Citizen-Generated Documentaries: Narrative Film Production and the Digital Public Space

Drawing upon my experiences as a filmmaker, technician and researcher, I intend to consider the notion of film narratives; I am interested in exploring how technology can be used to empower untrained but knowledgeable citizens, groups and communities to participate in documentary film production processes.

Audiovisual content produced by non-professionals is an increasingly pervasive aspect of both social and broadcast media (where it has become known as ‘user-generated content’  and ‘citizen-journalism’). Hosting services such as YouTube, alongside private digital archives, form part of the emerging Digital Public Space and provide a rich framework for exploring various models of narrative production. Numerous aggregations, appropriations, re-mediations and mashups of this content exist in the form of channels, blogs, community sites, television programmes and films. I intend to question whether existing categorization, search and navigation facilities provide adequate means for non-professional storytellers to construct - from this abundance - meaningful narratives with the power to inform, stimulate, provoke and engage. What kinds of infrastructural or production tools will allow the Digital Public Space to empower communities and citizens to construct meaningful narratives from their own stories and present them to appropriate audiences, making effective use of the languages of visual storytelling.

Are there methods by which practical filmmaking and storytelling resources can be provided to citizen journalists and other citizen storytellers to help contribute towards larger narratives? What new opportunities might exist for professionals and non-professionals to co-create film narratives? Can we provide tools to use during the content creation process to streamline its route into future narratives? Could the process of narrative construction ever be automated? – if so, could it be targeted, personalised, or even adaptable to identities, situations, locations, schedules and activities.

Allan and others have commented upon the profound implications of citizen journalism , particularly in terms of image acquisition; I intend to develop this research and expand it into other areas of filmmaking – particularly editing – to consider what democratization of the entire production process might mean for the Digital Public Space.

By keeping users at the heart of the thinking and design process, I intend to draw upon HCI research methods such as participatory and user-centered design  to ensure that prototypes developed as part of this PhD are both extensible to the evolving technological landscape and rooted firmly in principles of usability and real-world applicability.


Allan, Stuart, 2009. Citizen Journalism (Global Crises and the Media). First printing Edition. Peter Lang Publishing.