Digital Storytelling and Time Travel

I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a film buff. Well I’d like to think I am, certainly after studying them for three years during my undergraduate English and Film Studies degree at Queens University, Belfast. 

During the course of my studies I managed to come across a very distinctive and powerful French film, which had such a profound effect on me, I’ve watched it over fifty times (and not just because I had to write an essay on it) and now cite it as being one of my favourite films of all time.

La Jetée is a short but powerful and moving film, by French director Chris Marker. Although only 28 minutes long, it is one of the most compelling films I have ever watched. It tells a haunting and provocative story through a series of black and white photographic still images and it is this unusual cinematic style that I think makes the film so memorable.


The inspiration behind Terry Gilliam‘s Twelve Monkeys, La Jetée is a science fiction film, delivered in a way which gives it the feel of a documentary. Its construction of entirely still photos, bar one brief shot originating on a motion-picture camera, gives it a shocking sense of realism.  It has no dialogue aside from some incoherent mutterings in German and the story is told entirely by voice-over.

For me, La Jetée didn’t need a big budget, A List actors or special effects to convey its message, and it was certainly a lot more entertaining than Twelve Monkeys was, Brad Pitt or no Brad Pitt.

Now what has this got to do with the (very enjoyable) JOMEC lecture delivered by Daniel Meadows on Digital Storytelling I hear you ask?

After watching some of the digital stories presented to us by Daniel, La Jetée immediately sprung to mind.

I realise a science fiction movie about a post-nuclear experiment in time travel has no similarities with a man and his teddy bear or a girlfriend with a shoe fetish. So what exactly made me immediately connect the two?

For me, it isn’t the subject matter that is important but the way the story is told and the effect it creates on the viewer. Although the digital storytelling concept is completely different to Marker’s movie, I believe both are powerful due to the way in which they have been made.

Digital Storytelling is all about real people, telling their real story to an audience who is willing to listen. It’s all about showing the human side to different aspects of our lives, loves, losses and everything else in between. We are able to perceive a different side to something we thought we knew, through the eyes of someone we probably don’t know.

In La Jetée, Marker ignores all the normal conventions of story telling and filmmaking. He takes the basic structures used in cinema and almost strips them bare, leaving them unadorned in a pure and simplistic form. It is through this technical style the message of the film is so haunting and provocative.

As I watched more and more of the digital stories, I realised this is also what was happening with them. Normal people are taking new and emerging tools and telling a story that is simple and stripped bare, helping people tell their personal stories in a compelling and emotionally engaging form. They don’t need actors, a plot line or indeed a fancy camera. Therefore what we get is a short, snappy but powerful story, which evokes the desired emotions and helps us feel a connection with the storyteller. Or at least that’s how I felt when I watched them. Their simplicity tugged at my heartstrings and will undoubtedly leave a lasting effect within me.

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