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April 3, 2013

The Documentary to Lose Sleep Over: A Journal of Insomnia at Tribeca Film Festival Storyscapes

¬†It’s 2:37am. You are fast asleep. Your phone rings. It’s a wakeup call. You’re not in a hotel. You’re in the comfort of your own home, being woken to watch a documentary. The documentary isn’t in a movie theater. It’s on your computer. You flip open your laptop and discover an insomniac from another part of the world sharing her story.
 
Welcome to A Journal of Insomnia. It is one of five projects in Tribeca Film Festival’s Storyscapes, which highlights innovative new media projects with cross-platform approaches to storytelling. Sandy Storyline, Robots in Residence, The Exquisite Forest, and Star Wars Uncut, The Empire Strikes Back join A Journal of Insomnia as part of this innovative program in its inaugural year.
 
 
A Journal of Insomnia is different than your typical documentary. It is comprised entirely from user generated content. In the fall of 2012, the project’s producers put out a call to insomniacs everywhere: Tell us your tale. Unlike many crowdsourcing calls to action, insomniacs took the charge very seriously. No trolls here. Some of the content was better than others, but almost all the content was sincere and compelling.
 
“It’s the only documentary that wakes you up at night,” said Hugues Sweeney, executive producer of interactive production at the National Film Board of Canada, producers of A Journal of Insomnia and other award-winning interactive narratives like Bear 71 and Welcome to Pine Point. It’s Sweeney’s directive to speak to an audience that is actively engaged with the experience.
 
“As producers, writers, filmmakers, we need to find ways of creating by what people are doing,” said Sweeney. “So we need to put them at the center.”
 
For A Journal of Insomnia, that didn’t mean cobbling together a documentary with a soundtrack of existing pop songs. Instead, creators sifted through hundreds of personal videos, written confessions and drawn representations of anxiety over sleeping habits that, in the Middle Ages, would have been considered normal. And the sound design – by Philippe Lambert – down pitches the subjects’ words and remixes them into a wholly original soundscape to set the movie’s mood.
 
If that wasn’t enough, did I mention you must make an appointment to watch the documentary in the middle of the night? This, by far, is the most revolutionary part of the experience. Crowdsourcing content for films isn’t new. Composers have used modulated voice recordings before to create music. But how often have filmmakers called people in the middle of the night to immerse them in the world of an insomniac?
 
 
“In order to fully live the project, you have to give up part of your life,” Sweeney said. “You co-exist with the subjects.”
 
That’s a sentiment with which Ingrid Kopp, Director of Digital Initiatives at the Tribeca Film Institute and curator of Storyscapes, agrees.
 
“For the audience, it can be unnerving,” said Kopp about this kind of interactive, intimate storytelling. “I’m interested in creating a space where they can discover this kind of work.”
 
That space is the Bombay Sapphire House of Imagination, a special gallery dedicated to the Storyscapes projects. At this non-ticketed event, each project will have interactive exhibitions that act as portals into their primary narratives. For A Journal of Insomnia, the producers are constructing a mock bedroom in which participants can type or draw their own sleepless story on a computer.
 
A Journal of Insomnia is a kaleidoscope of what happens when people aren’t sleeping,” said Kopp. She suggests it represents how data can turn into an artistic vision, and people can interact with it globally.
 
On April 18, A Journal of Insomnia will have its world première at the Tribeca Film Festival, and, of course, Hugues Sweeney is enthusiastic. He had the idea four years ago, when he was staying up nights with his newborn daughter pondering about insomniacs. Now, after capturing stories from around the world, four primary narratives construct the spine of a documentary that will literally keep you up at night.
 
“It is very intimate,” said Sweeney. “The point of view on insomnia is typically clinical. We wanted to get at the heart of it. A human story. See how it affects society.”
 
If you want to receive a call from an insomniac and watch this nocturnal documentary, visit A Journal of Insomnia’s website to learn more. Wake up calls begin on April 18. To add your story to the mix or to discover any of the Storyscapes exhibitions, stop by Tribeca Film Festival’s Bombay Sapphire House of Imagination (121 Varick Street, 7th Floor) from April 19 – April 21.
 
 
Tribeca Film Festival
FREE
121 Varick Street, 7th Floor
April 19 – April 21
 
JAMES CARTER is a dramatist, experience designer and producer whose recent work includes FEEDER: A Love Story (terraNOVA Collective/HERE, NYC), NY_Hearts: LES (One Muse Presents/The Brick Game Play Festival) and other writings about the intersection of art and technology on his blog at onemuse.com. @jdcarter



Posted at 10:38 PM

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