Co-creation functions as a utopian idea that may never be fully actualized.
Conceptually and in practice, it exceeds simple co-directing.
As a utopian idea, it is an aspiration, a goal, an imagining, a signpost.
Co-creation assumes different forms and distinctive practices, nuanced to contested spaces, people, places, and technologies.
Co-creation is self-reflexive and dialectical, driven to establish a more liberatory ethos of moving image practice.
Co-creation is not fixed or defined; it is a process that is contextual and contingent on a wide spectrum of variables. Historical and political contexts, different groups, and different places define co-creation differently. Co-creation is an elastic and malleable category, always developing, moving toward the utopian goals of community.
Co-creation enacts lateral structures, but exists in a state of constant change during a project.
Co-creation is a broad umbrella term for a series of production and reception practices in documentary that reject a single author or vertical production hierarchies.
Co-creation may be an unreachable ideal, but it informs decision-making in the documentary process either in collaborative work with a community or with individuals.
Co-creation functions in deep time rather than by short fixes or parachuting into communities. Working in deep time requires full immersion, long conversations, and recognizing and then resolving differences in organizational or media production skills through strategies of empowerment.
Co-creation's utopian position exists within contradiction; how do practitioners deal with the differences, difficulties, and messiness of moving away from the auteur toward community?
Co-creation demands focused reflection on its inherent ethical and political dimensions.
Co-creation emerges in response to new forms of documentary across platforms where the vertical structures of production are rejected in favor of horizontal formations.
Multivocality and multiple platforms inform the strategies of co-creation.
Co-creation is a process of negotiation among participants always striving to be more inclusive.
Co-creation implies working principles of collaboration, coordination, and cooperation. It also requires acknowledging the emotional stakes unleashed in projects that feel precarious and working within the emotional contours of participants’ contributions. Disorder and uncertainty emerge in creators, partners, participants, and viewers.
The single author concept presents problems of inherent authoritarianism creating a monologic discourse; co-creation models can offer new ways to infuse a democratic ethos into media making.
Media programs at colleges and universities too often enact pedagogies supporting the principles of sole authorship rather than participatory models of co-creation, limiting students to a confined and limited set of assumptions about production and critical work.
An auteur perspective requires consideration of authorial voice, authorship, decision-making processes, ethics, and ownership. A co-creation or “community-based” approach asks us to think about the plurality of participants with varying stakes and levels of involvement.
Co-creation is frequently positioned as emancipatory and nonhierarchical. What is the distinction between this promotional, utopian image and more complicated embodied practices?
In co-creation projects, power differentials frequently divide those with lived experience who are the bearers of potential stories from documentary directors, facilitators, and technical creatives with formalized expertise. Co-creation must be attentive to power dynamics in production that are often excised from accounts of co-creation modalities.
Co-creation requires unpacking and analyzing its philosophical underpinnings, its organizational structures of production, and its paradigm shifts in thinking and doing documentary.
Co-creation is an embodied practice produced through interpretative acts, investigating experience, building communities, and interdisciplinary media arts practices. Co-creation is contingent upon dialogue, openness, and the free play of imagination and understanding.
Co-creation engages with ideas and contestatory spaces that engage multiscalar structures of ideas, politics, and practices. Multiscalar means multiple levels and different scales.
Multiscalar events and issues move from larger issues, themes, and contexts to the small and the specific.
Multiscalar conceptualizations travel across different spaces, communities, and levels of abstraction.
A multiscalar approach requires new models; we must abandon linear reasoning in order to move from hierarchical organizing principles to lateral conceptions.
Co-creation documentary work entails multiple scales: from collaborators, contributors, and participants, and from allyship, decision-making, and taking control of representation.
To work in a multiscalar modality requires incorporating multiplicities of place and time.
Multiscalar also refers to the different forms co-creation can assume, from films to web projects to video installations to performance, to apps, to sound, to sitting in circles for storytelling.
Multiscalar suggests multiple ways of working with people, processes, and projects. It moves toward multiple interfaces and iterations rather than a single output.
Multiscalar conceptualizations and practices engage multiple stakeholders and develop multiple structures for self-reflection. It embodies different scales as projects move through conception, research, production, post-production, exhibition, and circulation.
Multiscalar approaches require diversity in the processes of co-creation and accommodating different levels of intensity and participation across a spectrum in order to create solidarities with agents and subjects.
