Participation in anthropological cinema: the case of Question Bridge, from video installation to online collaborative interface

Received: March 29, 2017

Acceptance: September 28, 2017


With the digital age, the emergence of non-linear documentary formats in space online it represents a propitious scenario for the symbiosis between different frontiers: the reconfiguration of the medium and the practices, the expansion of the modalities of participation and the conversion of the subjects of representation into authors of the audiovisual text. How to think of a documentary that transcends the single screen, the linear format, that includes us as co-authors of the work, in a product where participation is central? To analyze this phenomenon, the anthropological documentary is taken as a case. Question Bridge (2012-present), a project on the identity and masculinity of the African-American community, which puts on the table the possibilities and scope of participation in the cinema.

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Participation In Anthropological Cinema: The Case Of Question Bridge, From Video Installation To Online Collaborative Interface

With the arrival of the digital era, the emergence of non-linear documentary formats within the on-line space represents a promising scenario for various, cross-border symbioses: the medium's reconfiguration alongside its practices; the expansion of participatory modes; the conversion of subjects of representation into the authors of the audiovisual text. How can we conceive of a documentary that transcends the uni-screen and the linear format; that includes us as its coauthors; and in a product where participation comes to be a central concern? To analyze the phenomenon, we consider the anthropological documentary Question Bridge (2012-present), a project on identity and masculinity in the us African-American community that brings film-participation possibilities and scope to the table.

Keywords: anthropological cinema, participation, installation, web-documentary, subject-interactor.


Since the invention of cinema, and with it the emergence and articulation of a cinematographic language, ways of thinking and understanding cinematographic practice have been structured and institutionalized. The recurring idea of visualizing cinematographic creation attached to a certain hegemonizing authorial logic, as well as conceiving the modes of consumption circumscribed to the dynamics of the space of the cinema, have constituted precepts erected –among other factors– by the dominant discourses of the large industries legitimizing a status quo film.

However, the configuration of cinema as an artistic practice cannot be understood as disconnected from its social, political and cultural dimension. The different movements born of the interest to rethink the order and institutionalized film production logics have opted, for example, to decentralize and rethink the traditional work-viewer, author-subjects of representation relationship, and expand its possibilities in terms of interaction and participation. . This framework is committed to an awareness of those involved about their roles in an audiovisual production, as well as greater reflection on the nature of the medium and the process itself.

From this participatory assumption it is possible to think about the productions of moving images, analog or digital, that have an anthropological origin. For the doctor in social anthropology and professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Juan Robles,

audiovisual anthropology shows its ability to transfer and democratize knowledge, sharing it in a much more horizontal way with the actors who generate it and to whom it is directed, whether in the academic-teaching, political-administrative, or the general public. Audiovisual anthropology makes it easier for all the protagonists involved in the construction of the anthropological film text to become aware of the dissemination capacity of their discourses and of the importance of their ideological positioning in the political debate. At the same time, all the protagonists involved share responsibility for the knowledge generated, thanks to the possibility of deferred viewings shared with the research team (Robles, 2012: 155).

In this order, the gradual development of technology has accompanied the different experiments around the roles of spectators and subjects of representation in this web of relationships and meanings. What does a technological device allow us to do based on the expressive and discursive element of a documentary work? How does the relationship between the technology used (a camera, a mobile device, the Web…) And the conformation of the space of the audiovisual representation supposes certain types of relations between the participating subjects and the work? To what extent does technology constrain or enable the empowerment of the subjects participating in the audiovisual work, as decision-makers of the process and producers of their own discourses and content?

For this analysis, the US webdocumentary is taken as a case study Question Bridge (2012-present), by conceptual artists Hank Willis and Chris Johnson, which explores the theme of identity and masculinity in the African-American community in the United States. The initial project was an installation-style documentary, designed to be exhibited in galleries and public spaces, while the second derives from the first until it becomes a web-documentary where participation seems to be a constitutive pillar.

The mutation of the project in terms of format makes one think of the categories previously exposed. The gallery and the Web they constitute two spaces of representation with their particular logics and instituted languages, within which the documentary text will take shape and meaning. This process, in turn, will be conditioned by the creative and technical possibilities and the scope of the technology used, be it video, mobile devices with built-in cameras and sound, or the internet.

