Interactive documentary 'Red Tales' launched

Unique, interactive documentary explores the secret life of our Red Squirrel through the eyes of the British public.

Led by researchers at Newcastle University’s Open Lab in partnership with Red Squirrels Northern England and conservation charity Wildscreen, Red Tales is the first interactive documentary of its kind, bringing together red squirrel ‘stories’ from all across the UK and providing a platform for people to engage with them.

In a cross between a traditional documentary, a ‘Wikipedia’ for red squirrels and a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novel where everyone’s experience is different, Red Tales takes an important conservation issue and provides a one-stop platform where people can contribute content and piece together a story.

Traditional documentary films can sometimes simplify multiple perspectives by rationalizing them into opposing ideas to help build a single narrative around a subject.

Red Tales borrows techniques from social media to allow visitors not only a right to reply to the different perspectives in the film, but a voice within the documentary itself.

The aim is for Red Tales to become a ‘living thing’ rather than a static piece of non-fiction storytelling and we would encourage anyone with a story about red squirrel conservation to contribute.

For example, a dynamic map allows viewers to see which areas of the country the content comes from and an interactive “credits sequence” filters the content of individual contributors.

The decline of the red squirrel species over recent decades has been dramatic, with current estimates suggesting only 138,000 red squirrels remain in the UK.

Red squirrel conservation is a subject that inspires a lot of different perspectives and opinions, particularly around sensitive issues such as squirrel pox and the relationship between red squirrels and grey squirrels and the hope is that this the new film will represent the full range of different perspectives.

Over time we hope it will build a record of our encounters with this beautiful and fascinating species, the efforts involved in their conservation in the UK and the issues faced both now and into the future.

The realm of documentary-making is fundamentally changing – from a largely inaccessible and time-consuming process to one that is immediate and accessible to all.

Through projects such as Red Tales, but also projects such as Bootlegger and App Movement, we are currently researching how new and emerging technologies can help shape the next generation of tools and production methods that will not only help other, undocumented stories connect with audiences, but support the communities who know them best to come together and tell the stories themselves.