Documenting complexity: Intersections of Documentary, Activism and Technological Innovation


This project researches how documentary makers employ innovative technologies to capture and represent complexity in cities and empower citizens to act. Documentary makers, particularly those with artistic and activist motivations, are crucial creative actors when researching societal complexity. Since cinema’s invention in the 1880s, filmmakers question reality, truth and representation. These questions have become even more pressing given society’s complexity and new technologies allowing the recording and presenting of the world in highly specific, omnipresent ways: Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), 360°-cameras, drones, action-cams, and 24/7 live-streams.

How do innovative technologies impact the artistic and activist strategies of documentary makers?

To answer this question, we aim to:
-Research aims, motivations and everyday work practices of makers who pioneer technological advances in documentary production, using interviews and visual methodologies;
-Gain a maker’s perspective by co-producing a documentary around Richard Sennett’s ‘Open City,’ employing VR/AR, drones and 360°-cameras;
-Provide insight into the changing and complex role of knowledge producers, by theorising the impact of innovative recording and presentation technologies on the role of makers in complex societies.

Employing a multi-methodological approach, in which we combine visual methods, interviews and action research, we gain a complex, bottom-up understanding of how new and more established makers use technology for their activist and artistic aims. With consortium members, we co-produce a documentary using innovative technologies. This provides a unique maker’s perspective on the challenges, hopes and desires that makers experience when documenting and impacting increasingly complex societal issues within cities.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. T.A.C. Witschge

Affiliated with

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Faculteit der Letteren, Journalistieke cultuur en media

Team members

Dr. S.R.J.J. Hölsgens


01/12/2019 to 30/11/2021