The documentary as a genre is usually associated –by inheritance– with an exogenous and “objective” representation of reality, with which it would have a relationship of likelihood. From visual anthropology, this criterion has been widely rejected, since the image of constructed reality "becomes, by the rejection of other possible but not filmed images, the reflection of a historical and social thought" (Guarini, 1985: 152). Non-fiction cinema involves thinking about political positions, positions, ways of understanding societies and cultures not only from the textual content, but also from the act and the documentary practice themselves. Attending to the latter, anthropological cinema rethinks the documentary process itself as “dialogue between people filmed and filmmakers. The film is revealed as a concrete channel of communication between two worlds, that of the observer and that of the observed ”(Guarini, 1985: 150).

Rethinking the constitutive margins of the documentary in terms of format, consumption and purpose implies a transformation of the order from which we have been made to conceive the cinematographic work. An order that, sadly, has responded more to industrial and market interests than expressive, ontological or political.

How to think, then, of a documentary concept that transcends the single screen, the linear format, that includes us in the narrative continuum, rather than as spectators as co-authors of the work;1 on a digital product, online, and therefore structured under principles of functionality, communication and language, operative in said medium? The bet is in itself a political challenge of subversion of our own mental models, not only about the nature of the contents and discourses, but also about the medium (installation or Web) and the technologies that structure these production processes.

Taking the project as a case study Question Bridge, we will observe how this reconfiguration of anthropological documentary practice has taken place from space Web based on the experiences that webdocumentaries introduce around the subject-interactors as subjects of representation, receivers and producers at the same time, in this transition from gallery space to gallery space. Web social 2.0,2 from the installation environment to the Web collaborative.

We are interested in recovering the concept of participation from the field of anthropological cinema and putting it into dialogue with the modality of participatory representation3 introduced by the cinema of the real - extensively studied by Bill Nichols (2001) -, as well as with the still incipient definitions of the collaborative webdocumentary. This conceptual map will enable us to understand the nature of the participatory process, of the environment (installation and Web collaborative) and the representation of the reality worked as products of the relationships built between authors and participating subjects-interactors.

The participatory acquires centrality for anthropological documentary cinema. It is necessary, then, to think about how the new collaborative web-documentary forms create other scenarios of relationships for the production of anthropological images and discourses. For this, the analysis will be structured in three phases: 1. Describe the conformation of the spaces of the documentary representation (gallery and Web) in terms of participation. 2. Analyze the role of technology as a structuring medium (installation, collaborative webdoc) and channels through which participation originates. 3. Analyze the relationships established by the participating subjects with each other and with the documentary staging, mediated by technology and the space of representation.

The interaction work-subjects-interactors. From Dadaism to Collaborative Web Documentary

In the history of cinema, different examples are listed in which the intention of creating an interactive trail between the work and the viewer has been the central focus. Thus the first Soviet experiments at the beginning of the century can be mentioned. xx,4 that proposed to reconfigure the space of representation of cinema in resistance to the formal, narrative and productive logics of institutional cinema.

For its part, the experimental cinema of the first and second avant-gardes (Dadaism and Surrealism, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Maya Deren, abstract cinema, the Fluxus movement) was also erected in response to the linear forms of narration and representation of the traditional cinema, and bet on the creation of works that would reveal the cinematographic contraption, confer an active role to the spectators, demystify the objective reference of the image with reality, and legitimize the development of the technique as a generator of new narratives and space dimensions. -time in the cinematic experience.

In the 1960s, the filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch marked a before and after in the relationship between documentary and ethnography. Through his work we approach the colonization process of different regions of Africa and with this we can reflect on the scope of the camera to know and understand the other.