Co-creation itself is comprised of multiscalar production modes ranging from activist, collective, participatory, and politically engaged to fan-generated and community-based.
A multiscalar theory of co-creation rejects the binary between single authorship and collaborative modes, which is unproductive and must be dismantled. Collaborative work has been subjugated to the hegemony of authorship for too long, with undergraduate and graduate media programs chained to single authorship models of production. Courses organized around group projects and teams in both theory- and practice-led courses are designed to train students to enter neoliberal corporate sectors rather than to work with and build communities. Academia devalues faculty collaborative work, treating co-authorship and collaborative projects with suspicion and distain. These attitudes affect hiring, tenure, promotion, and salaries. They also affect teaching practices, with individual rather than team teaching valorized.
Multiscalar sensibilities illuminate possibilities that were once unthinkable but are now doable. Co-creation opens space for reconceptualizing practice through hermeneutics, a process of continual interpretation and reinterpretation. These shifting creative modalities operate within non-hierarchical structures with multivocal perspectives, and radical political imaginings for the twenty-first century.
Multiscalar work requires an ethics that can move through the relationship between makers, participants, and co-creators across categories that ordinarily divide us: ethnicity, gender, race, class, community, and nationality.
Auteurism is inadequate for multiscalar environmental, political, and social challenges.
Multiscalar events and political struggles necessitate a theory and a practice of polyphony, the construction of temporary heterotopias through assemblages of difference, diversity, and interdisciplinarity.
Time informs multiscalar modes of co-creation. This process requires an investment in working with people at many levels and in many situations, intensities, and emotional terrains.
Funders often prefer vertical power structures of production, which stands in contrast to co-creation's lateral aspirations and multiscalar realities.
Granularity invokes the detail, the incident, the molecular, the small, the specific. It functions in opposition to the epic, the national, the abstract.
Granularity situates co-creation as a ground-up process that must be discovered anew in each project. Granularity leaves openings for confusions, contradictions, debates, disempowerment, emotional resonances, failures, marginalization, and messiness.
“Conflict” is a construction that betrays an inherent linear process of white Western popular culture commercial forms; a shift to the nonlinear and the granular, on the other hand, holds the possibilities of bringing different positions, voices, and worlds into an encounter.
Granularity galvanizes encounters in the process of creation, generating unexpected and unpredictable conversations that reshape the process and make room for commitments, mistakes, and revisions.
The mining metaphor is an apt one for the conventional and industrial documentary process: enacting hierarchies, digging, extracting resources, taking, and then leaving.
In documentary, extraction is capitalist, colonialist, neoliberal, and racist exploitation. Like strip mining, extraction plucks away what is valuable and leaves only destruction. It inflicts traumas on land, people, bodies, and spaces, robbing them of context and historical specificity.
Documentary must come to terms with extraction as an ethical issue. We must recognize that documentary ethics and politics are more complex than simply giving voice to the voiceless, or speaking truth to power, or having a commitment to the dialogic.
Thinking about extraction means thinking about how documentary practices extract built environments, nature, the nonhuman, people, places, and spaces, from context and community.
Taking stories and images must always be interrogated as extraction so that a democratic ecosystem can be protected and restored.
UNRESOLVED QUESTIONS ON CO-CREATION
When is co-creation possible? When is co-creation impossible?
Who are the partners in co-creation documentary?
Who is behind the camera and who is in front?
What are the responsibilities of initiators and facilitators?
How are these differences of privilege negotiated?
Can we move beyond the euphoria of co-creation to ground it along a spectrum of contextually specific interventions?
How do we bring mindfulness and presence to documentary engagements?
Can we imagine a slow documentary practice emulating the practices and principles of the slow food movement?
How do participants and partnerships evolve across the process and duration of a project?
How can we theorize new collaborative media practices operating on models of co-creation?
Do we need to reformulate documentary theories to understand the complexities and significance of documentary collaboration, participation, and co-creation?
Why are academic institutions that teach production and theory uninterested in co-creation and collaborative practices, which are thus notably absent from curriculum and courses?
Why are so many funding models and curricula enforcing de facto auteurism, hierarchical structures, and conflict-/narrative-/character-driven models?
Can we develop a granular consideration of co-creation's challenges, complexities, and limitations that will deepen our understanding of this work?
How can we identify co-creation documentary practices that are multiscalar and beyond extraction?