ongoing narrative.
The newly developed application can easily be downloaded to mobile devices, including smart cell phones and tablets.
In Turbulence, the story revolves around the reunion of three friends who'd been politically active during their student days and participated in demonstrations that had become violent. Their lives have since taken them in very different directions, but they have harbored suspicions that one of them may have betrayed their movement and cause.
The narrative may be particularly relevant to Israel, but the intrigue, romance and politics will play with audiences anywhere -- especially because they get to determine how the story plays out.
The audience 'players' click on one of two highlighted objects that appear on the big screen as an integral part of the scene being shown, and by clicking, determine the ensuing story line.
There is no interruption in the action. The choice is made quickly and is put quickly into effect.
While the audience's 'votes' are quickly tallied, the narrative moves forward in pertinent but non-pivotal sequences leading up to the next plot-determining scene, the one that has been selected by the audience. This sort of opportunity to influence the outcome of the story occurs multiple times during the narrative. The duration of the film varies between 65 to 83 minutes, depending on the directives of the audience.
The variables are limited, of course. But each possible narrative through line had to be plotted in advance, filmed and edited into the overall multi-ending production.
It's important to note that the interactivity connected with the film isn't game-like in nature. The audience wins nothing. There is no competition. But there is an element of surprise, especially if an audience member becomes intrigued enough to see the film more than once.
The application is intended to expand expand the cinematic experience for theatrical audiences. All audience choices and variables are designed to enhance dramatic effect and lead to a reasonable and interesting narrative result.
Nitzan Ben-Shaul is on the faculty of Film and Television Department at Tel Aviv University, which organizes the bi-annual International Student Film Festival and offers students opportunities to investigate transmedia or new media in narrative and documentary film.
According to Ben-Shaul, the interactive application used in Turbulence has not yet been applied to documentary film, but it has been used for television programming, including narrative, game and reality shows that are viewed at home, and for commercials.
Application in documentaries is, of course, possible in the future, but would have to integrated differently into the production. It would be impossible to script a documentary with variable endings, as is done with interactive narrative films. Nonfiction films just don't allow for 'best wish' endings. However, the interactive application might be used to enable viewers to try to influence the outcome of a situation, which could then be compared with what actually happened. Or, perhaps, to suggest ways to reach different, alternative, preferable endings to documentaries.
Anyway, the availability of this new technology certainly stimulates creative thinking and may be the wave of the future in both narrative and documentary storytelling.