In the Latin American context, for example, the proposal of a militant social cinema in the 60s gave rise to an ethical-political manifesto that permeated the cinematographic productions of the region, where cinema, as a means and not an end, had to be put at the service of the popular classes and resistance movements, as a counter-discourse to the stigmatized foreign representations about our cultures, problems and identities. This is the case of filmmakers such as the Argentine Octavio Getino, founder of the Grupo Cine Liberación and the Escuela del Tercer Cine; Bolivian Jorge Sanjinés, director of Grupo Ukamau and founder of the first Bolivian Film School; the Colombian Marta Rodríguez, considered a pioneer of the anthropological documentary in Latin America, whose gaze was focused on peasants, workers, students, indigenous people; the Cuban documentary maker Sara Gómez; Venezuelan Margot Benacerraf, director of two important Latin American film documentaries such as Reveron and Araya; the Brazilian Glauber Rocha, one of the representatives of the Cinema Novo Brasileiro, and the Argentine Fernando Birri, among other exponents.

All this need to rethink the authorial bases of film creation and think about the medium from the medium itself, as well as democratize the cinematographic experience, acquires another scope with the emergence of video (1980s) as a light and accessible technique, which He favored thinking of cinema as an instrument of resistance - fundamentally appropriate, in the Latin American case, by social movements and the right to citizenship and access to information; and the movements that fight for respect for ethnic and cultural diversity. It gave rise to videographers busy giving new meanings to documentary practice through new technical-creative possibilities.

Experiences such as video-installation are inscribed in this framework, where art and film institutions merge. It is oriented towards a rethinking of the representation space, the work-viewer relationship, and in general the conception of documentary practice in its multidimensionality.

Since the 90s, with the irruption of the internet and later digital social networks and mobile applications (2000s), a situation has been fostered that favors the creation of materials marked by interactivity, horizontal vocation and convergence of languages and modes of audiovisual production, representation and socialization.

Media and cultural convergence (Jenkins, 2008) has not only reconfigured the logics and practices, for example, of television (“small” screen to broadcast streaming), music production and consumption (CD to the mp3, iTunes, ipod, YouTube, Spotify ...), the press (printed edition to digital edition, the blogs, multimedia journalism, extensions of the media to social platforms such as twitter, facebook, instagram), etc., but also the documentary genre, once traditional linear formats begin to coexist with new trends such as: multimedia documentaries, transmedia, webseries, webdoc5 o i-docs (Gaudenzi, 2009, 2013; Gifreu Castells, 2010, 2013a, 2013b, 2014; Levin, 2013; Rose, 2011, 2013, 2014; Veludo Rodrigues, 2013; Porto Reno, 2006a, 2006b, 2007a, 2007b, 2011).

According to the Australian researcher Kate Nash (2012), contemporary documentary filmmakers are thinking about the paths that documentary could follow in line with technological changes and forms of digital communication, and they point towards non-linear, multimedia, interactive, hybrid paths, cross-platform, convergent, virtual, etc. This documentary body is known as a webdocumentary.

Through this journey we have wanted to illustrate how reflection and interactivity have been at the center of authorial concerns at various times in the history of cinema: conceptual cinema, thinking about the possibilities of the medium itself; of the avant-garde, experimentation; and currently, with the digital age, the symbiosis of all these lines: the reconfiguration of the medium and the practices, the expansion of the modalities of interactivity, and the subjects of representation turned into co-authors of the audiovisual text.

Participation in anthropological documentary cinema in the face of new documentary formats and technologies

Participation as a presupposition of a subversive, political and agency documentary gaze has been at the center of the conceptualization of anthropological cinema. This participation takes into consideration the relationships between the subjects of the film world during the production processes of representations of other realities.

From the typology of modalities of documentary representation, as forms of organization of the text according to conventions of the medium itself in its development, Nichols (2001) describes the participatory mode as one that shows the relationship between the filmmaker and the filmed subject, whose encounter implies a ethical and political positioning.

It is the meeting between one who handles a movie camera and one who does not. How do a filmmaker and a social actor respond to each other? How do they negotiate control and share responsibility? How much can the filmmaker insist on a testimony when it is painful to provide it? What responsibility does the filmmaker have for the emotional consequences of appearing before the camera? What links unite the filmmaker and the subject and what needs divide them? (Nichols, 2001: 116).

