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Conference Notes: Content in Motion | Curating Europe’s Audiovisual Heritage: Session 5 & Closing Keynote

Copyright: National Library of Sweden

Opening & Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3 | Session 4 | Session 5 & Closing Keynote


The fifth and last session of our #EUscreen15 conference, “Transmedia Storytelling For Archive Materials”, examined the potential of AV archives as tools for storytellers; in cinema, exhibitions and museums as well as in academic research and presentation. The session included talks from Andreas Fickers on transmedia storytelling and media history, Piotr C. Śliwowski on the making of the film “Warsaw Uprising”, and Daniela Petrelli on using design to intertwine digital and physical heritage, and was opened and moderated by Berber Hagedoorn from University of Groningen.

Dean Jansen’s closing keynote speech was on community-driven video accessibility and Amara – the world’s most popular crowdsourcing platform for subtitling video.

Transmedia Storytelling and Media History | Andreas Fickers

Andreas Fickers is a Professor of Contemporary and Digital History and Director of the Digital History LAB at Luxembourg University. His research focuses on transnational media history, cultural history of communication technologies and digital historiography. He is co-editor in chief of VIEW – European Journal of Television History and Culture and co-founder and member of several European research networks, such as the European Television History Network (ETHN), the Tensions of Europe network (ToE) and the recently launched Network of Experimental Media Archaeology. Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA.

 Andreas Fickers’ presentation tackled the challenges and opportunities of transmedia storytelling in media history. He began by quoting the words of Flaubert, translated by John Pemble; “Writing history is like drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful”, showing how the myth of “objective” storytelling in history has long since been abandoned. Doing history requires scientific methodologies, yet is also the act of creative storytelling about the past and of subjective interpretation.

Fickers argued that historical thinking is a mental re-enactment of the past, built on the foundation of sonic recordings, texts, visual artifacts and physical objects; where content and form are intrinsically intertwined. Yet, the process of storytelling has been mainly mono-medial. Fickers argued that “integral“ approaches to storytelling that incorporates the intertextual and intermedial interconnectedness of media are needed, as each medium does certain things better than others, and that academic historical storytelling will hopefully include more audiovisual sources. Fickers suggested that the internet could be the main platform for factual and historical storytelling in the future.

Echoing points made earlier in the conference, Fickers suggested that media literacy and the understanding of the narrative conventions of different genres and formats is therefore essential to re-enacting historical narratives. Likewise for digital literacy, or the ability to create non-linear parallel story lines, sophisticated platform designs, and even interactive and participatory elements. Transmedia storytelling can thus only be realized as a team effort, with a major advantage being the “democratization“ of storytelling. Fickers used the National Film & Sound Archive of Australia as an example.

Fickers also drew attention to the challenges faced by a mono platform storytelling medium, like the VIEW Journal, specifically:
How to integrate different media (textual, audio, audiovisual sources) in a classic academic format of storytelling online?
How to go beyond using such sources as mere “illustrations“ and make them an integral part of the storytelling and historical argumentation?

To answer these challenges, Fickers proposed adapting the experience of online screen reading to classical reading situations; for instance through a page to page presentation and no scrolling; as well as through presenting a layout that allows for concentration on each medium’s specificity; for instance by reducing visible elements when audio is presented, or automatically switching to a full screen presentation when a video is played.

The Past is Today – New Approach to Archive Material | Piotr C. Śliwowski

Piotr C. Śliwowski graduated from Cardinal Wyszyński University in Warsaw (history) and AGH University of Science and Technology (postgraduate business studies). He is a co-creator of the Warsaw Rising Museum, where he’s Head of History & Movies Department and a special projects manager (archaeology, air force). Curator and author of numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad. Producer of City of Ruins (VES© NOMINEE 2011, MUSE© AWARD 2011), producer and co-author of the “Warsaw Uprising”, submitted to the Academy Award (Oscar©). Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA

 Śliwowski began his presentation by showing the breath-taking trailer from the film Warsaw Uprising, the first feature movie edited exclusively from black and white archival footage. He called this new category of film “non-fiction war drama”.

Śliwowski explained that by using state of the art techniques and technology, the original footage – shot by cameramen working for the Polish home army during the uprising – was transformed into living images in color and given a soundtrack and sound effects to match the visual impressions. The 87 minutes long theatrical movie was made from 6 hours of footage with the help of military clothing and architecture consultants, Warsaw experts and historians, and 1000 hours of editing to colorize and restore the footage.

