What do you get when you merge a documentary produced by POV, the PBS series that describes itself as “television’s longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films,” with Snapchat, the app designed for making things vanish, including older users like me who cannot figure out its user interface?
The result is exactly what you’d expect: something that’s in-between narrative and ephemera, that’s not quite a story but also more than just a clip—and that’s confusing to actually interact with.
The first of POV’s two Snapchat documentaries, which are the first documentaries produced for the app, is live today via the NowThis channel in Snapchat Discover, but only for 24 hours. (Next Sunday, POV will debut “The Way It Should Be,” directed by Terence Nance and Chanelle Aponte Pearson that’s described as “a story of love and friendship as lived and told by queer women of color.”)
“We’ll Still Be Here,” directed by Lizzie Jacobs, is up today, and focuses on men playing dominoes in Brooklyn. The PBS press release description, “dominoes players keeping their beloved game alive while a neighborhood changes around them,” pretty much sums it up.
The documentary isn’t a complete film, but a series of short videos that you have to swipe between. There’s a map and clips of people talking, but there isn’t much depth. It’s a flash of life, which is maybe a generous way to describe what’s shared on Snapchat, too.
Snapchat and the extinction of the dinosaurs
In the press release, POV’s Digital Executive Producer Adnaan Wasey says this:
“Robust social media platforms like Snapchat offer an exciting means to tell new kinds of stories and engage a new audience. We’re excited to not only be able to show the filmmaking community what’s possible, but also to do it alongside teams of ambitious independent filmmakers with a history of breaking new ground.”
I wish the first film was ambitious or a new type of story. It feels like neither. And it does not feel vital or necessary, either.
The odd part is that the videos start repeating, which is the signal to swipe. But the repetition of the video means that watching the same thing a again before realizing it’s the same clip repeating.
Meanwhile, swiping up on some of the clips reveals another clip with more footage, maybe 20 or 40 seconds long, while swiping right moves to the next scene. It’s an experience that could possibly be used in interesting ways, because it’s not exactly linear. However, the experience isn’t clear—the clip below a clip doesn’t always seem connected. So it it necessary to watch? Or optional?
While the film is a good overview of a thing that’s happening, there isn’t time to get to know characters, though there are people talking. There’s not a lot to grab on to, nor is there anything I’d want to watch again (and I watched it twice).
At the beginning of “We’ll Still Be Here,” one of the men says, “It’s a dying game. It’s like dinosaurs. And if we don’t keep it alive, it’s gonna go out the window.”
The same could be said for traditional linear methods of distributing content—like documentary films. I’m sure there will be an audience viewing this on Snapchat who does not regularly watch POV films on PBS or on POV’s excellent web site. So that’s a win.
But this also doesn’t yet feel like something created for Snapchat, it just feels like footage that’s on Snapchat. And if the dinosaurs are going to avoid extinction, they’re going to need to get off their planet and try a different one entirely.