We can find two fundamentally different approaches to the cinema by its inventors: while the Lumière brothers imagined some kind of collective projection, Thomas Alva Edison envisaged individual showings with a domestic machine. For many years it seemed that the Lumière approach embodied the essence of cinema, until the advent of digital technology enabled Edison’s idea, individual viewing, to be implemented. But these two ways of seeing cinema are learning to coexist: although individual consumption is growing, this has not stopped showings in large halls.
The most interesting development, however, is that now these two approaches, individual and collective, have been joined by a new form of expression in the field of documentary film: the webdoc. These are works that combine the classical linear approach with the possibility of individual interaction. Individual viewers and users can construct their own path through several narrative plots, and can end up contributing their own testimony to enrich the work. In this experimental spirit the Pompeu Fabra University has made the web documentary Qualified, directed by filmmaker Neus Ballús, which brings together the filmed testimony of several former students who reflect on what attending a public university has meant to them, and the decisions that they have had to take. The aim of the work is to take the user through the various decision-making nodes that lead to different paths in the stories filmed, so that each viewer experience is unique. As a result, because it is an individual vision, a new form of empathy and connection with the experiences of others is established, as an echo of one’s own experience.
Interactive documentaries like Qualified show how a way of creating unique viewers can create a new form of expression that becomes part of the cinema tradition. This is why many see the web documentary as a return to the origins of cinema: a new way of approaching the language of images, integrating the pleasure of personal inquiry, and promoting a viewer with new attributes.