Review | JustStories Storytelling Festival

By Limor Shiponi

JustStories | Bringing the Races Together With Stories, 10th JustStories storytelling festival. A three days online event devoted to stories about race relations, tears and laughter and the ongoing search for the amazing American identity and our global family. Featuring storytellers Charlotte Blake Alston, Susan O’Halloran, Antonio Sacre and 40 other storytellers. Building bridges, August 1-3, 2012. Facebook.

All in all – I still don’t like the idea of an online storytelling festival. In many cases the magic just doesn’t cross through. At the same time it’s a great way for storytellers to learn some important lessons about story crafting and telling styles, about cultural differences in attending the art and about the greater storytellers’ tribe. Hat-tip for leaving behind an abundance worth diving into for many hours of a storytelling-muscle workout and insights on a difficult issue.

Audio-visual recordings

Audio-visual recordings of storytellers are not easy to execute. If you’re not using a professional setting with three cameras, the better choice is going for close-up streight in the eye single camera work. The question is – how close is close-up? In many cases it’s too close, in others slightly too far. I think the armchair-in-frame is most flattering for the teller while providing for a comfortable distance on the viewer’s end. It compensates for the fact that computer screens bring everything too close.

The sound quality in these recordings is true to the tellers’ voices which is a nice achievement. There is a problem with volume though, which makes the listener tired from trying to grasp the words. I’m sure the organizers have quite a few lessons to teach us all after this production. It looks like a lot of well invested work.

Facebook as the carrier platform

Facebook means reach, traffic, exposure. It also allowes for some nice additions to the tellings and bringing everhting to one place along a timeline. For that, it is a great choice. The commenting, liking and sharing features are very convenient, allowing written participation, questions in real-time, virality. Some people felt it helps create a sense of communion – knowing others are watching at the same time, with the possibility of commenting any minute and getting into a discussion.

What made it a little difficult was the long list of tellers through three consecutive days. I’m curious to know if anyone actually grasped the entire event in real-time and how it felt if they have. In an offline festival you have the same density of events and even more; but in that case it also means you are at the festival grounds, away from your daily routine and fully devoted to taking part. It doesn’t work that way when you have other choices…

Three more issues here –

(1) Not everyone is a member of Facebook. You can watch the recordings on YouTube but you’ll be missing out a lot of the asides, the conversation and the general enthusiasm.

(2) I wouldn’t leave all this to Facebook’s grace; It can disapper in an instant as the tech world goes. Besides, There is some important data Facebook won’t allow organizers to collect and you might want that data.

(3) Scrolling along the entire event’s timeline to find a specific teller, story or whatever, is close to weakening.

Storytellers and stories

The line-up is all American by definition but very far from being single flavored. All storytellers are well invested emotionally into building bridges, which backs up their stories through first hand real life experience. I loved anticipating what’s coming up next although I was provided a program and know quite a few of the tellers. I was curious to find out what they will come up with and what angle they will provide for the main theme; if and how my perspective around this issue will expand. I’m happy to say it did even with the stories I couldn’t really relate to – which is a lesson within itself.

The presence of a camera did not make the storytellers ‘strange’ and disconnected. They carry the audiences with them, which can only be the result of a hell of a lot of experience. My only regret here is that they could not see me at moments of gratitude which they fully deserve.

What did feel strange though was the fact that all the stories – even if there was an ethnic/folklore element in them – were personal. There is a great devide here between storytelling in the US and other places, a divide worth pondering. It’s not that a personal story can’t transcend; of course it can. Yet I found two specific issues rather difficult to live with as a listener from somewhere else. One was not being able to come up with visuals of particular details specifit to a time and place. That made me compare stories on an unfair scale. The other was what felt like an overload of unnecessary background information. I wish more of the stories would just cut through directly into action and keep those details to the necessary minimum that helps advance my understanding of the plot.

The overall experience  

The overall experience if one cares to go through it – which I think you should certainly try – is one of abundance, a rich fabric to be explored. It’s not only the stories – it’s the way several stories per teller and additional asides with comments, hand holding on behalf of the production and the urge to reach out and reach each other, all work together. This desire to ‘us’, to do something together, transcends any particular detail I’ve montioned above. Again, the medium prooves to be the message and the medium here is not technology but the joined work of all the people who took part in this experience.

Quite a few stories grabbed me, some through tears some through laughter as promised. There are many moving moments on these videos and plenty of details to go back to and look at again and again. The one story that left me speachless, crying in front of the screen in the middle of the night is the one I’m leaving you with. There are many good reasons for this choice; above them all stands the simplicity of deep truth and the willingness to present it as is. Yishar-coach Syd because I have no other words.

2 thoughts on “Review | JustStories Storytelling Festival”

  1. Thank you, Limor, for a thorough and thoughtful review. I agree with many of your points. I would like to add a few thoughts. As a participant, I found that Sue O’Halloran’s coaching and support for my stories was outstanding. She made it easier to talk to the camera, when we long to see faces. She sat as close as possible and let me know that she was listening and responding. I wasn’t able to completely submerge in the whole three days (still haven’t heard them all) but what I did hear had a rich variety and was almost uniformly skillful – well crafted and delivered. One of the best outcomes for me was the ability to hear some tellers I have long known but never heard, and to make connections though the FB comments with other tellers, that went deeper than our superficial crossing of paths at festivals and conferences. I sent people the YouTube links to my stories and a few others that I particularly appreciated, because the FB page became so difficult to navigate with all the stories. Some folks have passed them on I’ve gotten some great feedback. I would love to see a way to include international tellers and also traditional stories. Though I still prefer in-person telling, this is still a gift to many who won’t ever have that opportunity, or to any of us who just may have missed a particular story or teller. In all the years I’ve listened to Elizabeth Ellis I had never heard the story she told for JustStories and was glad to hear it. And it’s great to be able to pass on links for people to hear Noa Baum and others. So, not perfect, but a tremendously valuable gift to storytelling in the world.

    1. Hi Gail – welcome. Thanks for the visit and the thoughtful additions. I really hope people will take the time to dive in – whether storytellers or not.

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