According to Śliwowski, the lack of color in original footage establishes a barrier towards history that is difficult to cross, especially for the younger generations. This desire to preserve and to re-awaken history has been a major driving force behind the project. As he remarked; colorization makes history “real” and brings it back to life, as if giving people access to a kind of time machine. As such, Warsaw Uprising is a tribute to those men who were filming and documenting the uprising in 1944.

Using a number of clips from the film, Śliwowski demonstrated that history is at hand, and it is not something that is petrified. He concluded with the words of Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid: The past is today, only a bit further.

Using Design to Intertwine Digital and Physical Heritage | Daniela Petrelli

Daniela Petrelli (@DanielaPetrell1) is a Research Professor of Interaction Design at the Art & Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. After ten years of researching user aspects of multilingual and multimedia information access, her research now focuses on personal memories and the design of digital-physical interactions in the field of cultural heritage. For her work Dr Petrelli has received nine awards and recognitions from both academia and industry. She has a PhD in Interaction Design, a Laurea in Information Science, and a Diploma in Fine Arts. Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA.

 Presenting “a new life for digital content”, Petrelli’s talk on how to integrate the physical and the digital together began by an introduction to meSch – a European project aiming to bring together digital and physical objects in the context of the museum.

She presented several examples of her work. First was an exhibition on The Atlantikwall – erected by the Axis during WWII to keep Allied forces out of Europe. Technology was used to bring the objects displayed to life. The audience could choose one of the everyday objects displayed which they wanted to learn more about, and by placing the object on a scanning surface hear its story. Depending on the object chosen, visitors could have very different and personalized experiences.

Another example Petrelli presented was her work for Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra. Throughout the museum visitors can at times control which content to play, and see audiovisual content presented in different ways, for instance as portraits which work to intensify the emotional connection with the viewer. Furthermore, by wearing a small chip, visitors are tracked through the museum. After their visit they are presented with individualized poster cards showing where they spent the most time, as well as access to an individualized webpage where they can re-visit their favorites or discover the parts they missed.

By bringing attention to how museum curators work, from a period of exploration, through a concept/prototype phase, to product; Petrelli argued that easy access to archives is essential to the goal of bringing more archival content into public view. The earlier in the process museum workers can know that they are allowed access to their desired audiovisual content, the more likely they are to include it in their concepts, and thus in their final products.

Closing keynote: Community-Driven Video Accessibility | Dean Jansen

Dean Jansen (@deanjansen) is a co-founder of Amara – an award winning subtitle editor that makes it easy to caption and translate video. Amara also hosts volunteer localization & accessibility communities, and offers professional tools and services for subtitles. Jansen has experience as an internet activist, technologist, and event producer. He is also an affiliate at the Data and Society Research Institute in New York, where he focuses on issues related to crowd work and platform economies. Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA.

 The closing keynote of the conference was given by Dean Jansen from subtitle builder Amara, who spoke about Community-Driven Video Accessibility. Jansen drew attention to the ways in which the subtitling platform evolved and how translating and subtitling videos involved working with a range of different user communities. He emphasized the importance of knowing which communities are most appropriate to help you work with your content and also the importance of starting small and building rather than attempting to do too much too soon. He spoke about the collaboration with TED, an open translation project which worked with around 16,000 published subtitled items.

Jansen explained that the Amara platform did not store the videos, but only the subtitle files which were then attached to the videos. He also explained that in instances where .srt files already exist, then this material can be used to expedite the process of subtitling. This material can be used as the basis for subtitling and then cleaned up through later stages of the process.

Concluding remarks

The final discussion of the conference involved Eggo Müller, Berber Hagedoorn, Dana Mustata and Claude Mussou who offered their thoughts on what had emerged within their respective panels. The key ideas identified involved Muller’s suggested ‘tensions of curation’ which he suggested highlighted the difficulties of working in this field, as well as the need to address notions of fact and fiction within audiovisual content, and the importance of both technology and history.

The issue of media literacy was also discussed again and how this needs to be prioritized in order for users, students, teachers and researchers to offer meaningful insights into audiovisual content. Ideas presented about the need for increased digital literacy and digital source criticism were also echoed in this final discussion as well as the need for more attention to be given to the ways in which education makes use of audiovisual and moving image material.