Category Archives: IDFA DocLab

A book written by a car, recipes collected from email hacks and documentaries on universal income. This must be the IDFA DocLab show

Hello and welcome to my yearly overview of the IDFA DocLab exhibition which took place last month at de Brakke Grond in Amsterdam.


Klasien van de Zandschulp and Emilie Baltz, Eat | Tech | Kitchen, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Live event at IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum

DocLab is a festival program for new media within the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. With live cinema events, exhibitions, workshops, a conference and industry panels, IDFA DocLab explores new digital artforms that push the boundaries of documentary storytelling. I couldn’t attend the conference this year (alas!) but i did get a chance to visit the DocLab exhibition before it closed.

DocLab Expo: Humanoid Cookbook was designed as a restaurant for digital art. It offered the usual menu of interactive documentaries, VR cinema, performances and interactive experiments but with an extra edge of AI creativity and a bit of culinary action here and there.

The full list of projects selected this year is online. Here are the ones that kept me glued to the screens:


Gabriela Ivens, Leaked Recipes, 2018

According to web security experts, the frequency of data breaches almost doubled from 2016 to 2017. 73% of all U.S. companies have experienced some form of exposure of confidential data. And yet, many people brush off these breaches unless they are personally affected.

Researcher and digital privacy advocate Gabriela Ivens investigated the problem and found out that in the case of particularly bad email hacks, the content of messages can get released and reveal details of our personal lives, even when that was not part of the motivation behind the hack.

Ivens compiled recipes that have been crowdsourced from leaked emails written by staff at companies such as Enron and Sony. She traced the people who had been sharing these recipes, talked to some of them and, with their permission, shared their stories and recipes in a collection called Data Leeks.

Cooking instructions might sound very mundane but the fact that they can be retrieved and their author identified illustrates the extent and danger of data breeches.

Margaux Missika & Yuval Orr, Earn a Living, 2018


Margaux Missika & Yuval Orr, Earn a Living, 2018

I found Earn a Living, an interactive web documentary on universal income, absolutely riveting. We’ve all read about the impact that a universal basic income might on our individual lives, on the broader society, on culture and on economy but a lot of what we hear is based on hopes and speculations. The seven short documentaries explore different experiences (the Cherokee tribe in the USA, a Kibbutz in Israel, a small village in Kenya, etc.) and perspectives on universal basic income and explore how receiving money on our bank account every month without having to work for it might -or might not- change our relationship with labor, time and money.

Dries Depoorter, Die with Me, 2018


Dries Depoorter, Die with Me, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum

Die with Me turns a moment most of us dread into a privilege: a chatroom for smartphone users who have less than 5% battery life on their device. Only those with a battery that’s about to die can enter. They access the chatroom with a nickname and say goodbye to people in a similarly critical situation. People exchange their final thoughts, regrets and wishes, and scroll through a repository of afterthoughts left by others. At the Die with Me neon sign, visitors of the DocLab exhibition could read the chat messages left by people suffering from a battery emergency.

Simple, tongue-in-cheek and astute.


Ross Goodwin, 1 the Road Writer, 2018. Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Ross Goodwin, 1 the Road Writer, 2018

“It was seven minutes to ten o’clock in the morning, and it was the only good thing that had happened,” reads the first page of 1 the Road, the first book written using a car as a pen.

AI expert Ross Goodwin outfitted a car with devices similar to the ones used by Google Street View cars. But he added an A.I. writing machine that he had trained to convert images into prose and poetry. He then drove the vehicle from New York to New Orleans, the writing machine not only absorbed the views outside the car, it also picked up on the conversations Goodwin was having with his film crew, friends and colleagues inside the car. The AI processed all this input and the manuscript of the book flew line by line from the machine’s printer on long scrolls of paper.

With this automation of the American literary road trip, Goodwin invites us to ponder once more on the place and authority of the author in a new era of machines.

The work won the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling.

Leonard Cohen and Feurat Alani, Flavours of Iraq (trailer in french), 2018


Leonard Cohen and Feurat Alani, Flavors of Iraq, 2018


Leonard Cohen and Feurat Alani, Flavors of Iraq, 2018

An interview with Feurat Alani about Flavors of Iraq on France 24

Twenty very short and very powerful animated films that trace the recent history of Iraq through the eyes of a child then a young man whose dad had to leave Iraq for political reason. Now an Iraqi-French journalist, the protagonist gives a very personal and sensory perspective on the political and cultural changes he could observe in the country each time he visited it to spend time with his parents’ friends and family.

