The { } And: An analysis

The { } And: An analysis

The { } And is an Emmy Award winning interactive documentary that explores the dynamics of modern relationships by bringing the viewer into the emotional space of real life couples.

The interactive documentary is a project created by The Skin Deep, a creative studio focused on human interaction in the digital age. Why? As stated on their site, “the emotional experience of human life is rapidly and dramatically shifting in the digital age. We explore and reflect these changes”.

Featured in the site start up animation, several icons symbolizing love, money, equality, babies, etc. appear in the { }  which symbolize the topics of questions that 30 couples are asked as participants. It is clear that the participants that have agreed to volunteer in this project possess qualities of courage and vulnerability necessary to answer questions like: Why do you love me? What would you do if I cheated on you? What is something you wish we didn’t have to go through?

The interactivity of the website is cued with “Now, we’ll create a customized documentary film about the way you experience love in a relationship”. The user documentary is created by having the user answer four questions that would provide an algorithm for the customization. After answering the questions, the website strings together a short video featuring an array of clips from the archive of interviews based on the user’s answers.

I had my roommate complete the interactivity portion of the website to observe a beta user experience. She expressed some frustration over the fact that only two choices were given some questions. For example, the question, “Would you describe your childhood as… traumatic or educational” proved to be difficult to just pick one over the other. Based on the selection of videos provided from the algorithm, I asked my roommate if she felt that the video was pertinent to her life, current state of relationship.  A lot of the couples in the customization were either older in age, farther along in their relationship, preparing for a newborn, therefore she stated that the relationships portrayed had aspects that she hoped to obtain in the future with her current relationship however, the customized documentary did not represent the way she experienced love in a relationship as the interactivity prompt suggests.

I’m not sure if it was due to difficulties on my end, but after the customized documentary was over, the video just stopped without a fade to black, or any indication of the video being over. I thought I hit pause by accident. This kind of disrupts the experience. Based on this beta-test as well as my own experience with this particular interactive aspect of the website, I don’t believe it was the strength of the website. I believe the user questionnaire should be longer for a more precise customization. 

After watching the customized documentary, you are free to explore the database of interviews when clicking on the arrow labeled ‘couples gallery’. This gallery lets you explore vast selection of participants, from high-school couples to couples being together for 40 years, as well as other types of relationships including father and daughter and mother and baby interactions. The strength in interactivity was being able to click on couples in the gallery I thought I would be able to relate to. However, the gallery also proved to have its’ own flaws. For example, when you are scrolling through the couple screenshots, there is no information given regarding where they are in their relationship (2 months vs. 14 years) etc. This information is given within the first couple of frames after already choosing to watch the given couple video. 

What captivated me the most about the interactive documentary is both the way in which the director, Topaz Adizes, decided to set up the cameras during the interview as well as how the shots were composed in the edited video. The production seemed to consist of a 3-camera set-up, one wide shot of the couple sitting face to face as well as one camera filming one participant (close-up) and the third camera filming the second participant (also a close-up). These variety of shots provide opportunity for the viewer to observe the micro-expressions of both participants in multiple vulnerable circumstances, as they answer a difficult question or in how they digest an answer of a partner after a difficult question has been asked. 

This interactive documentary was successful in the way that the sum of the participants, variety of questions, and visuals provided a raw, authentic glimpse of the complexity and beauty of relationships in the human condition. This was a completely humanizing experience, hard to believe that I was on the laptop the entire time.

The { } And is truly about what connects us.