Digital Story Critique: After the Storm

By October 10, 2016Digital Story Critique

After the Storm is one man’s harrowing account of a 1.5 mi (2.4 km) wide EF4 tornado that leveled his home town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27, 2011. The storm resulted in 64 deaths, over 1500 injuries, and massive devastation which permanently altered the geography of the town. Told in twelve minutes and fifteen chapters from the perspective of filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace, the story takes us on an a very personal and immersive journey of the hours leading up to the disaster and the aftermath of one of the most destructive storms in our nation’s history.

The narrative opens with swirling clouds, the sounds of blowing winds, and a stark and splintered landscape. The voice of Grace enters with foreboding words of, “Dear future disaster survivor . . .” Already I am anxious. You get the feeling he’s trying to make you understand something important. And as the story continues, you realize what that important thing is.

Up to the third chapter all seems fine. The scene in the background looks calm and sunny while relaxed music plays softly in the background. Then a video of the weatherman pops up and reports that 62 tornadoes have been spotted. The perfect storm was coming.

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“Tornadoes always hit other people in other places – the trailer park on the outskirts of town, the mangled home of blown insulation littering the trees – but this, future disaster survivor, is important to remember. This can happen to you.”
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Grace and his wife pick up their two cats and you vicariously crawl into the closet with them to wait out the storm. While sitting in the dark, he begins to reminisce of a tornado he had experienced as a child using a visual scrapbook embedded with videos from that time. He goes on to describe the sounds of all the debris hitting the roof and the smell of pine as the branches of his neighbor’s trees swirled above him.

The tornado ends and the worst part begins.capture

The rest of the story captures the aftermath and the complete overhaul of the landscape of his town from picturesque to mangled masses of bricks, boards, and steel. In one scene Grace describes how they were now able to see the mall 1.5 miles away when it had formerly been blocked by houses and trees – five blocks between had been completely flattened.

The narrator addresses the changes and memories that surround such a significant event in a person’s life and the grieving that takes place afterwards. He ends with the haunting words that by now you are taking heed to:

the-loss-of-the-trees

“And so, future disaster survivor, when you emerge from your hallway closest to everything rearranged, try and pay attention because you are moving from one life into the next.”

Critique

Using Jason Ohler’s digital storytelling rubric, I chose the following traits for my critique based on effective first-person narrative techniques used by the author. In writing, first -person perspective is often used to convey powerful emotions, a compelling account, as well as the ability to “get inside” the character’s head. I want to determine if this mode of storytelling helped or hindered this goal.

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Conclusion

This was an interesting story for me because it hits home. I’ve been through the Northridge Earthquake of ’94 that toppled many buildings around me, and also the Black Forest Fires of 2013 that destroyed 509 homes (I had to evacuate for that one as we were in the fire’s path). I still go out of my way to drive down Black Forest road and see the charred trees, the new homes, the renewed meadow grasses growing along the once lush forest floor. I also remember the only time I ever saw my mom scared – it was while we were huddling in the basement through tornadoes that ripped through Missouri when I was 4-yrs-old. It’s a familiar tale for many.

We are all disaster survivors to some extent and that’s why this story is so relatable.

2 Comments

  • Matt says:

    Hey Lisa,

    That is a really great digital story! There are many different layers and the interactive scroll and video inserts add a lot. The monotone narration and the music bring a surreal feeling to the overall production. I liked the part while watching the local Meteorologist in suspenders and all of the severe weather maps. Overall, this is a very good production and it reminds me of one I commented on earlier this semester titled “Pine Point.” The production techniques are very similar, both very enjoyable.

    http://pinepoint.nfb.ca/#/pinepoint

    Matt

  • Louiza says:

    Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing! This story is one of the most engaging stories I have seen where the use of media along this the narration keep the viewer’s attention every single minute. Before watching this story. I had never thought about creating a site and taking advantage of all the interactive features it provides to create a digital story. The narrator’s voice was very clear and the pacing was appropriate for the story. The blue sky at the beginning of the story along with music and the narrator’s introduction are so intriguing that the audience wants to keep watching to find out what happened next. The fact that he provides videos and a number of pictures that it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not they will look at them makes the flow of the narration more cohesive while the extra elements add to the story without tiring the viewer. At the third scene, the path of the storm, the sound of the wind, and the dark colors make the viewer start feeling uneasy. The abrupt interaction of the video that showed the tornado from a distance makes the viewer even more concerned and then… the dark closet, the anticipation and the unknown tomorrow! Then all the memories that come with pictures, newspaper cutouts. The simulation of the tornado sound using a dryer is so unique. The pictures of the aftermath, and the statement that “things that were formally impossible will be true” make the viewer feel concerned about the next day. “Maybe people aren’t bad at all, maybe we could all be good if a tornado was just there to wipe us out, every minute of our lives” This phrase is so true. People oftentimes do not respect each other, and there had to be a disaster to acknowledge their mistakes. On scene number twelve, a different place, viewing the disaster through the small opening of the lens make the viewer realize that no single picture can capture that tragedy, So many victims, so many homeless! The Google street view, allows the viewer to become part of that community by looking at the images before and after the disaster. The closing of the story and the representation of life’s circles through the circles that appear inside of a tree trunk, the connection of the old with the new, and the power of the human mind to forget and move on. Incredible story! Extraordinary presentation!
    Louiza

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