In the past month we had the fortune to partner up with the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. For the second year, assistant professor Wes Pope devoted his Oral History and Media Production workshop to Vanport, and his students, together with our volunteers, are producing five new beautiful stories. I can’t wait to share them with you all!
As I was sitting in the lab yesterday, listening to each team discussing their interview and struggling in making decisions on what to keep and what to let go, I was reminded of the story behind the story: telling someone else’s life is a messy affair.
Please remember that when you sit in the audience on December 5th and immerse yourself in the experience of Vanport former residents we interviewed in past 6 months. Each of these story starts with a phone call or an email from someone who attended a screening in the past, or heard about our project. A simple “I was there too” starts a wave of excitement. Another voice to capture, another piece to add to the mosaic. The first important decision needs to be made: who is going to conduct the interview? It is a delicate balance between the comfort of the narrators, in their 80s and 90s, and the personal curiosity of the assigned oral historian. If you get it right, the magic happens: memories flow and questions invite more; laughter are shared; tears are witnessed with respect; silence is a pause between emotions, and not an akward moment to nervously fill up with empty words.
When the interview is done right, a relationship is built. Seeing new, sometime improbable, friendships blossom is one of the many gifts of this project. Based on what the students told me yesterday, it happened again. They had that surprised and excited tone I have come to expect when they shared that Mrs. Shirley cooked them dinner, after they spent 5 hours with her and her family, capturing memories and looking at photo albums. I recognized my own gratitude for a new special bond with Mrs. Carolyn that will result in “just checking in how you are doing”-phone calls, and long chats over tea, meeting grandchildren and feeling welcomed as long-time friends.
Then, there is the editing. What it is often a 2-hour long interview, full of the unexpected twists and turns that life is, needs to be trimmed down to 5-7 minute cohesive story. I watched the producers struggling with those heavy decisions yesterday. Twenty pages of transcribed memories; five year of someone’s experience that include making Vanport their home and losing all in the flood… how to encapsulate it all in a short video that can honor the narrator and give justice to the complexity of the larger narrative of what once was the second-largest city of Oregon?
And then there is you. What part will you find interesting? What quote will make you think? What word will upset you? What conversation are we invited to have, through this story??
As I watched the teams struggling with all this, I wished that on Dec. 5th, together with the new beautiful digital narratives they are producing, you could watch a video about the story behind the story. In its whole messiness, it is one I love!