For the participatory documentary, from the moment of the meeting between filmmakers and subjects of representation, an image is no longer the result of the gaze and subjectivity of some, but of a negotiated co-creation, of a dialogical act of construction of collective knowledge. This is how it develops –explains the filmmaker and visual anthropologist Carmen Guarini– “a participation not only in the reality of the filmic subject, but also of the filmic subject in the reality of the film” (Guarini, 1985: 155).

In 1975, David MacDougall altered the normalized order of films based on the need and the conditions of an observation, suggested taking into consideration the other as a partner in equal parts in the making of the film, as a "primary producer" of the filmic reality, with the same title as the director. […] This implied that observers and observed, constituted as partners, interlocutors, ask each other questions related to each one of them in order to understand their existence. This included the observers in the progression of a reciprocal knowledge: it was the invention of the notion of “participatory cinema”. The anthropological image or rather the image as an anthropological production, based on a recording and representation technique, was immediately constituted as an object in the category of representation as a whole. […] Today, on the other hand, we try to account for the anthropological orientation as such: in the process of shaping, the attempted transfer of experiences to their representations is carried out respecting the way of the one to whom it is addressed and who From now on, he looks at her and interrogates her (Piault, 2002: 293-323).

This conceptual banner has been accompanied by the debate on the presence of technology and its mediations (coercing or enabling) in the face of anthropological records. For Carmen Guarini (1985), "the various progresses in the forms of recording were displacing the fragmented presentation in time and space of the observed activities, allowing their direct and continuous recording and simultaneously incorporating the sounds of the situations" ( Guarini, 1985: 152).

How, then, to think about the digital leap and the internet and the arrival of locative media, where the ubiquity of technology enables synchronous communication from different space-time coordinates; where access, consumption and production of audiovisual content are completed through various platforms, and at the same time that we consume a product, we produce content that feed back the different narrative plots of web-documentary projects?

One of the central elements of a visual anthropology experience is the feedback process of the work, where

The vision with the people filmed of what has been done will allow to discuss, correct and expand the registered situations, participating directly in the elaboration of new strategies of apprehension of the facts. The film thus becomes the result of a true exploration of other possible realities and brings us, at least in part, closer to the worldview of those filmed (Guarini, 1985: 155).

In the case of webdocumentaries, these feedback processes are part of the work; the collaborative interface allows the constant feeding of the various narrative plots. Living documentary Sandra Gaudenzi (2009) names these non-linear interactive works: living, open, recursive and reflective projects, where the subjects-interactors participate in their times, from different media, and with different appropriations of the works.

Gaudenzi (2009), specifically, has oriented his proposal based on the interactivity relationship between the work and the user, betting on the potentialities of this documentary tendency to understand the subjects as co-creators of the material, either from the ordering of the discourse and the story during navigation, as well as from their experiential contributions and content during production - a constitutive element of collaborative practices.

In this way, Gaudenzi (2009) describes four modes of interaction: conversation (aimed at granting functions and roles to viewers, who establish a stimulus-response relationship with the product, through interface dynamics); hitchhiking (from an elaborate and predetermined content, users construct the information, generally through links or hyperlinks within the format); the experimental (the users live a story in real time and space that the work is simultaneously producing) and the participatory (the database is transformable, it can be constantly fed through comments, materials, information, the users interact through their contribution to the construction of the work).

Australian researcher Kate Nash (2012) also presents her proposal based on an analysis of the narrative structures of webdocumentaries as frames of interaction, without losing sight of the strong bond –still existing– with the traditional modes of representation of cinema and television. According to its classification, in the documentary Web collaborative The meaning of the documentary for those who participate is tied to the relationships that are formed through their contribution and may be less easily deducible from the analysis of the documentary text alone. In the study of the collaborative documentary there is a need to look for the traces of these relationships6 (Nash, 2012: 206).

In this way, a conceptual turning point is experienced: from interactivity associated with modes of consumption, reading or browsing (reception), to collaboration7 and / or participation as constitutive premises from which to empower users (broadcast) and refocus their ethical and aesthetic positioning.

