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“Brèves de Trottoirs”: stylish, French and multi-platform

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Brèves de Trottoirs(probably translatable as “Sidewalk Shorts”) is a stylish Web documentary from writer Olivier Lambert and photojournalist Thomas Salva. The aim is to portray what they call “daily celebrities” living in  a complex city such as Paris. Their videos of Parisians with interesting backstories has appeared online and on television, and is in the process of becoming a full-length documentary film – even an i-Pad and i-phone version are nows available. Does this explosion of platforms make it the latest French multi-platform project?

I personally think that this project is done with style and attention to the detail. The characters are interesting and emotionally grabbing (a 26 years old girl that invents the job of “explorer of flavours” , a homeless speculator, a papy dancer, a transvestite hairdresser…). The visual style is sleek (the use of photos to bridge between a video and another as a way to “stop time” is particularly effective). The graphic style is elaborate (an interface of Parisian street walls and posters allows the user to navigate within the project)… and the whole thing really works! (Yes, i did watch at least four stories and kept browsing for a good 30 minutes!)

And yet… is it really interactive? As authors Lambert and Salva said themselves in an interview for Nieman Storyboard Brèves de Trottoirs is linear. You can’t create your own storytelling. That’s what we like to do. For that reason, our storytelling is not different from a traditional documentary”.

Although I like this project, because it really works, I am wondering what is new about it. In 1996 (15 years ago!) Janet H.Murray had already realised a very similar project at MIT:  Dans un Quartier de Paris. Murray’s project was done with a linguistic aim, but the idea was very similar: use digital technology (CD-ROM!) to simulate a walk in the street of Paris and discover its diversity through the glances of its inhabitants. Brèves de Trottoirs is obviously a thousand times more immersive and sleek than Dans un quartier de Paris: finally video can be full screen and good quality, and we can see that in 15 years graphic design has made miracles in inventing its own language – made of consistency and fluidity. So… has the evolution of interactive media language made all the difference between those two projects?  And is the so called multi-platform aspect of Brèves de Trottoirs adding anything to it?

Basically, what I am asking is: have fifteen years of experiments in interactive documentary brought us to a new language, or just to a better user interface and user experience? 

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011


  1. On February 2nd, 2011 at 11:25 Judith Aston wrote:

    Hi Sandra,

    Just about to post my blog entries on the i-docs site, so thought I’d start the ball rolling by responding here. For me, there is a qualitative difference between the sit-back experience of watching tv or going to the cinema and the sit-forward experience of engaging with documentary content on a computer screen. I know that tv and computer screens are becoming one and the same and that the remote control has changed viewing habits but for me sitting on the sofa and watching is still a different experience from interacting with a mouse or whatever other input device is being used, particularly when it’s a one-on-one experience. There is a possibility for a different kind of intimacy with the material and for me the fluid interfaces that we are starting to see can make this intimacy less interruptive than was previously the case, opening up the possibility for a greater sense of immersion and emotional engagement. For me, this is a new language – or at least an extension of an existing language into new realms of possibility.

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