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Digital Story Critique: Journey to the End of Coal

By November 14, 2016Digital Story Critique

Chinese mines are the most dangerous in the world. Every day 20 people die in accidents. In this web Documentary, Journey to the End of Coal, directors Samuel Bollendorff and Abel Ségrétin chronicle the risk millions of Chinese coal miners take every day to satisfy their own country’s appetite for economic growth, contaminating their environment in the process.

The story begins when you assume the role of a journalist who has infiltrated the forbidden mining compounds that lie on the outskirts of Beijing. The film takes you on an interactive journey down the depths of the mines and surrounding slums, giving you a comprehensive glimpse at the corrupt mining practices and human rights violations inflicted on the mingong migrant workers. The format is a “choose your own adventure” where you have navigation control via a click-and-go map, or by the questions you choose to ask the people along your journey.

As you interact within the narrative, there is a distinctly ominous mood conveyed as miners working in unbearable conditions are surprised to see you. They are hesitant to talk, but when they do, they speak stark truths which are quickly overlaid with political mimicry to hide their suffering, but it’s easy to see they feel trapped and oppressed.

They seem to be living a world of delusion and misinformation. In one scene, 60-yr-old Mrs. Qi is outside in freezing weather picking up coal pieces off a black, muddy road that have fallen from a passing truck. Seeing her feet steeped in the toxic black water, the journalist asks her if such a thing is bad for her health. She responds with, “No, it isn’t dangerous. Otherwise, the environmental bureau would have informed us.”

There’s a persistent, underlying tension as you encounter those in authority. Veiled threats and warnings are made to your safety throughout by police and “the director” if you don’t keep moving along back to Beijing and keep silent about what you see.

I will be basing my critique on Jason Ohler’s digital story traits and using the introduction to Journey to the End of Coal as my guide. Their first thesis is that China is the third in place as a leading economic power for having built it on the backs of their people, sacrificing their lives and the health of their land. So the authors state that the reader has “decided to investigate on the living conditions on those who have made the ‘Chinese miracle’ possible.” I will be assessing whether this was accomplished. Was I able to investigate facts thoroughly and realistically via their media production?ch3


I love documentaries when the experience is immersive like this is; swiping and choosing my own path on my iPad provides for a more engaging learning experience by far. In Journey to the End of Coal, I came out with indelible impressions of life in another country, where human rights are, sadly, a negotiated commodity.

This is an eye opener!

Producer : Arnaud Dressen
Directors: Samuel Bollendorff and Abel Ségrétin
Co-Author: Grégoire Basdevant
Sound design: Frederic Blin
Development: 31Septembre / Guillaume Urjewicz / Remi Toffoli
Interactive editing powed by Klynt®
With the support from CNC multimédia and SCAM.
First released on French news portal lemonde.fr with more than 1.5 million page views.


One Comment

  • Stephanie says:

    Hi Lisa! What a powerful digital story! I have been so interested in “choose your own adventure” stories within my own focal theme lately, that it was refreshing to see this used in a documentary style story. This story made me curious and sad all at the same time. Watching the lives of so many be impacted by coal mines intrigued me to want to know more (and I often pushed the “learn more button”), and at the same time I wanted to deny the poisonous conditions these people lived in because of the mines. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the navigation. I’m a very linear person, so when I was unable to go backwards easily, I felt your same frustrations. My recent critique is of a story that uses a similar navigation, and I think they remedied this well with a main menu option on slides that gave you choices – could have worked well here, too. Thank you for posting such a powerful story and spot-on critique! (Posted on 11/20/16 @ 9:27 PM).

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