Specifically about collaborative production online, the most constant researcher has been the associate professor and director of the Digital Cultures Research Center (University of the West of England), Mandy Rose (2011), who proposes four models around the logics of collaboration: that of a creative crowd (various participants contribute fragments to create a unified and coherent whole); that of participating observers (the filmmakers and participants are involved in the project in a collaborative logic; the participants decide when and what they film and the story they want to tell); the community with a purpose (a group takes part in a production with a common objective around social change, being able to be involved in the taking of content, or encompassing another function in the process); and the footprints of the crowd (projects that introduce a new aspect to collaboration by creating content from social media, bringing together a potentially anonymous crowd, the contributors).

The Catalan researcher Josep María Català argues that in the transition from the photographic image to the cinematographic, videographic image and finally the interface (Catalá, 2004), the concept of narrative strategies has shifted to that of exhibition strategies (Catalá, 2010). For this author, the new possibilities of organizational forms and the materiality of discourse hint at new mental horizons.

In the organization of knowledge of reality, we go from the domain of narrative to that of the so-called exposure mode. The mode of exposure is a way of putting space-time ensembles into a vision, putting into vision that can be considered a logical development of the previous process of putting into images that photography and cinema inaugurated (Català, 2010: 5).

The new forms of the interface, rather than telling a story, expose the components that can become stories, Catalá observes. "The story It is composed by the user himself through his action with these materials that the interface exhibition mode is putting, supplying it from his interventions, which thus acquire a hermeneutical character ”(Català, 2010: 14-15).

Although at the beginning the webdocumentaries appealed to be constituted from the interaction with the user or consumer through an interface design that stimulates fragmented, personalized navigation, currently they are beginning to think about the role of the subjects-interactors in the conformation of their own product.

Question Bridge. The jump to the web

The transmedia project Question Bridge (2012-present) was born as a video installation and later mutated into space online as a collaborative webdocumentary. It emerged with the intention of generating a debate among African Americans about identity roles and representations around their culture. It is a documentary about the construction of masculine identity among African-Americans and their vicissitudes in a deeply segregationist history context. It is worth mentioning the insertion of Question Bridge in a tradition of American works that explore different angles on African-American reality, such as documentaries United Tongues (Marlon Riggs, 1989) and American Pimp8 (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, 1999).

Going back to Question BridgeIn 1966, artist Chris Johnson carried out a project based on a conversation about class and generational divisions in San Diego's African-American community. A decade later, artist Hank Willis Thomas approached Johnson with the interest of creating a similar project focused on the issues of black men in the country. Thus arose Question Bridge, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (2012) as an installation-style documentary.

More than 1600 were recorded for its realization clips of question and answer videos to more than 160 men in nine cities in the United States. The filmmakers recorded one person posing a question and then another answering that question and creating a new one. The questions were not written by the production team, but were asked by the interviewees themselves. Thus, a fabric of voices was built that they later articulated in the edition.

Some of the questions that guide the different debates of the documentary are: Why is it so difficult for the American black man in this culture to be himself, his essential self, and to maintain himself as such? What does it mean to be a black man? What do we have in common? How do representations about black people affect who you are? What is your blackness doing?

Question Bridge: Black Males it opens a window to the complex and often invisible dialogues between African-American men. “Blackness” is no longer a simple and monochromatic concept, since the project urges the participants to be themselves simultaneously researchers and subjects. Thus, not only the participants but also the witnesses of the project are freed to recognize each black man as an individual with unlimited potential, freed from the limitations of low-expectation stereotypes. […] The project is not about black men at all. It deals with what happens when people are in groups, how they relate to the idea of the group and the others within it. It is a human experience. We are living in a time when we are overcoming the authoritarian and bombastic narratives written by our “leaders” (Willis, 2013).

The video installation has been exhibited in more than 25 museums, galleries, festivals, cultural and educational institutions, including the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center (for African-American Arts + Culture), the Brooklyn Museum, Winthrop University Galleries… The practice of cinematographic consumption associated with the movie theater will be destabilized by a multidimensional, fragmentary proposal, where viewers are part of the work itself, being able to decide - within a proposed narrative logic and spatial path - their own routes and order of speech. And within their exhibition strategies (Sucari, 2012), multiprojection and multiscreen design converge in the conformation of the space (it consists of five video channels that project different debates in unison), as can be seen in illustrations 1 and 2.