The films convey the message that the backdrop of Irak is not just made of the smell of gunpowder, the sound of bombings, the rise of islamism, repression and of course the shadow of Saddam Hussein. It is also a place for human connections, humour, music and the flavour of apricot ice cream.

More works and images from the exhibition:


Shannon McMullen and Fabian Winkler, Algorithmic Gardening, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Rahima Gambo, Amina playing In and Out, Tatsuniya, from the series Education is Forbidden, 2017


Klasien van de Zandschulp and Emilie Baltz, Eat | Tech | Kitchen, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum

The DocLab Expo: Humanoid Cookbook took place at Vlaams Cultuurhuis de Brakke Grond in Amsterdam from Thursday 16 to Saturday 25 November 2018.

A book written by a car, recipes collected from email hacks and documentaries on universal income. This must be the IDFA DocLab show

Hello and welcome to my yearly overview of the IDFA DocLab exhibition which took place last month at de Brakke Grond in Amsterdam.


Klasien van de Zandschulp and Emilie Baltz, Eat | Tech | Kitchen, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Live event at IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum

DocLab is a festival program for new media within the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. With live cinema events, exhibitions, workshops, a conference and industry panels, IDFA DocLab explores new digital artforms that push the boundaries of documentary storytelling. I couldn’t attend the conference this year (alas!) but i did get a chance to visit the DocLab exhibition before it closed.

DocLab Expo: Humanoid Cookbook was designed as a restaurant for digital art. It offered the usual menu of interactive documentaries, VR cinema, performances and interactive experiments but with an extra edge of AI creativity and a bit of culinary action here and there.

The full list of projects selected this year is online. Here are the ones that kept me glued to the screens:


Gabriela Ivens, Leaked Recipes, 2018

According to web security experts, the frequency of data breaches almost doubled from 2016 to 2017. 73% of all U.S. companies have experienced some form of exposure of confidential data. And yet, many people brush off these breaches unless they are personally affected.

Researcher and digital privacy advocate Gabriela Ivens investigated the problem and found out that in the case of particularly bad email hacks, the content of messages can get released and reveal details of our personal lives, even when that was not part of the motivation behind the hack.

Ivens compiled recipes that have been crowdsourced from leaked emails written by staff at companies such as Enron and Sony. She traced the people who had been sharing these recipes, talked to some of them and, with their permission, shared their stories and recipes in a collection called Data Leeks.

Cooking instructions might sound very mundane but the fact that they can be retrieved and their author identified illustrates the extent and danger of data breeches.

Margaux Missika & Yuval Orr, Earn a Living, 2018


Margaux Missika & Yuval Orr, Earn a Living, 2018

I found Earn a Living, an interactive web documentary on universal income, absolutely riveting. We’ve all read about the impact that a universal basic income might on our individual lives, on the broader society, on culture and on economy but a lot of what we hear is based on hopes and speculations. The seven short documentaries explore different experiences (the Cherokee tribe in the USA, a Kibbutz in Israel, a small village in Kenya, etc.) and perspectives on universal basic income and explore how receiving money on our bank account every month without having to work for it might -or might not- change our relationship with labor, time and money.

Dries Depoorter, Die with Me, 2018


Dries Depoorter, Die with Me, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum

Die with Me turns a moment most of us dread into a privilege: a chatroom for smartphone users who have less than 5% battery life on their device. Only those with a battery that’s about to die can enter. They access the chatroom with a nickname and say goodbye to people in a similarly critical situation. People exchange their final thoughts, regrets and wishes, and scroll through a repository of afterthoughts left by others. At the Die with Me neon sign, visitors of the DocLab exhibition could read the chat messages left by people suffering from a battery emergency.

Simple, tongue-in-cheek and astute.


Ross Goodwin, 1 the Road Writer, 2018. Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Ross Goodwin, 1 the Road Writer, 2018

“It was seven minutes to ten o’clock in the morning, and it was the only good thing that had happened,” reads the first page of 1 the Road, the first book written using a car as a pen.

