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.