Telling community digital stories

Written by Lorna Boschman and Venay Felton

It began at a meet-and-greet in an older Vancouver theatre. Arts council funding officers suggested programs from the stage, while artists and arts administrators listened. Lorna sat beside Venay and the conversation began:

“And what do you do?”
“Digital storytelling.”
“And you?”
“Well, I do digital storytelling too.”

In this way, our initiative began. In late 2019 and early 2020, we conducted one telephone and twelve face-to-face interviews with community digital storytelling practitioners based in British Columbia. Our arts and community research combines Action Research and Grounded Theory approaches. We asked practitioners to look at what we do and think about how digital strategies could enhance our work. Our analysis begins by regarding interviewees as experts whose ideas underlie any theoretic understanding.

We interviewed digital storytelling workshop facilitators and mentors, as well as a former workshop participant. We conducted interviews with arts administrators and creative technologists who have worked within and around digital storytelling workshops, as well as a facilitator of dub poetry community storytelling workshops. Through a process of contrast and comparison, we were able to develop deeper knowledge of our sector.

With this series of posts, we share what we have learned so far. There is much more to learn, and anyone connected with community digital storytelling is welcome to join our Initiative. You join by contributing a research interview to our project. Just send us an email at <>. We share knowledge freely within the group and use our digital presence to strategically elevate our collective position. Our knowledge is constantly evolving.

The thirteen interviews provide a rare view into how we work with community members and use digital strategies and technology to co-create stories with them. In January 2020, we held a gathering in Vancouver for the interviewees. That Conference allowed us to share disciplinary knowledge, screen our cherished digital stories, and build opportunities for strategic collaboration.

“There is a critical mass of people who are digital or media artists who contribute to community digital storytelling. They work on their own projects and also work with other people in this formal way to make their own digital stories.”

Lorna Boschman, Digital Stories Canada

Community stories do not emerge fully formed. They are coaxed and nurtured. We work as facilitators and/or mentors in digital storytelling and community filmmaking projects. Some of us travel to remote communities while others lead workshops closer to home.

In order to coax a story from participants, facilitators create an overall environment supporting trust and non-judgement. Mentors work one-on-one with storytellers. Sometimes a story can be so powerful and emotionally affecting that the teller doubts whether others can handle it. Sometimes folks do not want to tell a mentor their story, in part because they do not know how to put it into words. In some cultural contexts, there is a specific place that is known for storytelling, like a coffee shop or town square where people meet and share stories. We provide another option – community digital storytelling.

Searching for my sister’s eyes by Michelle La Flamme. Created during community digital storytelling workshop at grunt gallery, 2018.

Moving from the thoughts in your head to speaking about those ideas in a group is an important process in building community. People whose viewpoints are underrepresented – seniors, youth, immigrants, people of colour, gender and sexual minorities, Indigenous and rural folks – can share their reality in story form. Viewing the stories created by people who differ from you breaks down barriers by promoting greater insight into their thoughts and actions. Stronger communities are built by sharing stories. Watching the community stories as an audience, we feel a common emotion and create connections as a group.

“Storytelling is a powerful tool for self expression and self realization, but it’s also more. Moving stories have the capacity to arouse deep empathy, and generate ripple effects of change—within and between communities, and in the wider world.”

Deblekha Guin, AMES

Stories are tied to specific times in the teller’s life. Children and youth will not tell the same story when they are 20 years older. When elders die, their stories will not be shared unless they have been recorded or remembered by survivors. Storytelling gives us a sense of who we are and an opportunity to work out issues. Some projects work out better than others. Experiencing setbacks is an important part of developing skills to tell a better story in the future.

In our series of posts, we begin by looking at the background of people we have interviewed to date. How did they get started working in this way with communities? Over the next two months, we’ll release a new post every Thursday.

  1. The Emergence of Community Digital Storytelling (in this region and beyond)
  2. Creating and Holding Safe Spaces for Stories to Emerge
  3. Healing Power of Digital Storytelling
  4. Healing in and for Communities Through Digital Storytelling
  5. How Mentors Support Community Co-Creation in Workshops
  6. Community Digital Storytelling Program Design
  7. Sharing Community Stories

We have a series of insights, expressed here as findings. Continue reading our posts to learn how we came to these insights.

Our first finding is that community digital storytelling is a diverse field with many local origins. Storytellers represent themselves with the support of mentors in process-oriented and participant-focused workshops. We work together in informal learning environments, with a focus on change, transforming stories that hold us back into ones that help us to move forward with a clearer individual and community awareness.

Arising out of our discussion of the role of mentors, our second finding is that it is necessary to educate funding bodies so that they recognize the unpaid labour of creating and supporting the environments that make community storytelling possible through increased and sustained financial support.

Our third finding is that creating community digital stories can be transformational for the creators, the folks who witness, as well as for the mentors who collaborate with them. CDS offers us a way to respond to the stories others tell about us, as well as the stories that we share with the world about ourselves.

