Pacific voices featured in digital stories project

29 April 2016
Image from Memories of Rotuma by Maxine Valentine

A project to foster more digital media production in the Pacific has flourished, thanks to the work of Dr Shuchi Kothari and Dr Sarina Pearson of Media, Film and Television.

The two filmmakers, along with Senior Media Technician Peter Simpson, have created the Pacific Digital Storytelling Project that enables amateur storytellers in Fiji, Tonga and Aotearoa New Zealand to make short personal films about their own lives from their own points of view.

The project began in 2013 after Shuchi and Sarina felt there was an opportunity to foster more grassroots digital media production in the Pacific. They received a grant from Te Whare Kura to facilitate workshops in which participants created their personal films.

The held their first three-day workshop in Suva in November 2013. Participants — who were mainly professional staff from the Centre of Distance and Flexible Learning at the University of South Pacific Laucala Campus — produced stories that were three to four minutes long, based in reality with a focus on an event, a person or a place.

Maxine Valentine created a film in the Suva workshop about growing up on the island of Rotuma. She said that "I felt a sense of achievement in being able to create my very own digital story. I was excited during the screening as all our CFL staff were present. I was emotional because my story brought back memories of my late father and my childhood days spent on my island home."

"I enjoyed watching my other colleagues’ digital stories, we all did well for first-timers."

Since then two further workshops have been held in Tonga and Auckland. So far a total of twenty-five digital stories have been produced. As a collective body of work they offer a glimpse into contemporary experiences of place, mobility, family and culture in the Pacific.

“The hope of the Digital Stories in the Pacific project is that, through the practice of making these stories, everyday storytellers engage with digital technologies and also provide us with the opportunity to listen to their experiences and perspectives,” Shuchi explains.

Digital storytelling is a short form, relatively low tech, audiovisual model that was developed 20 years ago by the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, California, now called Story Center.The centre also trains facilitators who would like to develop the model further to suit specific locations. Shuchi and Sarina both received training at Story Center before they began facilitating workshops in the Pacific.

Shuchi is currently working with Story Center’s Programme Director Rob Kershaw to develop an alternative curriculum for space- and place-based workshops.

“This model empowers a broader range of people producing a living archive of grassroots stories that contain critical insight about contemporary and historical life that are rarely captured by official narratives,” Sarina says.

“The project facilitates the production of Pacific stories and an archive that we will use for academic research and make available to communities in the Pacific region.”

Shuchi says they now want to take the programme and website to other universities and researchers as well as to people who work with community engagement. Their next two workshops are collaborations with the School of Nursing, where they will hear the stories of Māori caregivers involved in end-of-life care.

Check out the Digital Storytelling Project