How the stories were made
Screening archive footage around the Rhondda
The aim was to create digital stories by adding new voiceovers to clips of the Rhondda. Archivists at BBC Wales and the National Screen and Sound Archive of Walse scoured their collections to find material suitable for release.
In autumn 2007, this footage was screened up and down the valley, bringing back many memories of people, places and old ways of life.
The screenings were held either in regular, well-attended events, such as tea dances, or in public places, where they were advertised well in advance.
Screenings become stories
Ten people were going to have the chance to record their memories and choose old clips to complete their digital stories at a BBC Wales/Valleys Kids workshop in November 2007. Five man and five women who remembered different eras and places in the Rhondda and who told tales that linked particularly well with the footage were invited to take part in the workshop.
After that, many more stories were made.....each project driven by a different rationale and revealing more of the potential of archive footage.
What does archive footage do?
When watching the archive footage, viewers became engrossed in identifying the people and places on screen. They overlooked personal memories until the projector was turned off and they were asked directly about their own experiences.
Watching archive footage clearly triggered many memories for people. Certain clips were particulary evocative and elicited comments from almost everyone who had been alive at that time.
But how did the memories work? The same clip generated different memories from each viewer, often generating great discussion.
The use of archive clips in this project suggests that they trigger memory more than still images. Is this really the case? And if so, why?
Is it because they are unknown, not familiar like the album at home, or is it because they were not taken by local people, or because they move and show more than just one tiny fragment of a person’s being: gestures, facial expressions, ways of interacting are conveyed by moving image but not by stills? Or is it because they usually represent a special occasion? Or...?
Archive footage versus family archive?
The original aim was to create digital stories using only archive footage for the images, but this felt impersonal. Why should a storyteller accept a woman from the archive footage as a substitute for their own grandmother? So after the initial workshop, a mixture of archive footage and stills from family albums were used as images.
The memories triggered by seeing archive footage made people talk and interact. In several cases there were inter-generational or other community enhancing effects of screening the old footage and making stories from them. People with access to archive footage need to be aware of the possible community development spin-offs from storytelling with and work with appropriate local professionals to capitalise on this effect.
Digital literacy or media literacy?
Everyone who made a story saw how images worked with voice, and has gained media-literacy through seeing the different effects of using different images in different places, what works and what does not.
Is it possible for to enhance digital literacy through the use of archive footage?
When digital storytelling is used to aid digital literacy, the story is usually completed with still images provided by the storyteller. Learning to place these with their own voiceover is quite straight-forward.
However, editing moving images is much harder; sigificantly more advanced digital literacy is needed.
It is made even harder if the video footage available is a large amount of unfamiliar archive material, as it was for Rhondda Lives! Even teenagers found it hard to get to grips with the process.
A lot of older people did not want to make their own films and did not have the time. They were very content to have their films made for them while they had final editorial control, although their deference to “the experts” may have made them too much “Yes men.”