Our fourth finding is that, while people from outside of remote communities can play a key role in lighting a spark, tending to the creative fire in the long term requires investment in local resources and training. Funding is urgently needed to support vibrant and resilient communities and to build capacity in rural areas, in part through the community digital storytelling process.

Community Digital Storytelling BC Bios 2019/20

Here’s a little background info about the groups and individuals working in community digital storytelling who began this Initiative with us. Some have chosen to remain anonymous.

AMES –  Galiano Island, BC, Canada

The Access to Media Education Society uplifts emerging creative change-makers through accessible and inclusive programs that provide unique opportunities for young people to make and share meaningful media.

Black Dot Roots & Culture Collective – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Black Dot Roots and Culture Collective is an organization of indigenous peoples of African descent educating young people and adults, creating original forms of artistic expression and celebrating our heritage at home and abroad.

Chris Bose – Kamloops, BC, Canada

Chris Bose is a Nlaka’pamux storyteller, artist,musician, author, mentor & filmmaking workshop facilitator.

Portrait of the Artists

Elisa Chee – Vancouver, BC, Canada

A Vancouver based printmaker, painter, and animation filmmaker, Elisa Chee aspires to create visuals that offer a shared moment, phrase, or gesture that makes one feel the comfort of being deeply understood.

Digital Stories Canada – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Digital Stories Canada is dedicated to the art of digital storytelling with a Canadian connection. Lorna Boschman developed a shorter community digital storytelling workshop for the grunt gallery’s Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen.

Jai Djwa – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Jai Djwa (rhymes with “hi”) brings more than 20 years of experience as a creative technologist, interactive strategist, and facilitator.

High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese – An Interactive, online storytelling project

Svend-Erik Eriksen – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Svend-Erik Eriksen, former Executive Producer and Senior Producer, National Film Board of Canada, is known for his work on :
1991 When the Day Comes Documentary NFB Sharon McGowan Stills Animation
1994 Trawna tuh Belvul Animation NFB Martin Rose Producer
1994 Hands of History Documentary NFB Loretta Todd Stills Animation
1995 Lax’Wes Wa Documentary NFB Coproduction Barbara Cranmer Executive Producer
2000 Flipping the World Documentary NFB Mo Simpson Executive Producer
2001 Strange Invaders Animation NFB Cordell Barker Executive Producer
2002 Joe Animation NFB Jill Haras Executive Producer
2003 The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam Documentary NFB Coproduction Ann Marie Fleming Producer
2006 Finding Dawn Documentary NFB Christine Welsh Producer
2006 Bridgeview II Initative NFB Nettie Wild Producer

Deblekha Guin – Galiano Island, BC, Canada

Deblekha Guin, founded AMES (Access to Media Education) in 1996. AMES is a small non-profit that uses digital media, artistic collaboration, and creative facilitation to engage marginalized youth in personally and socially transformative storytelling practices. Since then she has played a key role bringing 40 customized participatory media programs to fruition, and implementing outreach efforts to expand their reach.  She continues to be AMES Executive Director, and wear many hats in the Community Digital Storytelling realm—from co-visioning programs and writing grants, to building community partnerships and tending to logistics big and small.

Our World Language – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Partnering with communities, Our World Language provides access to media arts training as a means of empowerment through artistic & cultural expression. The mandate is to integrate First Nation, Métis and Inuit languages and culture into films as a way to heal the past, claim the present and  move forward into the future with pride of identity. While the focus is on sparking interest in filmmaking with youth, Our World also welcomes adults and elders to participate.

Sebnem Ozpeta – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Sebnem Ozpeta is a Vancouver-based visual artist, video editor, and videographer. She studied graphic design in Turkey, where she was born and raised. She has applied her video skills and her experience in storytelling by mentoring youth as part of the Digital Story Telling project (in collaboration with Lisa G. Nielsen and Lorna Boschman).

Reel to Real: A Celebration of Moving Images for Youth Society – Vancouver, BC, Canada

A non-profit registered charity dedicated to showing the best in culturally diverse, authentic programming for youth, Reel to Real presents an annual film festival, the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth, and media arts programming year-round.

Patrick Shannon – Skidegate, BC, Canada

Patrick Shannon, also known as Nang Ḵ’uulas, is an Indigenous-Canadian filmmaker, social entrepreneur and activist from the remote island nation of Haida Gwaii, off the Northwest coast of Canada.

InnoNative An Indigenous Creative Studio

Moira Simpson (Mo) – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Mo Simpson has been a freelance director, cinematographer and editor of documentaries, as well as an instructor, for nearly 50 years. Her work is informed by a passionate belief that film can be a powerful impetus for social justice.

Aerlyn Weissman – Vancouver, BC, Canada

Aerlyn Weissman is a documentary film director based in Vancouver, BC. She also has worked as a mentor in Canada and the United States with a wide variety of students from many cultures and backgrounds. She has also earned a Masters Degree in Digital Media.

We gratefully acknowledge that we live and work on the unceded, traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations.


Canada Council for the Arts logo
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

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