Carys Macbeth - DocFest summary

For my dissertation I am making two documentaries (audio and video) on one scientific topic. As I have very limited experience with documentary-making, I was given a pass to DocFest 2018 to help gain inspiration and guidance on how to produce a successful and engaging documentary.

CarysWhile at DocFest, I visited a wide range of events, including 12 feature-length films, countless shorts films, several talks and virtual reality documentaries and many of the social events. One of my main goals for festival was to network and meet people with experience in the field, to gain insight, advice and contacts that I could use both now and in the future, as I feel that this may be an area that I want to pursue after university. I found networking challenging, as the delegates were professionals, and most were already acquainted from previous events. However I did manage to meet many interesting people from different backgrounds, such as production, directing, editing and roles at TV channels. I made contact cards before the festival and got the chance to exchange information with a number of delegates. I even talked with the director of my favourite film of the festival, who has asked me to send my documentary to him when it is finished.

One of the most interesting elements of the festival for me was the Alternative Realities unit, which included a range of different exhibits telling different stories. They included virtual and augmented reality, interactive displays and virtual reality films. This seemed to be the area that was showcasing the only science documentaries of the festival, with zoology-themed exhibits which were extremely engaging, giving you an in-depth look at different organisms. ‘Hold the World: With David Attenborough’ was my favourite exhibit, whereby delegates would wear a VR headset and hand controllers and sit across a desk from Sir David Attenborough. He would talk you through different animal specimens – some of which are extinct, before they would come to life to move around you. This completely immersive documentary let you see different creatures right in front of you in 3D, giving an experience difficult to achieve in 2D films. In addition, feeling that Sir David Attenborough is sitting across from you explaining these things, adds an exciting aspect. Another favourite VR exhibit was ‘Explore the California Coast’, an animated, interactive 3D exhibit where you were pulled through the Pacific Ocean by different animals, seeing a variety of organisms at different depths. As this was in 3D, it was extremely effective and a refreshing way to learn about ecosystems. I feel that VR is an extremely valuable tool for use in science communication, as it allows any world to be created, enabling the viewer to visualise things which may be difficult in a 2D format. Although I won’t be able to make a VR documentary in my dissertation, due to lack of experience and time constraints, it is something that I would like to investigate further and will be discussing it within my project write-up within the comparison of different documentary formats. I feel that the greater abundance of science-themed exhibits in VR than in films at DocFest reflects the way that educational documentaries are changing, showing the important role that VR can play in science communication.

At DocFest I gained a lot of inspiration and advice from the films and the film-makers themselves. The films were not based on a scientific topic; hence it was difficult to make many connections with my own project. However, multiple delegates stressed to me the importance of having a story or a hook to my documentary, to ensure that the viewer/ listener is engaged throughout and that it is set apart from others on similar topics. This was the advice I valued most, and it has led to a remodel of my documentary plan. Overall, I found experience at DocFest to be inspiring and educational, showing me the process behind making fantastic documentaries and the elements which make them so successful.