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Storytelling, POV, & the power of first-person narrative

FilmI have long thought that 21st-century presenters can learn as much about communicating ideas from filmmakers—especially documentary filmmakers—as they can from traditional speech-communication resources. Filmmakers are master storytellers and they have much to teach us about engaging an audience. A great story can do many things to an audience, but one thing it must do is make the audience feel. Your story does not have to make people feel good, but it must make them feel something. Now, like a filmmaker, 21st-century presenters/storytellers have many tools at their disposal including motion pictures (i.e., digital video for most of us), photography, sketches, data visualizations, and audio including narration, first-person interviews, music, sound effects, etc. In a live talk, short video clips of first-person interviews can be highly effective if woven into your narrative with purpose. A first-person interview provides a direct link to the subject's point of view (POV) in a way that seems more authentic and evocative.

When it comes to film, I'm rather keen on the first-person narrative approach. Many documentaries mix in first-person narration with a "voice of God" narrator who serves as a kind of guide and voice of authority on a journey of discovery. There is nothing wrong with that, but for short films, telling a story with only powerful visuals and first-person narration can be very effective for providing an emotional, insightful POV. The short film below is another good example of an amazing story of resilience and determination told with only first-person interviews. The film is called "Alone in the Zone" and is the story of one farmer, Naoto Matsumura, who remained behind in the ghost town of Tomioka inside the Fukushima evacuation zone in spite of high levels of radiation and loneliness to attend to his abandoned animals. The film also introduces Kenji Hasegawa's who was evacuated due to high levels of radiation and for a time sought refuge in temporary housing. Both men share candid and heartbreaking insights into their lives as well as their views of the nuclear power industry in Japan, government inaction and daily life in an area with high levels radioactivity.


(Note: click the Captions button to see subtitles in various languages including English. Also note the video is available in resolutions up to 1080p.)

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