Why I'm here
As I described in the beginning of the section about my trip to Crested Butte ("Deciding to attend the Festival"), I had heard wonderful things about the Digital Storytelling Festival, but didn't really know what it was like. I just knew that I needed to go, and that I'd have the added benefit of getting to see some relatives who I rarely run into in my travels. (To read about my trip, start with "The trip to Crested Butte: To the airport".) I also knew that people felt Crested Butte was a wonderful place, but I knew little else about it. My job would be to document the Festival as I attended it.

Starting the day
After the party last night, it was time for the Festival to start bright and early Thursday morning. We showed up at the Conference Center. I had no idea what to expect. Being used to computer industry conferences like Esther Dyson's PC Forum and IDG's Agenda, I expected a large hall with tables to sit behind and speakers on a stage in front. After entering the foyer and getting some hot tea and a bottle of water, I walked down the entrance hall to where the Festival was being held:

Entrance to hall
Entrance to hall, looking back
It's a theater! A small theater. We all get our seats. I try to get one in the middle on the aisle to get good views for pictures:

Our seats
Our seats
The stage is set up with fruits and flowers on the side and a very large, very sharp screen:

The stage
The stage
The great projector, just in front of my seat and to the left, facing the screen:

Denise opens it up, followed by Dana. Dana explains how they move everything out here from San Francisco to get the conference and bootcamp going, and how they love this town. The location is starting to make sense. It really sets a mood with the mountains and fields and hills and sky and cute little buildings all around. There's emotion everywhere.

Denise Atchley
Dana Atchley and poster

You can watch a streaming RealVideo clip of Dana speaking.

The first speaker is Joe Lambert, cofounder of the Center for Digital Storytelling (for details on each speaker, see the Speakers section of the Festival Web Site):

Joe Lambert
Joe Lambert
He teaches digital storytelling (co-running the Bootcamp at the Festival where people learn to make their own videos).

Joe dedicated his presentation to his Dad. He remembered his Dad always telling stories of the underdog. Stories about unions, and stuff like that. It effects Joe to this day.

Joe, and others throughout the conference, made the statement that every human has stories. He was going to play some of his. At this point I realized that I had to take notes. I didn't bring any paper, so I had to jot the notes on the back of a business card. Hard to do in the dark with a bad pen.

He played some pieces that marked the last 25 years as he remembered them. His pieces are all slides with voice-overs and music, sometimes with some video. All of this is "played" from start to finish. His first piece was about Martin Luther King. Very powerful. My notes: "Hankies" -- if this was what the whole festival would be like (and having seen some of Dana's work, I knew at least some of it would be), I'd need a lot of hankies to dry my eyes. Joe continued to play other people's pieces. Here's one about a person's family and how all she has are photos without the stories behind them, and lots of "family secrets":

Evolution by Anne Jaeger
A story shown by Joe
Joe gave us some of his seven elements of storytelling (they are all listed in his Cookbook and in the Friday afternoon journal entry on this web site):

   Point of view
   Dramatic question: Desire, Action, and then Realization ("Boy meets girl, boy wants girl. Boy courts girl. Boy gets girl. Boy finds whole new self.")
   Emotional content -- something you deeply care about

At this point I felt like a fire hose had been washing emotion over us. The incredible varied beauty of the locale, different each way you look, the intimate theater, and the oh so personal stories. Wow! And we were dissecting how to put this in our work! I really felt like I made the right decision to come here. Now I understood more about the Festival (I thought...).

To see some pictures of Crested Butte, see my "Crested Butte" page.

Joe stated how our stories make up our identity (another recurring theme). He then invoked his Dad again.

Suzanne Stein
Next up was Suzanne Stein, curriculum advisor for MediaLinx H@bitat of the Canadian Film Centre.

At this point I had almost forgotten I was supposed to take pictures. From now on, more pictures. Not necessarily for you to see. Many were just of screens for me to use to jog my memory. Luckily I had a digital camera with lots of battery and memory. As I write this I can look at the pictures in an online "slide sorter".

Here's Suzanne next to one of her slides:

Suzanne Stein
Suzanne Stein
Her talk was entitled "Interactivity as a Narrative Element". She was investigating interactivity in a group that cared mainly about film -- a non-interactive medium. This was much more scholarly than Joe's talk. This was an analysis of storytelling, looking at how interactivity fit in. My analytic mind started up -- clicking links, like you do with web sites created with my company's product, Trellix Web, is interactive. How do we fit?

She talked about how CDROMs were a let down. How interactivity can impede a narrative. "Interactivity is anxious-making", "Can create narrative lulls". Yes! Bad interactivity can get in the way. What can we do? "Driving force" -- what makes us continue with something, like reading a narrative -- how can we build in this desire to move forward? The answer: meaningful interactivity.

I think to myself: Yes! How do we do it? Narrative that flows, like video and slideshows, that runs itself from beginning to end, that has no interactivity to get in the way, other than to start it. But, once you're done, have a web site with a world you can explore now that the narrative has gotten you into that world. A simple narrative can create the driving force to make you want to learn more about something or examine the details carefully.