AI expert Ross Goodwin outfitted a car with devices similar to the ones used by Google Street View cars. But he added an A.I. writing machine that he had trained to convert images into prose and poetry. He then drove the vehicle from New York to New Orleans, the writing machine not only absorbed the views outside the car, it also picked up on the conversations Goodwin was having with his film crew, friends and colleagues inside the car. The AI processed all this input and the manuscript of the book flew line by line from the machine’s printer on long scrolls of paper.

With this automation of the American literary road trip, Goodwin invites us to ponder once more on the place and authority of the author in a new era of machines.

The work won the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling.

Leonard Cohen and Feurat Alani, Flavours of Iraq (trailer in french), 2018


Leonard Cohen and Feurat Alani, Flavors of Iraq, 2018


Leonard Cohen and Feurat Alani, Flavors of Iraq, 2018

An interview with Feurat Alani about Flavors of Iraq on France 24

Twenty very short and very powerful animated films that trace the recent history of Iraq through the eyes of a child then a young man whose dad had to leave Iraq for political reason. Now an Iraqi-French journalist, the protagonist gives a very personal and sensory perspective on the political and cultural changes he could observe in the country each time he visited it to spend time with his parents’ friends and family.

The films convey the message that the backdrop of Irak is not just made of the smell of gunpowder, the sound of bombings, the rise of islamism, repression and of course the shadow of Saddam Hussein. It is also a place for human connections, humour, music and the flavour of apricot ice cream.

More works and images from the exhibition:


Shannon McMullen and Fabian Winkler, Algorithmic Gardening, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Rahima Gambo, Amina playing In and Out, Tatsuniya, from the series Education is Forbidden, 2017


Klasien van de Zandschulp and Emilie Baltz, Eat | Tech | Kitchen, 2018. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum


Exhibition view of IDFA DocLab. Photo: Nichon Glerum

The DocLab Expo: Humanoid Cookbook took place at Vlaams Cultuurhuis de Brakke Grond in Amsterdam from Thursday 16 to Saturday 25 November 2018.

IDFA DocLab: my favourite interactive documentaries

Over the course of its 10-ish years of existence, the IDFA DocLab festival has been gaily exploring the narrative potentials of augmented reality, virtual reality, interactive documentaries and artificial intelligence. Their program, which is part of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, features an exciting mix of hi-tech entertainment, innovative ideas and socially-engaged conversations that i haven’t experienced elsewhere.


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

As usual, this year’s program was packed with dramatic commissions and entertaining debates but it was also anchored in today’s most pressing concerns: the plight of refugees in Europe, the legacies of colonialism, the plague of fake news, violation of human rights, climate change, etc. Topics that are everywhere in newspapers and on television already but with their more immersive, more in-depth treatments, the new digital art forms presented at IDFA DocLab seem to pick up from where traditional media coverage left off.

This year’s edition closed at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam on Sunday 19th of November. There was an exhibition, an immersive network summit, screenings, performances, a conference and more. I covered some of it last week but in this last article, i’d like to focus on the interactive and/or VR documentaries that you can experience online (with one exception at the end of the list.)

Here’s my short list:


Tessa Louise Pope, Echoes of IS, 2017


Tessa Louise Pope, Echoes of IS, 2017

Tessa Louise Pope’s Echoes of IS is one of the most moving interactive documentaries i’ve ever seen.

The documentary maker brought together 12 people who have been deeply affected by IS and radicalization. Each of these individuals get a chance to explain their own experience. First, there are the people whose lives have been turned upside down by the arrival of IS in their town: a young mother who was forced to flee a life and city she loved in Syria and who continues to be afraid even though she now lives in the Netherlands; a young man who has always fought for a more democratic and fair regime in Syria; a woman whose house was turned into a torture facility after she had been forced to leave her country, etc. Then there are people who were born in the Netherlands: the father whose 14-year-old child was taken away and who died waging jihad. A young man who converted to Islam and suddenly found himself surrounded by incomprehension and intolerance.

In one of the short films, they all get to talk together and explore how their lives have been impacted by the IS.

The films are heart-breaking. Instead of the anonymous refugees who ‘invade’ Europe and the worrisome Muslims, you get to know individuals who have dreams and values similar to ours. The saddest thing about Echoes of IS is that people who should watch it in order to get a more balanced view about the ‘refugee crisis’ will probably never see the film.

You can watch it online too.


Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong, Poppy Interactive


Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong, Poppy Interactive, Poppy field, Afghanistan


Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong, Poppy Interactive

Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong have condensed 20 years of investigation into the trails of Afghan heroin into Poppy Interactive.

