Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Examination of “The Balcony”

The digital story “The Balcony” was created in 2009 in Paarl, Western Cape Province, South Africa, through a workshop facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling. The author, Pieter van der Walt, who served as the narrator, used the perspective of a character inside the material, as he recalled memories of his boyhood, and later his experience as an adult. His story was both his own, as well as the story of a post-apartheid community.

Through this story, although brief, in the first portion of the film, he recalled a traumatic childhood encounter with overt racism through his account of observing a man being beaten while no one intervened. He then shifted to the story of an adult friendship and the need for

communities in his homeland to work through the struggles and mend divides, despite the challenges of poverty and racism. In doing this, the author told of a communal vegetable garden, and of an unfinished balcony, which served as a metaphor for the ongoing challenges exemplified by the narrator’s statement, “the picture is not perfect… the balcony is always under construction” but that this could not be a reason not to forge ahead.

Pieter utilized elements of form which helped to build the engaging nature of the film, and convey the realistic, yet optimistic tone of the story. The narration is told in a language native to South Africa, and subtitles are provided through a text box on the screen in English, adding to the authenticity of the story. As the narrator recounts the beating he observed as a child of ten, the photo of an innocent looking young boy, presumably the narrator, remains on the screen. When the story shifts to the present the screen shifts to a current photo. The story line is well accompanied by bright photos of the landscape and of the people of the community. The author also “takes” us to his community by embedding video footage of a drive to the town. The author supports his thesis with recurring photos: one of his neighbor (a dark photo that harkens to “the picture is not perfect” and one of the unfinished balcony (the work is never done, but we should forge on.)

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