As I think through what kind of storyteller I want to be and how I want to craft, tell and share my stories, I’m revisiting one of my early inspirations: Trinh T. Minh-ha’s “Grandma’s Story” from Woman Native Other. In the second farm film, The Farm, part 2: The Puotinen Women, I matched four different quotations from this chapter with Puotinen storytellers: the farm, Ines Puotinen, Judy Puotinen and me (Sara Puotinen). This morning I looked over some notes for the film and discovered another quotation:

In this chain and continuum, I am but one link. The story is me, neither me nor mine. It does not really belong to me, and while I feel greatly responsible for it, I also enjoy the irresponsibility of the pleasure in the reproduction. No repetition can ever be identical, but my story carries with it their stories, their history, and our story repeats itself endlessly despite our persistence in denying it.

Trinh T. Minh-ha

I want to play with this idea of being responsible and irresponsible. I feel a responsibility to pass on the stories of past generations, but I feel (in bad and good ways) that my passing on of those stories is irresponsible. On one hand, I worry that I don’t know enough, haven’t experienced enough, am not old enough, to tell the stories. On the other hand, I feel exhilarated and inspired by the process of sifting through the accounts, interviews and photos and crafting them into new stories to share with others. I want to tell these stories. In fact, I need to tell these stories.

In thinking about how to incorporate (and hopefully) maintain the tension between being responsible and irresponsible, I want to feature some clips of my sister Anne and my mom discussing the farm and how they could take responsibility for it when it was “their time.” I wonder, is it my time? What does “my time” mean when the farm is no longer in the family and my mom is dead?

Analysis: Hollow

In this analysis, I’m looking at the recent (it went live just a few months ago) interactive documentary, Hollow. Here’s a description of the project from the Kickstarter page (they raised over $28,000 for production and completion):

Hollow is an interactive documentary and community participatory project that focuses on the lives of residents in McDowell County, West Virginia. Hollow combines personal portraits, interactive data, participatory mapping and user-generated content on an HTML5 website designed to address the issues stemming from stereotyping and population loss in rural America. Community members will take part in the filmmaking process by creating their own documentary portraits and balloon maps. Hollow strives to bring attention to issues in rural America, encourage trust among the community and become a place where users can share ideas for the future.

note: While many of the other interactive documentaries that I’ve looked at or reviewed offer an about page directly on the site, I couldn’t find one here. Did I just miss it?

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Design Elements

  • desktop only, not accessible on tablet or phone…trying to raise money to create app
  • lots of parallax scrolling in different directions: side to side and up and down with cut-out images, occasional animation, lush backgrounds + sound scrolls too
  • beautiful images and video of West Virginia (image-heavy)
  • text used in brief quotations or headlines, not many lengthly descriptions on screen (unless you click on info buttons)
  • creative collages
  • navigation bar at bottom of screen, can click on different chapters at any time
  • pages must load
  • icons on screen: i for information + triangle for video + star for bonus material (which can be unlocked once you watch the videos)
  • continuous sound (background noises + music), automatically loads, but can be muted
  • tons of content in each section, only available when scrolling through site, no resource page. (I’m noticing a real effort to create and control the user experience. Did the filmmaker choose to not have a resources page because they wanted the user to experience the interactive documentary the way they wanted them to? This seems to be a frequent desire from filmmakers). 

QUESTION: How much can/should the creator control the user experience? How much freedom should the creator give to the user? When does freedom create too much confusion and chaos?


  • bunch (how many? not sure) short, 2-3 minute video portraits/interviews of residents
  • footage from various residents (parents getting footage of baby, at the swimming pool, parade, riding on an ATV trail)
  • quotations from interview are featured on screen, when scrolling after watching films
  • infographics with statistics about area and its residents
  • sharing stories of love for community, desire to fix it


  1. The way it was: really cool scrolling infographic detailing history of rise and fall of county.
  2. These roots: on love of place, sense of connection, home
  3. For each other: community, coming together in crisis (flood of 2012), community projects, sports (football, swimming)
  4. For the land: drug culture, tourism, fishing/trout, housing/construction, creating new businesses
  5. When coal was king: history of county when prosperous through photos and videos (cool technique of focusing in on old photo of person and then fading into a current photo of them (which leads to video interview), October Sky festival, mining/mine-related illness/impact of mining
  6. Around the bend: the future, hope




  • linear in terms of sections, starting with the past (section 1) and ending with the future (final section)
  • centered around characters more than actions
  • created to evoke a mood and sense of respect for the specific place
  • mostly through images, sounds and video
  • reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s idea of story as house