Illustration 1. Question Bridge exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.
Illustration 2. Question Bridge exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

In September 2014 Question Bridge It is presented as a collaborative interface webdocumentary. Why take it to the web? Johnson and Willis explain in the webdoc the interest they had in expanding the margins of the documentary and opening the story to all the people who wanted to add their stories, criteria and lines of reflection.

Illustrations 3. Registration window for participants.
Illustration 4 Dialogue section of Professor Richard J. Watson.

Thus, a collaborative interface was created that allows any user (prior registration on the page) to post their own video with a question, or add their answer to an open conversation. The database you created Question Bridge today it has 346 debates.9

Space, technology and the work-subjects-interactors relationship

Enter the space of Bridge question is already a dive. An immersion in stories, dialogues, debates between black men from different parts of the United States, social strata, professions, ages. At first glance, windows pop out that reveal the faces of its protagonists; windows that move, are not still, appear and disappear; maybe they won't reappear. It is up to you as interactor to select which window to enter, and with it, which debate.

Illustration 5. Home of Question Bridge.

Unlike linear documentaries, interactive non-linear narrative projects are designed so that the user participates, interacts with the piece (to different degrees). Hence, they are composed of two spaces: one for representation (where the contents selected in the interface are developed) and one for selection (refers to the interface itself) (Rodríguez and Molpeceres, 2013).

The space of representation in Question Bridge It is built on a black background that, although on the one hand it seeks to give preponderance only to the different images contained in each dialog box, on the other it conveys a sensation of abyss, of infinity: all possible stories seem to fit in the screen leak , as interconnected galaxies, networked.

In that space we enter looking not only what to see and hear, but how to participate. The selection space is designed so that the subject-interactor can scroll through the dialog boxes, enter the profiles of each participant, join any of the conversations with a video, geolocate on a map of the USA the treated stories, as well as consult the contents through thematic, geographical, age, and temporal filters (crossed), and share their experience on social networks such as twitter and facebook.

This range of participatory possibilities of Question Bridge It suggests the communicative potential that Nash (2012) attributes to webdocumentaries, taking into account the capacity of the subject-interactors to direct and contribute to the content. In this sense, the author proposes three dimensions of interactivity to take into account when expanding its limits towards collaboration: "the form of interactivity, the purpose or motivation for interactivity and the context of interactivity" (Nash, 2012: 196).

In 2014, Hank Willis and Chris Johnson gave birth to the project, they presented Question Bridge as a webdocumentary, with the same stories that they had recorded for their installation version. Appropriating the tools Web and digital and combining various programming languages, its filmmakers set the platform's communication and participation guidelines and left the project open to the different appropriations of the subject-interactors. The future path of Question Bridge It would then depend on the community that was being built around the webdoc and its oriented or random accesses, levels of interest and involvement with the subject and gradual states of knowledge and appropriation of the technology.

Did the narrative plot of Question Bridge? Were new stories, debates, actors, points of view, audiovisual resources incorporated? Yes. During 2015 (at the end of this study) more than 25 new debates were added (articulated from New York, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and South Carolina), with topics such as the following: black man : Have you thought about adopting a child or becoming an adoptive parent? (Question: Marlin Brown / Answer: Frederick Randall II and Rashad Lartey). How do we give young black men a sense of hope that they will succeed? (Question: Donald Preston / Answer: Rory Lee-Washington, Leanie Hall, Sterling Wilder, Donald Hendrick). Why aren't blacks more united in our fight? (Question: Jason Isaacs / Answer: Rashad Lartey, Ernest Davis, Ernest Davis, Frederick Randall II).

The degree of interactivity expands here; We are no longer talking about a social interactivity limited to navigation and the order of the story, but generative (Gifreu, 2013b). For the Catalan researcher Arnau Gifreu Castells, webdocumentaries recover the modalities of representation of linear documentaries and add other modalities, those of navigation and interaction, depending on the degree of participation and interaction that they contemplate (Gifreu, 2013b: 300). These modalities will be determined by the type of interface (support, application platform) designed in narrative terms, and therefore the type of immersive experience offered to the subject-interactor.

