LSBA 392-02 — Data Activism and Interactive Documentary

Brian Ganter
4 min readMay 3, 2015

Summer 2015, Capilano University, Instructor: Brian Ganter

Overview: “Data activism” refers to the broad or specific use of visual and other humanities technologies to analyze, critique, contribute to, measure, or assess the origins, processes, and impacts of social transformation (whether they be short- or long-term, structural or event-based). This course explores the contribution of humanities methodologies and digital humanities technologies to the overall project of data activism. The course particularly highlights recent developments in the digital (interactive or web) activist documentary, including Here at Home (see < > . How does the collection and presentation of visual data interact with the narrative forms, norms and procedures of the documentary genre in order to measure and assess the impact of movements for social change?


Required Texts

Turnin, Svetla and Ezra Winton, Ed. Screening Truth to Power: A Reader on Documentary Activism. Montréal: Cinema Politica, 2014. Print.

Waugh, Thomas,, Ed. Challenge For Change. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010. Print.

Other articles and readings TBA during the course of the tutorial.

Meetings: Three two-hour meetings throughout the term.



WEEK ONE | May 4 | No Meeting | Big Data in the Humanities + Social Sciences

DISCUSS L. Manovich, “Trending: The Promises and Challenges of Big Data,” “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” HotDocs, “Documentary Impact: Social Change Through Storytelling,” and “Rise of Neurocinema” from Fast Company

SCREEN Here at Home and Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary (section on Planning & Preparation/Research in TOPICS)

WEEK TWO | May 11 | Meeting | Documenting Data: The Activist Documentary

DISCUSS Challenge for Change, Chap. 1, 2, 3, 10, 33; J. Downing, “Illuminating the Crimes of the Powerful, A Foreword” and S. Walsh, “Speak For Yourself: The Cultural Politics of Participatory Video” in Screening Truth to Power

SCREENIntroduction to Fogo Island” and other shorts from

OPTIONAL READING K. Goldsmith, Soliloquy

OPTIONAL SCREENING D. Harvey, “RSA Animate: Crises of Capitalism

WEEK THREE | May 18 | No Meeting | Films for Change/The Documentary Maker as Intellectual

SCREEN The Take (xxxxx ), “You Are On Indian Land” (Dir. M. Ransen, 1969)

READ Challenge for Change, “Forword, Putting Ideas into the World: A Conversation with Naomi Klein about Starting Conversations with Film” Chap. 5, 15, 16, 17, 36; Screening Truth to Power, E. Winton, “Identity and Resistance: An Interview with Abenaki Filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin,” T. Deer and T. Hubbard, “Aboriginal Politics and Culture on Screen,” and E. Winton, “A Conceptual Intervention in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: An Interview with Antoine Bourges”

OPTIONAL READING: Deleuze and Foucault

WEEK FOUR May 25 | Meeting | The Database Documentary

READ Soar, M. and M. Gagnon, Ed. D|N|A., Essays 1, 4, 5, 6, 7; L. Manovich, “Database as a Genre of New Media” ; and H. Cohen, “Database Documentary: From Authorship to Authoring in Remediated/Remixed Documentary” from Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research

SCREEN/VIEW Blood Sugar and Public Secrets

OPTIONAL SCREENING DJ Spooky, Rebirth of A Nation and “DJ Spooky | Rebirth of a Nation | Higher Learning

OPTIONAL READING N. Katherine Hayles, “The Digital Humanities” from How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technologies.

Big Networks and Visual Information

READ Branch, J. “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel CreekThe New York Times and “The NSA Files: Decoded,” The Guardian

BROWSE Selfie City

SCREEN The Art of Data Visualization,” Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

READ F. Lopez, “Anarchist Cinema,” F. Lopez, “Anarchist Films,” S. Christoff, “A Democratic Screening Space,” and S. Christoff, “Capturing a Militant (On Screen): An Interview with Lina Makboul” in Screening Truth to Power

OPTIONAL READING L. Manovich, “Cultural Analytics: Visualizing Cultural Patterns in the Era of ‘More Media’”

OPTIONAL SCREENING D. Harvey, “RSA Animate: Crises of Capitalism

WEEK FIVE June 1 | No Meeting | Tools for Digital Analysis

SCREEN Far From Poland, (J. Godmilow, 1984) & The Interview (H. Farocki, 2006)

READHow Real is the Reality in Documentary Film? Jill Godmilow in Conversation with Ann-Louise Shapiro”; J. Clarke, “A Doc-World in the Making,” M. Hays, “Documentary Disasters and Screening Serendipity,” K. Fitzpatrick, “Grassroots Across Borders,” and D. Varga, “Documentary and Actually Existing Utopias” in Screening Truth to Power

Software Assessment and Review: juxtapose, etc.

WEEK SIX | June 8 | Meeting | The Politics of the DIgital Big Networks & The Po

Alan Liu, Distant Reading, From Reading to Social Computing

WEEK SEVEN | June 15 | No Meeting | The Interactive (Web) Documentary: Assessing Social Impact

READ/BROWSE Hypercities & FortMcMoney

READ S. Gaudenzi, “Interactive Documentary” from The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media. (2014)

READ D. Licata, “The Up Films: The Speed of Life” in Filmmaker Magazine (2013); D. Barrett and S. Leddy, “Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact” (2008)


Berry, D (2011) “The computational turn: Thinking about the digital humanities.” Culture Machine 12. Part of Open Humanities Press.

Börner, K & D.E. Polley. Visual Insights: A Practical Guide to Making Sense of Data. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2014. Print.

Karlin, B. and J. Johnson. “Measuring Impact: The Importance of Evaluation for Documentary Film Campaigns.” M/C Journal 14.6. (2011).

Pentland, A. “Reinventing Society in the Wake of Big Data.” Edge. 30 Aug. 2012.

“Nettie Wild: The Language of the Lens” from B. Ganter, Ed. Wild at Heart: The Films of Nettie Wild





Brian Ganter

Scholarly Rocket. I teach in the English Dept. at Capilano University, Vancouver, British Columbia.