Director Thomas Østbye and Edwin,
Initially I thought that 17.000 Islands was yet another interactive documentary about a place, portrayed through an archive of short videos. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the focus of this experience is not on the place itself, but about creating the perception of a place through representation.
A short trailer introduces the setting; a museum park in Indonesia called Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park built by the Suharto military regime in the 1970s. The park attempts to present the diverse cultures of Indonesia in a condensed form – an idealized image of the country’s 17.000 islands, promoting the idea of a diverse nation living in harmony under a national ideology. Even though many simply see it as an amusement park without much consideration for its historical background, some see it as a reminiscence of conformist propaganda. The two filmmakers Thomas Østbye and Edwin have filmed life unfold in the setting of this park. After watching the trailer you enter the interactive journey.
Descending through the clouds you see a cluster of islands in the ocean, a map. The islands are stylized and composed of triangular shapes melting together in a kind of patchwork. You are enveloped by the calming sound of rolling waves on a shore. As you hover over the islands with your mouse, you discover each of the islands contain a collage of video clips ready to explore. For the uninitiated user who is not familiar with Indonesian history, I recommend visiting the “about” page in the overhead menu before continuing, because it provides more detailed information on the background for the project. This information of course colours the way you will experience the video clips.
Exploring the video clips is a bit like traveling. You are bombarded with a myriad of impressions and strange details
from the park – people, displays, animals and trees. The handheld and slightly unsteady shots further the feeling of being a tourist in this place. The video clips provided seem a bit random though, and that is a bit disorienting. It is difficult to find and create meaningful patterns. The lack of guidance and purpose is always one of the potential pitfalls of open story worlds.
However the experience does have and end goal, which many open story worlds lack – in this case the creation of your own island. You are encouraged to collect your favourite video clips by adding them to the limited slots of a timeline at the bottom of the page, assembling material for your own short film. After collecting the clips you can edit your film directly in the browser, add a personal voice-over or text and publish it. Your film materializes into the shape of an island and is added to a new, user generated map. The metaphoric editing interface of creating an island is simple and intuitive to use, making it easily accessible to all users. It is a kind of democratizing of editing technology. As more user-generated islands are added, the original archipelago will gradually disintegrate and the map will continue to live and change organically as a result of user-interaction
I guess one intended outcome is that “reality” changes depending on who is telling the story. Considering Indonesia’s propaganda-ridden past, emphasizing the shift of perceptions makes sense. The user generated islands can be explored by other users, or shared on social media as linear films. The creators’ intention is that the user-generated films will go viral on social networks. It will be interesting to follow the effect of this and the dialogue that may arise amongst users. One important thing to note is that this interactive documentary is likely to be experienced differently by an Indonesian user, than by non-Indonesian users, simply because the former have a more personal relation to the material._
International Premiere: Sheffield Doc/Fest
The film was initiated at the DOX:LAB in 2011 as a collaboration between the two filmmakers, Norwegian Thomas Østbye and Indonesian Edwin and the interactive producer is Paramita Nath, based in Canada.