Open Space New Media with Helen De Michiel

By Grace Collins '22, March 21, 2021
A conversation with creative media maker Helen De Michiel.

Helen De Michiel has one piece of advice to share when it comes to FLEFF 2021. “Pick something completely unknown to you, and just show up. It could be life-changing.”

She says she yields the best results at a film festival when she chooses an event or a film that she doesn’t know a lot about, and goes into it with an open mind. 

De Michiel, founder of production company Thirty Leaves, would know — she’s been attending and participating in FLEFF since the very beginning. 

After meeting FLEFF festival co-director Patricia Zimmermann at a Flaherty Film Seminar in the late 1980s, the two developed a professional relationship that culminated in their collaboration on their 2018 book, Open Space New Media Documentary: A Toolkit for Theory and Practice.

As the book title suggests, De Michiel specializes in open space new media and participatory community media.

“The idea of open space new media is opening up the world for people not to just be audiences, but also to be part of the whole conversation around a piece of media from the beginning until the end,” said De Michiel. 

A genre of film that didn’t even exist just a few decades ago, open space new media documentary allows for the subjects of documentaries to have an active voice in the filmmaking process and collaborate with filmmakers to tell their own stories. It encourages and challenges everyone involved in the process to think differently about things like creating community through media, crediting all project collaborators, and seeking out new audiences. 

FLEFF was an early adopter of participatory media and has continued to highlight such projects throughout the year, like this year’s WE TELL: 50 Years of Participatory Community Media series that will highlight a different WE TELL film each week, free to the public

“I was always amazed at how ahead of the curve FLEFF was when it comes to presenting new and digital media,” De Michiel said. 

This year at FLEFF, De Michiel will be facilitating an interactive discussion along with filmmaker Liz Miller entitled “Cocreation Documentary During Pandemic and Protest Convening”. The discussion will be held on Friday, April 2 at 11:00 AM EST. More information about the event and registration details can be found here If the topic feels unfamiliar to you, take De Michiel’s advice and just show up — it could be life-changing.