Afghanistan is by far the largest producer of opium and this online documentary unravels the global network of insurgents, terrorists and criminal organizations that use drug money to fuel conflicts in various areas of the world.

The work combines in-depth analysis, historical facts and global perspective with personal stories. You hear the point of view of opium farmers, soldiers, smugglers, bankers, border guards but also people who would have lived a perfectly normal life in our own neighbourhoods had heroin not destroyed their life, directly or indirectly.

Poppy Interactive efficiently connects the dots between distant locations, global issues and personal dramas that would otherwise seem completely separate.

Shehani Fernando with Francesca Panetta, Nicole Jackson, The Guardian, Limbo ( virtual reality trailer), 2017

The Guardian is now producing VR journalism. To ensure that their audience is able to experience these new forms of reporting, the newspaper has recently given away 100.000 Google Cardboard headsets. The VR works the team developed allow you to get a more immersive outlook on issues such as autism, flaws in forensic investigations or solitary confinement. But it’s their research on the experience of asylum seeking that was presented at IDFA DocLab.

Limbo attempts to recreate the stress and misery of being one of the tens of thousands of people who are waiting for their asylum application to be accepted or rejected by the UK government.

While asylum seekers wait for their Home Office interview and the subsequent decision, they live on £5 a day and are unable to work or choose where they live. In Limbo you step into their shoes and experience their state of mind while you wait for the decision that will determine the rest of your life.

I thought the black and white sketch-like aesthetic would be cold and dull. However, the visual design competently reflects the daily sense of boredom, isolation, humiliation and prejudices experienced by these people during the long months they spend waiting for the Home Office to determine whether or not they can hope for a normal life in a new country. Limbo is very poignant. The warmth of the voices of asylum seekers, immigration lawyers and barristers gives the work a very intimate and distressing dimension.

Next time please distribute the free goggles to Daily Mail readers?


Gina Kim, Bloodless, 2017


Gina Kim, Bloodless, 2017

Gina Kim, Bloodless (Teaser Reel), 2017

You can’t experience Bloodless online but i liked it so much, i had to mention it:

Filmmaker Gina Kim was still in college when a sex worker was brutally murdered by a US soldier stationed in South Korea. On the 28th of October 1992, the body of 26-year-old Yun Keum Yi was found at the Dongducheon camp town. Two beer bottles and one cola bottle were found inside her uterus, and an umbrella penetrated 11 inches into her rectum. Her body had been covered in detergent powder to dispose of evidence.

For years, Kim looked for a way to tell the tragic story without exploiting the images of the victim. And then she found VR. “With VR,” she writes, “the viewer is no longer a passive spectator, who can take voyeuristic pleasure from a spectacle in front of them (and at a distance).”

The 12 minute VR film Bloodless not only traces the last living moments of Yun Keum Yi but it also explores the issue of the comfort women exploited by US army troops stationed in South Korea since the 1950s.

Bloodless was shot on location where the crime took place. It is as visually stunning as it is creepy. The work won the Best VR story award for linear content at the Venice Film Festival this Summer.

More images from the IDFA DocLab exhibition and a couple of trailers:


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Everything, a game by David OReilly, explores and meditates on tiny living things, on big systems, on how they are all connected. But it’s about far more than that too.

David O’Reilly, Everything, 2017

Catherine Upin, Julia Cort, Nonny de la Peña and Raney Aronson-Rath, Greenland Melting (excerpt), 2017

Catherine Upin, Julia Cort, Nonny de la Peña and Raney Aronson-Rath, Greenland Melting (360 video produced as a companion to the VR work), 2017

The Last Chair doesn’t have the sexiest topic (old men living alone in the countryside) but i liked it a lot. It was peaceful and moving.


Jessie van Vreden, Anke Teunissen, The Last Chair, 2017


Duncan Speakman, It Must Have Been Dark by Then at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Duncan Speakman, It Must Have Been Dark by Then at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Duncan Speakman, It Must Have Been Dark by Then at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris exhibition in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris exhibition in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris in his church outside of Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Previous stories about this year’s edition of DocLab: DocLab exhibition asks “Are robots imitating us or are we imitating robots?” and Smart guide for connected objects, activism on the dance floor, cooking with phones, a human Alexa. Just another edition of the DocLab conference.