Considering the typology of Gifreu (2013b),10 Question Bridge develops a generative interaction modality: “The user-interactor acts as content emitter and the director of the piece as a quality filter (usually). Interactive documentary that grows and changes thanks to the contributions of its users, often using feedback through video files, text, photographs or audio presentations. " It is a concept similar to that used by the British researcher Mandy Rose (2014) when she talks about a “community with a purpose”.

To analyze this, we will take as an example one of the 25 conversations in 2015. Rashad Lartey (Missouri, 28 years old) and Frederick Randall II (Alabama, 23 years old) are two of the subject-interactors that have the most presence in Question Bridge, having participated until 2015 in 10 and 18 debates respectively and coincided in many of them. Because of this, we selected for a more focused analysis one of the dialogues of this year in which both users participate: “My son heard a song on the radio and asked me what it means nigga; what do I tell them?" (Question: James Lewis / Answer: Tavares Garrett, Victor Johnson, Rashad Lartey, Frederick Randall II).

Question from James Lewis. Imported video from:
Response from Tavares Garrett. Imported video from:
Response from Victor Johnson. Imported video from:
Rashad Lartey's response. Imported video from:
Response from Frederick Randall II. Imported video from:

Subjects debate on how to explain to children and adolescents (who are in full conformity of their belief systems and values) what the word means nigga. Although the discourse erected by each of the subjects would imply a rigorous and detailed analysis, for this analysis we will focus on the relationships that the subjects establish with each other and with the web-documentary text, mediated by technology and the space of representation.

Technology is not a neutral tool, and it opens - consequently, according to the uses attributed to it - its own forms, visualities, languages and discourses.11 The web 2.0 constitutes a space of representation with its particularities, logics and instituted languages, within which the web-documentary text is edified and semantized. It is necessary to bear in mind how the social and cultural representation of the Internet as a communicative, interactive, "democratic" space, also favors the way in which the subjects-interactors of Question Bridge they appropriate this tool.

Space Web It seems to have its interaction rituals based on what Jenkins (2009) has called “participatory culture”, based on collaborative logics of production, consumption and sociability that entail other forms and processes of learning for subjects in the digital environment. The Web 2.0 is configured associated with its founding and constitutive principles (its operation and logic are debatable and questionable).12 It seems that the internet is made for us to "participate", comment, share, suggest, collaborate. This representation and this discourse of internet technology not only permeates the assumptions from which the space of web-documentary representation is thought and built in Question Bridge, but also from where users appropriate the technology and for what purposes.

In the conversation that concerns us, it is important to note that the five users (James Lewis, Tavares Garrett, Victor Johnson, Rashad Lartey, Frederick Randall II) use video and sound cameras incorporated into mobile devices or computers, and not strictly professional cameras. video, which can be determined by the quality of the images, the angles of lenses such as those of webcams, and even (although not necessarily always) the postures and the scenery. Four of the scenes are in rooms, and one during a car ride. The subjects speak to the camera as if they were speaking directly to their interlocutor, no longer to an author-director. They are the creators of the discourse, its order, time and space, and not an extradiegetic author.

Català (2010) explains how, in the interface exhibition mode, movement and time acquire a complex hermeneutical function. “Time and space, in the interface, surpass their ontological and anthropological condition to reach an epistemological status that reveals the potentiality of the alliances between art (visual culture and its complex phenomenology) and science (the technological framework that sustains operations of the computer) ”(Català, 2010: 13). Hence, a central concept appears in interactive digital communication, the user experience, determined by the physical and cognitive relationship that it manages to establish with the digital product through an interface. "The strategies of enunciation (of the mode of exposure) become, with the interface, strategies of reception" (Català, 2010: 14).

These five African Americans take advantage of the immediacy and ubiquity of technology to participate in the debate from different cities, at different times and even while doing other activities. This is how they build their plot within the hypertext space that is the Web and, inside her, Question Bridge.

However, it is important to emphasize that spaces - do not exclude the Web 2.0– do not necessarily determine the activities that take place there, since the relationships of meaning may be conditioned by uses and modes not contemplated by said space.