Suzanne continues. She is investigating interactivity as a narrative element. The interaction is part of the story or at least related to it. The interactivity is part of the narrative unfolding. She shows two examples they've built, Revelation and Esc (Escape). Here's a picture of the beginning of Esc:

Icons on a screen
This is a story about people in a chat room (shown here) who decide to meet in physical space. They get trapped in the bar where they meet. You can watch different things (the interactivity seems to be choosing what to see) as the video unfolds. Not exactly what I was thinking, but interesting.

Time for a 15 minute break. Denise reminds us that we are at a high altitude (almost 9000 feet) and need to drink a lot. (They've been giving out water bottles, and I've had a lot.) She asks if anybody's had any "wild high altitude dreaming" like many get the first few days. A lot of "oh, that's what happened".

Some people congregate in the foyer:

Others head for the bathrooms. (Not all the water evaporates.)

Back of a guy's head
Note the sign over the urinal:

Please don't flush during performance
Sign over urinal in the Men's room
Others go outside. Here's Crested Butte mountain:

The view outside the Conference Center
People outside
Lee Marrs
Next up was Lee Marrs, Chair of Animation, of the San Francisco Center for Electronic Art. An Emmy Award-winning art director, she went to last year's Digital Storytelling Festival and "was converted". Learning about storytelling "changed her life". She teaches a class in storytelling to art students. It is much more popular than she expected, being given once a month instead of once a semester. Here she is looking at her slides:

Lee Marrs
Lee Marrs
She teaches about storytelling and communications. How those stories you hated to hear over and over again every Thanksgiving from your family go over real well when you tell them to other people. A story can help get you a job ("I ski, too. My Mom started when she was little so..."), money, or even a date. They help you connect and communicate. FDR told good stories and could convince us to send troops into war. Clinton doesn't have the good stories and can't convince us.

"Point of view" -- stories help us establish it and can use it. "To Kill a Mockingbird" used the point of view of a child to make the issues in the book easier to get through.

Here's one of her slides:

How we order the universe
One of her slides
Here are some more of her slides about telling stories:

scripts, sound, visuals, programming
Main point, characters, env., contrast/drama
Style/attitude, point of view, sec. themes, media
Story structures
Basic-storytelling slides

She then showed details about making stories for a job interview or showing-off your portfolio (both of which are dear to the hearts of her art-school students).

Now I get it. The Festival is about Storytelling in many ways. How to use digital technology to tell stories better. How to use it (storytelling) in your digital stuff to communicate better because the techniques of storytelling help get people on an emotional level.

Ben Calica
Ben Calica ended the morning. He's president and cofounder of HearthStory.com. He put up a quote about when a person dies it's like a library burning down. (He turned to the next slide too fast for me to pick up my camera to help me remember the attribution. That got me more trigger happy with the camera.) He recounted the story of a stroke victim, whose family can only wonder what untold stories are behind each piece of jewelry they found in her room or each picture.

His mission is to aide people in getting their stories told, especially online on his web site. Most of what he talked about were methods they're coming up with for helping people along. What questions to ask them and when was very interesting. Asking for a fact ("When did you meet mother?") is different than asking for a story ("How did you and mom meet?"). His favorite (and mine, too) interviewer, Terry Gross of WHYY, asked people what slammed the door on one direction in their lives and made them choose a new direction that got them where they are now.

The order of questions you ask people to get stories is important. Start with a simple question, then get more detailed. Start with questions that sets a time or place and are easy ("Where did you go to high school?") to get them thinking then zero in ("Who was your favorite teacher?", "Tell me about him"). Context is important in questions.

He then demoed an early version of StoryCatcher.com, what they are building. Here he is next to a picture of his uncle Larry's Bar-Mitzvah in Israel right after the founding of the State. Larry's holding King David's crown, and, according to the story, actually got to put it on his head. Golda Meir, later head of Israel, attended and cooked some of the food. What a story!

Ben Calica
Ben Calica
He showed how the system will try to help family members (who log in) to add to each story. He told us of ideas like automatically playing music that was popular at the time being covered.

The morning was done. Whew! Time for lunch on our own. My cousins took me to Teocalli Tamale, a Mexican place:

The building
Here's some of the menu. I had the Gourmet Vegetarian, quite good!

Burritos -- All...bed...cheese...
The interview
In the middle of one of the morning presentations my cell phone went off (I keep it on "Silent", so it just vibrates, but you have to whisper "yes...can't speak" or something and hope the person on the other end of the line realizes what's going on and tells you what they need to tell you without requiring you to say anything; it's embarrassing). It was Brian from my office: Someone from PC World wanted to interview me real soon. I called him back during lunch and got the contact information.

After lunch I had a half hour until the next presentation, so I stood outside the conference center with my cell phone and earphone/mike and called the reporter. In the middle of the interview I realized I should take a picture, so I took the camera off from around my neck (pulling the earphone out for a second and breaking my "cool" speaking) and handed it to my cousin, motioning to him to take my picture. So here I am:

Dan doing the interview
It was funny to be speaking passionately about storytelling, when I had just learned some of this stuff this morning. I could feel the words in the notes of Joe's speech in my breast pocket coming up into my throat to explain how there were stories worth telling in every human being. (The next day the story ran online as "Tell me a digital story, Daddy!".)

Let's see what the rest of the day brings!
(For another person's view of this morning, watch Shelley McIntyre's slideshow. RealPlayer G2 required. Also, see Heath Row's coverage for Fast Company in his Road Show diaries in the September 12-18 entries.)

Next: The rest of Thursday >