Archives for January 2013

The Art of Storytelling (audio course)

I’m listening in to an audio course entitled The Art of Storytelling, offered through the online company The Great Courses (

The Art of Storytelling consists of 24 lectures, each 30 minutes, which I listen to during my commute. The instructor is Hannah B. Harvey, a professional storyteller and performance artist. Dr. Harvey holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies/Communication Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and she is now an adjunct professor at East Tennessee State University.

As a performance ethnographer, Professor Harvey develops oral histories into theatrical and solo storytelling works. Her stories highlight the experiences of contemporary Appalachian people. More important to me, Dr. Harvey is an engaging, fun speaker to listen to. While The Art of Storytelling course is primarily directed at oral storytelling, I’m finding applications to multimedia storytelling.

Yesterday’s lecture, for example, walked through the ways to use time in storytelling to focus the audience on specific elements of the teller’s story. In addition to using just “scene time” (where time in storytelling approximates actual time), Dr. Harvey described techniques to slow time & accelerate time for dramatic effect. Dr. Harvey also illustrated ways to mix past tense, present tense and future tense in storytelling for creative purposes. I’m finding the lectures interesting: they bring up topics that I don’t normally think about.

Today’s lecture focused on the narrator’s role and tools available to the narrator such as switching between “closed focus” (the story’s details in the “then and there”) and “open focus” (the narrator’s connection with the audience in the “here and now”). Again, this discussion was interesting because I wasn’t conscious of how “closed focus”/”open focus” could be used creatively – but as soon as Dr. Harvey mentioned it I thought of Woody Allen’s opening sequence in Annie Hall. In Annie Hall, Woody first speaks directly to the audience (“open focus”) about the characters, setting and background of his film, and then Woody flips himself into a character (“closed focus”) for most of the film. Occasionally we hear Woody as narrator addressing the audience directly. It’s a nice illustration of Dr. Harvey’s “closed focus”/”open focus” narration technique.

I recommend this course, particularly if you have long hours to kill (like during a commute). You can get a sample of the product on the course website page. I also recommend that you wait for the course on sale. I paid $35 for the audio download during one of their periodic sales, but I see that right now that same audio download version costs $130. Finally, I got the audio download but there are a few spots in the lectures where video would be beneficial.

Documentary Arts Asia – Revisited

Back in August 2012, I encountered Documentary Arts Asia (“DAA”) on the web and was interested in the breadth of this organization’s offerings. I connected with Ryan Libre, DAA’s Founder and Director, and in an earlier interview he outlined some of DAA’s activities, including an artist-in-residence program located in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

Returning to the DAA website recently, I see some new activities, including the Chain Mai Documentary Arts Festival 2013 (running from Feb 8 – 14, 2013) and the first of what may be multiple Podcasts. I asked Ryan for an update on DAA.

Q1. Ryan, this is the 2nd Chaing Mai film festival, correct? Will the format (exhibitions by photographers, film screenings, and workshops) be the same as in 2012? And can you give us some highlights?

Libre: Yes, second installment. This year is different in that we have one of the best galleries in SE Asia booked for the festival and 5 partner exhibitions in additions to our 10 major exhibitions. We also have a proper theater booked for the films, a photobook showcase, and a great key note speaker, Shahidul Alam.

Q2. When we last spoke you had just launched your DAA Artist in Residence program, with the first artist (Sitthixay Ditthavong) having been selected. How did Sitthixay’s project work out? Do you have plans to bring in another artist this year?

Libre: This project is unfortunately on hold for right now. We have had no real funding in the last year and have managed to keep all our programs running but this. However im sure very soon someone will support this and we have have 1 – 4 AIR programs a year.

Q3. I also see DAA has begun a Podcast series. What’s on the horizon for the Podcast series?

Libre: Lots of in depth multimedia interviews with established and rising Asian photographers and others influential in the field.

Q4. You’re also seeking a sponsor for the Podcast series. What will that sponsorship involve?

Libre: Sure, it takes time and resources to do these justice. I’m hapy to give good PR and credit to any company or individual who can cover our basic costs to produce them. Win-Win situation.

Q5. Any other plans — either for DAA or for yourself — for 2013?

Libre: In 2013 DAA and I will finish a feature length Documentary on the Kachin Independence organization. ( We’re also planing to get our center in Kachin State running full time.


It’s been ages. Ah, Christmas activity…

I listened to an audio program recently and mention was made of a challenge put to Ernest Hemmingway by some of his buddies: “I bet you can’t write a story in just 6 words.” He took the bait. Here’s his story: “Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.”

How crisp and poignant that is. An entire story in 6 words. It may make a stronger impression as an audio statement (you need to pause between phrases to pull out the pathos). But it proves the point that storytelling can be simple. As simple as 6 ordinary words.