Bear Documentary at Sundance Blurs Art, Augmented Reality

Bear Documentary at Sundance Blurs Art, Augmented Reality

“Bear71,” a documentary that examines the relationship between technology and wildlife, is gaining attention on the festival circuit as studios turn to multimedia to create interactive films.

Bear71, featured at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, follows a grizzly bear in Canada’s Banff National Park as it navigates an increasingly crowded habitat. The documentary is a live installation available online, and joins other interactive films gaining attention as part of the festival’s “New Frontier” program, focused on multimedia pieces that explore the boundaries between art and technology.

Scientists tagged and monitored a bear and its cubs through surveillance points set up around the national park. The film intertwines a narrative of their story with multimedia features like motion sensors and augmented reality software to insert the audience in a pixellated forest.

Users scroll over an online virtual map of Banff, encountering digital versions of tracked animals and other audience members. They can click on the avatars of other animals and people to look at photo stills or see other audience members on webcam.

The interactive genre is gaining recognition and interest from studios, especially as interactive films have lower budgets than traditional projects, and appeal to an increasingly tech-savvy audience.

Filmmakers are incorporating social media into their stories and production, as one producer crowdsourced plot points of his latest film to Facebook and Twitter users. Ceding control of plot decisions and character development to the audience eliminates the need for producers to pay people to do that work, which makes interactive films cheaper to finance.

Moreover, studios hope to attract younger viewers by incorporating social media into television. The CW is streaming a show on Facebook that culls information about users’ preferences from their Facebook pages, and personalizes the soundtrack and scenery. Like Bear71, it inserts the audience into the story.

Film and television studios aren’t the only art institutions partnering up with social media. Museums are integrating Facebook and Twitter into their projects to get audiences to take part. Visitors can upload pictures of themselves and see them at an installation in Denver, and many museums encourage visitors to document their experiences using social media. The Smithsonian introduced a digital project that, like Bear71, inserted the audience into the story, as it gathered data using “citizen scientists”, or volunteers on Facebook.

Sundance’s support for Bear71, which joins four other interactive documentaries at the festival this year, underscores the growing mainstream embrace of hybrid art blending traditional narrative and new technologies.

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