  • scrolling through at own pace, can click on tons of different icons for information + videos + bonus material
  • throughout doc there are opportunities to contribute content: tag pictures of home on hollow’s instagram page, answer survey questions


  • beautiful
  • very effective in immersing user in story, enabling them to feel and experience the county
  • creative displays of infographics
  • cool use of parallax, creating collages of image, video, sound


  • too much parallax, it gets really annoying and tiring
  • must wait at every chapter for it to load. This can get annoying if you’re trying to go back and forth between chapters.
  • experience is too controlled by structure of site and filmmaker. While there are opportunities for interacting, they are heavily shaped by how filmmaker wants you to experience the documentary
  • not responsive
  • no resource page or way to access all of the information (videos, images, information) unless you tediously scroll through each chapter. Sure, this creates a “cool” mood and a powerfully immersive experience, but users may want to access the information again and in different ways.

Things to Use?

  • the quotations, pulled out of the interviews and featured on their own page
  • icons for type of content (information, video, bonus material. maybe?
  • soundscapes? Not sure. Can be too intrusive, but I like the idea of background sounds to help evoke a mood.


This is a really cool interactive documentary, that is visually stunning and that offers a lot of great content. I’m bothered by the parallax scrolling and the efforts of the filmmaker to control the user’s experience. Is this the only way to create a mood and to immerse the user in the documentary, forcing them to scroll through and only giving them access to the material in one way? I hope not. I’d like to create a site that provides the user with more freedom and more access to the information in many different ways, but that doesn’t allow that freedom to confuse or over-complicate the stories.

A Map

I’m really glad that I spent so much time analyzing Welcome to Pine Point last week. It gave me a lot of good ideas for what I do and don’t want to do in my interactive documentary. One thing that bothered me about Pine Point was how much the story and our understanding of Pine Point (the town, the people in it) were centered on the perspectives of the narrator (one of the creators, Mike Simons). While he interviewed several Pine Pointers and offered up some facts about the town and how it was erased, the overall story seemed to focus on his own nostalgia for the/a past and his romanticizing reverence for Pine Point as the town that never changed.

I’m particularly sensitive to nostalgia, reverence and romanticizing because I worry about it with my own stories about the farm. In fact, finding a way to honor my heritage and recount the stories without romanticizing them is one of my goals. Throughout Welcome to Pine Point, the narrator recognizes the tendency to romanticize, but he doesn’t ever seem to challenge it or work to correct it in his own accounts. 

In Welcome to Pine Point, the town seems unreal: a figment of fantasy that only exists as a memory or legend. But, the town actually did exist. And it was located on a map. Why didn’t the Googles (who created this doc) include a page with a map? I think a map would enable a user, especially one who isn’t that familiar with the Northwest Territory, to see Pine Point as a real place in a specific location (instead of standing in as the legendary town-that-never-changed). I imagine that the lack of map was deliberate; it contributed to the haunting effect of the story and to the appeal of Pine Point as a place like no other.

I want to include a map of Amasa and the farm in my interactive documentary. Even as my stories about the farm will be (somewhat) romantic and vague (lacking many details and dates), I’m not interested in presenting the farm as a mythical place. It did (and still does) exist in a fixed location.

I asked STA about having a map. He said that google maps is highly customizable (if you know javascript, which I don’t….yet). I hope to look into that soon.

Analysis: Welcome to Pine Point, pt 2c

Here is (hopefully) the final installment in my analysis of Welcome to Pine Point(pt 1, pt 2a, pt 2b)

chapter five: Shelf Life

On the opening page of this chapter, the text reads:
Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 1.55.14 PM

I’m bothered by the last line:

Who can relate to an entire town closing except people whose town has closed?

What does the narrator mean by this question? And what is its intent? While I’d like to read it as an introduction to the next two pages in the chapter, when two Pine Pointers discuss leaving Pine Point, that’s not the immediate effect. I read the question as another example of the narrator positioning people in Pine Point as exotic others that we (the users) can gaze upon and learn about. We, because we can’t relate to them (but who says everyone who might read/view that “we” can’t relate?), are different from people in Pine Point. Not sure if this makes sense?

chapter six: What’s Weird

On the opening page of this chapter, there is an unidentified (and disembodied) voice discussing how it’s weird to think about Pine Point not existing anymore. On the page is a split screen with two sets of footage: on the left is Pine Point 1987, with various buildings, on the right is Pine Point 2009, with barren fields. It’s a powerful page, made even more powerful by the haunting music in the background.

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chapter seven: Remains

This chapter discusses how losing the town meant it never changes—it can’t, it’s gone. This allows Pine Pointers to not just remember it, but memorialize it as a wonderful place, where nothing bad happened.

