Defining DST

By this point, it goes without saying that there is no comprehensive definition of Digital Storytelling.  Instead of enumerating the many characteristics of DST, I would like to describe one aspect that is important, and perhaps central, to the genre.

In Bill Nichols’ Introduction to Documentary, documentary films are described as having an “institutional” affiliation.  These institutions might include a film studio or distributor or television network – each of which are generally large organizations, many of them working for profit.  I contend that DST is characterized by its lack of such an institutional affiliation.  DST is instead undertaken by one or a few practitioners.  Rather than employing a large cast and crew, DST typically involves one or a few storytellers and employs relatively basic software priced for individual purchase.

(Some digital stories are created and produced in affiliation with a school – like George Mason – or a workshop.  Allow me to use these institutions as exceptions in my definition.)

As a consequence, Digital Storytelling retains a more raw, unrefined tone that preserves the sensation of traditional oral and written narrative and rhetoric while exploiting the dramatic devices of other film genres.  The noncommercial nature of DST can help to encourage sharing everyday stories – even ones that are seemingly banal compared to commercial film – that are nonetheless worthy of sharing.

I realize that my argument here calls into question one of the videos we watched in class on Thursday, “Nablus, A City of Life and Death.”  That video was apparently put together (to paraphrase Janine) by Mohammed Sawalha in conjunction with Palestinian conflict resolution associations.  Depending on how much support Sawalha received from these groups – whether it is in production or distribution assistance, his work may have had more in common with expository documentary, to use Nichols’ terms.

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4 Responses
  1. rsibaja says:

    Chris,
    great post. I wonder where a 4 minute clip of state repression in Tehran, recorded on a cell phone and posted to Twitter or a blog, would fall? Is it documenting an event in real time? Do the sounds and images tell the story? Is it both?

    • cjames says:

      It could be a digital story. The question is, is there an intended narrative? Granted, the intended narrative isn’t exactly what the viewer might construe, but I think that the intention would be important in determining how we might categorize such a document.

  2. tgoodwin says:

    I would think that there is a certain news element to “real-time” recording like that. At the same time that is a documentary as well. But I also think this would fall under Andrea’s idea of defining digital storytelling and then “breaking the rules” at the same time.

    As we have mentioned the globalization component to all of this broadens the landscape such that how we define and talk about “storytelling” is much more fluid and potentially transformative whether we are talking about transforming a repressed nation or creating a story about a young child learning to be potty trained.

  3. Andrea Odiorne says:

    I think you make an important point about who is involved in storytelling. Institutional affiliation aside, films used to take a lot of people to produce. Sure, directors might have final say, but very few films were made by just one person. What happens when the producer, writer, director, photographer, narrator, and editor are all the same person? No wonder they are so often personal.