Open-Source Me

Chuck Olsen takes the first-person doc into the blogosphere

Blogumentary, a clever mix of documentary film and online weblog, makes the case that many of the important conversations in politics and media in recent years have either originated with or been disseminated by independent online publishers--a.k.a. bloggers. Directed by Twin Cities-based blogger/filmmaker Chuck Olsen, the movie goes further to suggest that blogging has nudged the mass media out of its dogmatic slumber and into a new form of conversational journalism even as indie blogs remain busy connecting regular people and important ideas in ways never before imagined.

This new and evolving form of online publishing is known by many names: "personal media," "open-source journalism," "collaborative media," "micro-journalism." But Olsen says he's flexible with the terms blog and documentary, and uses this to his advantage by fusing the two reality-based formats in his film.

The diverse cast in Blogumentary includes Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's campaign manager; Stuart Hughes, a BBC reporter and blogger who lost his leg to a landmine in Iraq; and Olsen's mother, who started a blog during her battle with cancer. Olsen also pays a visit to the local right-wing blog collective Power Line, which recently landed a profile in Time magazine after becoming the entry point for the debunking of the 60 Minutes memos that vexed Dan Rather.

Medium kewl: Chuck Olsen in 'Blogumentary'
Chuck Olsen
Medium kewl: Chuck Olsen in 'Blogumentary'

To interview bloggers around the world, Olsen, who works by day as a web specialist at Twin Cities Public Television, pulls out some unique DIY digerati tricks. In one scene, he records an interview with a Brazilian blogger using the video software found in Instant Messenger--the ideal delivery tool for a split-personality medium.

In this sense, Blogumentary is an experiment of desktop publishing that uses two essential programs--Final Cut Pro and Blogger--to illustrate the blurring of the line between producer and consumer. (The companion website, which includes an extensive video archive, can be viewed at The film also challenges long-cherished notions of copyright, authorship, and objectivity. Olsen calls it an "open-source documentary" and is licensing hours of raw interview footage to Creative Commons, a new form of media licensing that, unlike traditional copyright law, allows content to be modified and redistributed. Which in turn allows the movie to confront the economic imperatives of another long-cherished institution: the film festival.

Just days before Blogumentary's world premiere at Oak Street Cinema on Friday (at 7:30 p.m. as part of Get Real: City Pages Documentary Film Festival), Olsen was still assembling the final cut. He peeked up from his Mac long enough to answer a few questions in a Northeast coffee shop.


City Pages: A documentary about blogs? How many people have raised an eyebrow at that one?

Chuck Olsen: Everybody--especially bloggers, even though they're intensely interested in it. I always say that Blogumentary is not about the internet: It's about people, or what's behind blogs. I'm not really focused on the technology, which will probably disappoint some people, but will make the film more watchable for the general public.

CP: Who do you think the audience is for this film?

Olsen: Anyone interested in media and politics and people. I have a lot of interviews with bloggers, and only a small number of them made the final cut. A different film could be made from that footage--a film on the culture of blogging or the technology of blogging or many other topics.

CP: And that's why you are calling this an "open-source documentary"?

Olsen: From the very beginning, I was interested in the idea of other geeks and filmmakers making their own "blogumentaries" using my footage--whether focused on journalism or techie stuff, or just as raw creative material. Two years ago, applying the open-source software concept to media was a somewhat radical idea, but open-source film is now an established concept. I plan to release most of the raw interview footage online.

CP: Does this open-source framework conflict with how film festivals are run?

Olsen: I'm about to find out. I want to be true to the spirit of blogs and the open-source movement, which is free and open and transparent and generous. Unfortunately, that collides with the economic model of festivals, where scarcity and control creates demand and gets people in the door. Festival policies toward online clips vary, but I've been told if a festival's programmers really want your film, they won't have a problem with it. I'm hoping to take a hybrid approach. I've been posting footage and edited clips on my blog for the last two years. But watching clips or footage online is a very different experience from watching the completed film in a theater. Besides the obvious differences in audio/visual quality, I've been putting most of my effort into the theatrical cut, which is not mutually exclusive from watching clips online. I think plenty of people will do both. I hope festival programmers realize that this is an opportunity, not a threat.

CP: By its very nature, Blogumentary is not even a single, identifiable thing.

Olsen: Right. A lot of people didn't realize until recently that I'm actually doing a film. Blogumentary is partially a website, partially a large collection of archived video interviews, and partially a documentary. It's become an amorphous entity without beginning or end.

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