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 2.28.21 PM


This text seems to be the answer to the question that open the entire documentary:

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.12.23 PM

This chapter also introduces the “big surprise”/twist of the story (which I won’t reveal here).

chapter eight: One for the Road

On the final page of the interactive documentary, the narrator wonders:

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 2.27.05 PM

Then, he answers:
Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 2.32.04 PM

This passage fits the overall tone/mood of this interactive documentary. Again, it positions the narrator (and us, I think?) as forever distanced from the Pine Pointers. We will never know how they feel/what they felt—we can’t understand—because their experiences are too different from ours. What would this story look like if he had asked Pine Pointers if they were happier? If there were (more) accounts (or, because it’s an interactive documentary, opportunities for them to share their stories online) of their responses to this question.

I deeply enjoyed this interactive documentary and count it as one of my big inspirations, so my critical questions aren’t meant to devalue or dismiss it. I think my persistent questions about the narrator and how they position themselves (and us) as distanced from the subjects of the story come out of my own struggles to figure out how I want to position myself as a narrator in the farm project.

More on that later…

Analysis: Welcome to Pine Point, pt 2b

Yesterday, I posted part 2a of my analysis of Welcome to Pine Point. In it I focused on the introduction and chapter one (Town). In this post, I’ll continue making my way through the interactive documentary. Up first, chapter two: PinePointers

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 9.15.13 AM

This chapter is dedicated to four people from Pine Point (why only 4? why these 4?). It’s divided into two main sections: Then, with 4 pages, one dedicated to each of the people/characters and what they did/looked like in high school, and Now, with 4 pages, one dedicated to each of the people/characters and what they do/look like now.

I like both the concept of having a separate chapter dedicated to  people and the visual style that’s used in each of the pages. While the style doesn’t seem fitting for my project, I am interested in thinking through how I could do something similar. It’s helpful (and visually powerful) to have all of the pictures together instead of in a slide show that you need to click through. One thought: Instead of individuals, I could have generations? 

chapter three: Ends and Odds

This chapter includes memorabilia (photos, a video, “Pine Point Memories,” artifacts/objects) and the narrator’s brief reflections on memory objects.

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 9.39.00 AM

In their interviews and about this project page, the Googles discuss the origins of this project: they had been planning to do a book about “the death of the photo album as a way to house memory.” After visiting the Pine Point Revisited website, they decided to focus on creating a interactive documentary about Pine Point instead.

I like the subtle ways in which their interests in photo albums and ideas about memory and memory objects are woven into the Pine Point narrative in this chapter. My farm project is heavily influenced by my research and scholarly interest in identity, home, memory and belonging. I’d like to find ways to bring those theories in without it being overbearing or too jargon-y (or text heavy). This project provides a good model for how to make room for larger (deeper?) reflections that aren’t too “academic” or heavy-handed.

I also like their page about Richard’s hats. The page has a full screen video of Richard trying on each of the dozen hats that he had and wore when he lived in Pine Point. A brief explanation of the hats is offered in text which is layered over the video:

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 9.53.17 AM

chapter four: Cosmos 954

This chapter offers the juxtaposition of the narrator’s (Michael Simon’s) hazy memories of living in Yellowknife, Canada when a Russian satellite (Cosmos 954) came crashing down with the seemingly sharper memories of Pine Pointers in fights,  guest lists at their many parties, or the burning down of Pine Point’s high school.

Do I like this section? I can’t decide. I’m intrigued by the narrator’s story in this documentary. It’s wistful, nostalgic and reverent. He seems to long for the clear memories and accounts of happy experiences that the Pine Point Revisited site depicts. While this perspective makes for a compelling story, what stories and perspectives does it leave out or ignore?

design note: On one of the pages in this section, the text is layered over a full-screen slide show that mixes still photos with documents (poems, newspaper accounts) of the high school fire. I like the effect. How difficult is it to do with this treatment? Will it load too slowly on most computers?

chapter five: Here to Work

Wow, I like this section! It provides more reflections on memory and the work of shaping experiences into stories or legends. It really has me thinking about my struggles with memory, nostalgia, storytelling and our inclinations to memorialize things in ways that aren’t truthful. I especially like their comments on this page:

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 10.16.23 AM

Grinding down the memories into raw superlatives…a memory depends on who we need to be at the moment of remembrance….These ideas resonate with me. The farm project is definitely shaped by my experiences in 2001-2001, when I started it, and 2002-2013, when I’m (hopefully) finishing it. I’d like to incorporate some discussion of my experiences into the project.