Collaborative annotation and interactive film analysis: from passive viewers to emancipated spectators

Alice Leroy
French National Library

The experiment of a digital tool within a university film workshop.
This paper is intended to draw the first outcomes of a film analysis workshop
which consisted in the collaborative annotation of a corpus of films with a digital
technology. During the first semester of 2013, it gathered nearly sixty students from
the University of Lille (France) and aimed at documenting the collections of the French
National Library by creating a mind-map of metadata which could later be enriched by
other contributors.
As a teacher and researcher, I had been testing a digital tool, Lignes de temps,
as a supporting device for courses or academic conferences. Lignes de temps, both a
stand-alone software and a Web platform, was created in 2006 by the Institute of
Research and Innovation of the Centre Pompidou (IRI1). Under the impetus of its
founder Bernard Stiegler2, a philosopher concerned with the idea that digital
technologies might be instruments of oppression as well as means of emancipation,
the IRI has developed several digital tools intended to question our conception of
knowledge and culture in the age of mass communication and digital media. For that
purpose, it has created technologies for the scientific and educational community as
well as applications for amateurs, encouraging new cultural practices and
collaborative criticism. Lignes de temps has been specifically designed for educational
practice: it consists of an editing software look-like interface which offers the possibility
of annotating and tagging video sequences. Within the educational context of film
studies, it seemed to me that experimenting this digital tool in an academic workshop
could lead to transform a literary exercise (the classical model of film analysis) into a
critical and collective contribution on images themselves. Turning students into active
viewers, able to directly comment and add information on videos, this workshop was
intended as a collaborative writing process for documenting a corpus of films related
to the figures of metamorphosis, ranging from Jacques Tourneur’s classic Cat People
to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s more sensory work Tropical Malady.
To me, this was also an opportunity to redefine film analysis as a way to
question our vision of films and our stance as viewers rather than only acquiring a
cultural knowledge. Every group of students was invited to reflect on their own
methodology of analysis, more or less discursive, keeping in mind that each group’s
work on a specific film would participate in a broader reflection on the aesthetic types
and narrative stakes of metamorphosis in film. Thus, the students were not only
commenting films, adding information or personal interpretations – as they usually do
when reacting to videos on Youtube for example – they were becoming their own
teachers, inventing their own models of analysis. This appears to me as an interesting
illustration of one of Jacques Rancière’s most stimulating notion, that of an
“emancipated spectator”3, through which he means a viewer who would transform his
vision of films and spectacles into a critical knowledge. In other words, to see is also to
know and to act.

3 Jacques Rancière, Le spectateur émancipé, Paris, La Fabrique, 2008.
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