At this year’s DS5, Diego Vidart – Historias Digitales del Uruguay (HDUY) – gave the opening speech of the day. Diego had worked with Breaking Barriers in Wales a few years ago and now he’s now working at the Catholic University of Uruguay in Montevideo on a USB-based video capture and editing application that enables children to capture and edit a digital story. The One Laptop per Child (OX) initiative is up and running in Uruguay. Because the OX’s processor is slow, the child will upload the assets and edit decision list (EDL) to a central server to be rendered. The morning after, a compressed version of the video is ready to be viewed on the laptop. Diego showed a tantalising montage of stories made by HDUY participants. You can watch some at www.hduy.edu.uy. In the break after Diego’s presentation, I pondered with Chris, a digital storyteller from the Aneurin Bevan Health Board, what sort of country Wales would be if every child had a broadband-connected laptop and was taught to make digital stories.
Culture Shock is a museums-based digital storytelling project in the north east of England. Five of its members came by car from Newcastle to Aberystwyth. It was refreshing to meet them and hear their experiences of digital storytelling at Alan Hewson’s welcome meal the night before DS5. Alex Henry spoke on behalf of Culture Shock and she showed some powerful digital stories made by people about the difference between collecting and hoarding and the lasting impact of being bullied at school. The project’s moving from its production phase into curating the stories at museums – often alongside artefacts there – and screening the stories around the area. Culture Shock is a glowing example of how digital storytelling can be used to increase understanding between diverse communities of people. There are some memorable stories to watch on their website:
David Gunn showed two of the Echo Archive’s projects in a breakout session I attended next. The first was a map of five cities in Portugal which enabled you to click on the map and create an audio mix of the sounds of the locality: an ancient wine cellar door creaking and slamming shut; a fado singer in a bar; someone talking about buying their first car. The second was a community-sourced soundscape of an area of Leeds called Little London. The audio mixing software he used was outstanding. David made a statement during his presentation that took me back somewhat. He said the only stories we want to hear people in deprived neighborhoods tell are their authentic ones. Yet, if you’re a Guardian-reading, middle class Londoner, you can tell any story you like. I’m still thinking about this because it’s such a bold statement.
The second break-out I attended was by Steve Bellis and Geraint Jenkins, speaking about Rural Stories. The power of inter-generational working came across loud and clear here.
Lunchtime was a good time to mingle and visit the stalls in the market hall, including DigiTales, StoryWorks, Culture Shock, Communities 2.0 and The Rural Media Company.
Joe Lambert of the Centre for Digital Storytelling had led the training the trainers workshop for the BBC at which I began to learn about digital storytelling back in 2001 in the Elan Valley. Funnily enough there were three others who had been on that course at the DS5 conference too: Karen Lewis, Mandy Rose and Kate Strudwick. After that, Joe returned to BBC Wales in Cardiff to speak at the conference which I guess you could call DS1. Meanwhile, in 2010’s DS5, Joe remembered the times when the late Dana Atchley was touring and performing his Next Exit show, seen by many as the first ever digital stories as we know them now. Joe showed Dana’s much-loved Home Movies (Turn) film. This is a story that every digital storyteller must see. Joe showed a further two powerful stories facilitated at CDS and partners’ workshops: the first about a father who bitterly taunted his young daughter that she’d never amount to anything, just like her late mother, who’d worked as a waitress; the second by a man puzzled at his own mother’s expression of anger and of her final days in hospital. These were both very moving, well-told stories. Joe said he was impressed by the way digital storytelling has taken off in Wales and he paid tribute to Daniel Meadows for the essential part he’s played in this. As one who’s worked a lot with and learned a lot from Daniel in the past, that tribute made me feel very happy.
So that leaves the question we ask every year: will there be another one next year; will there be a DS6? DS Cymru’s Esko Reinikainen, who hosted the day succinctly and with great insight, said that depends on the practitioners. He appealed for volunteers to help with the DS Cymru Ning network and @dscymruTwitter feed. He also expressed concern at the disappearance of potential future sources of conference funding.
The enduring feeling I have at the end of DS5 is that now, nine years after the beginning of digital storytelling in Wales, 80% of those attending DS5 this year had not only made a digital story, they were now also helping others to do the same. That’s a thing that makes me feel optimistic about the sustainability of the form in Wales.
I also believe digital storytelling has an important part to play in the Assembly’s plans for delivering digital inclusion. But it does take more than enthusiasm and increased access to broadband to sustain an activity. Now that the talk here in the UK is about public spending cuts, I hope there’ll still be enough money available to keep the activity of digital storytelling alive and financially supported here in Wales.