In this way, it is necessary to take into account the activities resulting from the interactions within and through the communicative and discursive space that results. Question Bridge. The videos produced by Lewis, Garrett, Johnson, Lartey, and Randall II are not a post-play debate, they are the web-documentary work itself, alive, open, processual; becoming in the contribution and collective bargaining of the community of African-American men that he formed. However, these processes require a certain knowledge of the digital medium and its functionality, a fact that puts the democratizing vision of the Internet phenomenon in crisis. In this case, if there were no cognitive base of digital language and mobile media (interfaces Web and mobile applications), the interpretation and appropriation processes would be null or low, and the empowerment sought would not arrive.

The particularities of web-documentary trends make us think that the poetic language with which (cinematographic) art is associated is now closely related to a sign system characterized by digital and computational culture. Therefore, this new practice unrelated to both audiovisual and digital systems cannot be understood. If before the arrival of internet technology and Web 2.0 documentary practice could continue to be assumed from traditional formats (beyond the different experimental attempts with the medium itself), from this scenario new codes, languages and sign systems will be translated, incorporated and reinterpreted, so that today they have passed to the core values of many cultures, such as the American one. These processes of interpretation, decoding and learning of new sign systems that favor the incorporation of these technologies into daily life and artistic production are expressed in the organicity and multimodality from which the subject-interactors of Question Bridge they appropriate the technological tools they have at hand to take part in the debates that their community articulates through Question Bridge.


The collaborative webdocumentary practices are designed so that the subjects-interactors take part in the work, either by contributing content or even modifying the nature of the product.

In the experience of the webdocumentary, the existence of an enclave space of the work (format) that communicates certain meanings and relationships between it and the subjects-interactors who became co-authors, originates a double participation: 1. in the generation of autonomous images of character anthropological, and 2. in modifying the very logics of participation with which the environment was born; The latter process generated gradually and in the dynamic exchange and the consolidation of identifications and shared identities between the subjects-interactors that make up the community around the project.

In Question Bridge the work-subjects-interactors relationship is given by the communicative possibilities of an interface design (role of technology) that generates an immersive experience; they are subject-interactors who not only order the story or construct their own discourses but also collectively produce the contents (collaborative logic). Feedback processes are part of the work itself.

There is a level jump in terms of authorial referentiality, because the questions are no longer those asked by a filmmaker who believes he understands a problem and can explain it with the response of the other, of the subject who participates in it, but they are his own subjects who put their questions on the table, revealing the problem itself behind them; that is, the questions become equally valuable as the answers to understand a phenomenon from the horizontal exercise.

Question Bridge is a living archive of voices connected from different space-time dimensions, but leading to a heterogeneous matrix of African-American masculinity, which articulates the fabric and anthropological character of the web-documentary content that its authors circulate through more than one screen, more of one device, more than one platform, and with more than one purpose. Thinking about the masculine identities of the African-American community is possible through the questions that the subjects themselves ask, record and try to solve among themselves. Question Bridge creates a framework for this discussion, and the interactions that take place there allow us to find the anthropological aspect of the gaze. But not only the predisposition of the environment to participation is a guarantee of its development, as it will also be conditioned - among other factors - by the role of gender.

For the continuity of this study, it will then be necessary to analyze with them from what cognitive models, representations, value systems they discussed and built a collective knowledge as African-American men from different regions of their country, generations, class, social, ideological positions, etc. What does your language reveal to you, the communicative logics, the topics you selected? From what positions of power did they relate to and (de) construct themselves as African-American men? What are the rites of African-American masculinity that can be read in this engagement exercise, and which ones cannot? From this collaborative format, the scope of the reflections can already be suspected and especially the way in which the contents are articulated and completed, making the original question more complex and highlighting cultural elements of its participants.


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Encartes, vol. 4, núm 7, marzo 2021-agosto 2021, es una revista académica digital de acceso libre y publicación semestral editada por el Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, calle Juárez, núm. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Norte, A. C., Carretera escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, núm. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, México, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, e Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, núm. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434. Contacto: Directora de la revista: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Alojada en la dirección electrónica Responsable de la última actualización de este número: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Fecha de última modificación: 15 de abril de 2021.

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