Filmmaker Darius Devas’s father was on Facebook, with a friend total of two - one of whom was his son. While Devas was visiting his father in Byron Bay though, in the space of a month his friend count rose from two into the hundreds. It seemed that this pattern was occurring simultaneously around the world, as old friends from the Goa hippy trail were rediscovering each other online. A reunion was planned, and Devas knew he had his next film project.
Devas started a Facebook page where he documented his experiences from the reunion, and gradually posted videos. He explains the decision to start with Facebook - “I’d had some experience at Lonely Planet working on their online TV channel, and was starting to become aware of the potential of the online platform as serious medium in which you can tell stories. As this story was about Facebook, it seemed logical (to start there). I could include the community in a dialogue.” The response was immediately positive. “One thing that’s interesting about posting on Facebook as opposed to YouTube, is that everyone has to take responsibility for their comments,” says Devas. “For the most part I find Facebook a positive environment. People have to own what they say. Audiences really appreciated being able to watch the videos, comment to the people being interviewed, and read comments on each others’.”
The next step, with SBS on board, was turning the project into a self-contained interactive documentary - Goa Hippy Tribe. The Facebook page was a great online community resource for those who had been in Goa, but for anyone new to the story, a clearer narrative was needed. SBS designer Matt Smith was charged with designing an interface for the project. “We wanted the user to feel like they’re going on a journey, leaving their modern space and taking a step back in time,” says Smith. “That informed the aesthetic - a little bit psychedelic, a little bit aged. The design went outwards from there.” Devas, who had conceptual input, concurs - “I had ideas on wanting to really keep a lo-fi aesthetic of the era. The first drafts were a bit too clean, but SBS toned them down which I really appreciated.”
The vision involved making the piece for different styles of viewers - those who want to get the most out of it in an interactive sense, and also those who prefer to sit back and watch the story. On taking a tour through the site, I found a good balance between both these approaches. The short video portraits of each character can be watched one after the other in fairly traditional linear style, but on the other hand there’s plenty for the active viewer to play with. The viewer is accompanied on the journey by a backpack, and watching more videos progressively unlocks new content that adds itself to the backpack - including new videos, photo galleries and information sheets. Smith says the level of interactivity was discussed at length during the project’s production. There were multiple questions to be answered - how should the extras become available? Should they be accessible at any point? What would a user want? He says they wanted to introduce the gaming element to an older audience, while still remembering that some viewers will want hand-holding.
In one conception Goa Hippy Tribe is a series of character portraits, but in another it’s an informative look at the hippy heyday, with info on the hippy philosophy, drug taking and other history. It’s also a unique documentation of a culture, given the fact the community in Goa is famous for resisting photographs and other media forms. As Devas says, “People in Goa want to forget the West. The family connection was essential (for me to film), as it’s a very tight-knit community. I was only allowed to do what I did because I had an in.”
For the most part, the feeling is as Smith describes - like catching a glimpse into an old photo album. Goa Hippy Tribe also documents some of the changes that Goa has witnessed over the past thirty years, so watching it gives a sense of both the history and the transformation of a culture and a community.
About this writer
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