Digital Story Critique #5: A Brief History of the Modern Strawberry

*I am currently working my way through my fourth semester of the Information and Learning Technologies master’s program at University of Colorado, Denver.  This is the fifth post within a series of critiques on digital stories that I’ve been assigned to write for a course titled Digital Storytelling.

This week’s critique is on a short stop-motion animation titled A Brief History of the Modern Strawberry (as well as an accompanying five chapter written piece titled Dark Side of the Strawberry).  The video explains “how clever advertising tactics and certain pesticides helped make the juicy red fruit cheaply and widely available” and the “hidden costs to using those chemicals.”

I chose to critique this short stop-motion animation, not only because it was very well done (it won an Emmy!), but also because it relates closely to my theme for this course, a self-reflection on life, through food.  This video is of course, not a self-reflection, but it does pertain to food and it does make me reflect on the types of food I eat and purchase for my family.  I’ve done extensive research on clean eating (eating non-processed foods) and “clean” versus “dirty” foods (organic versus non-organic).  My family eats little to no processed foods and we buy organic as much as we’re able, but much of population of this country is not able to live that way.  I know I certainly didn’t as I was growing up.  Educational videos like this one deepen my desire to want to provide the best for my family and pass down what I’ve learned about food and our food culture to my daughter.

To critique this piece, I used the following traits from Jason Ohler’s “Assessing digital stories, new media narrative“:  1.) story, 2.) research and 3.) originality, voice, and creativity.

  • Story – The film starts out with beautiful strawberries floating across the scene, landing in the state of California, setting the stage for “what” we’re learning about and “where” the stage is set.  Drama is immediately introduced with drastic imagery of fumigants covering the beautiful strawberries.  There is discussion on fumigants and contrasting words like “poisons” and “food” are used in the same sentences.  The chemical that started it all was called Cholorpicrin and the narrator tells the history of the chemical and visuals from WWI are used.  The story goes through the evolution of the fumigant and how exactly it became the foundation for 90% of the strawberries grown in the United States. The narration of the story is meant to evoke feelings within the viewer and it does just that.  The story is told very well, brief but informative, and full of drama.
  • Research – The research is evident by the statistics mentioned throughout the narration.  It is also shown within the accompanying five chapter written piece titled Dark Side of the Strawberry.  The written piece is a digital story all on its own, with written text, visual images, and dozens and dozens of clickable links.  The investigative research for this piece was done extremely well, but I would expect nothing less from the Center of Investigative Reporting.
  • Originality, voice, and creativity – The basic process of stop-motion animation involves taking a photograph of your objects or characters, moving them slightly, and taking another photograph.  It’s extremely time consuming and takes a lot of effort and patience.  When you play back the images consecutively, the objects or characters appear to move on their own, thus creating a moving film out of the images.  The stop-motion animation within this film was done incredibly well and each scene is interesting and visually pleasing to look at. Stop-motion animation was an incredibly creative way to tell such a story, a story about fumigants and fruit, and not have it come across as too light for the subject nature, or even comedic and juvenile.  The whole film was done extremely well and the creators even utilized real footage from WWI and motion graphics mixed within the animation.

I highly recommend watching this great animated film on a serious subject and checking out all of the other resources and videos that Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has to offer.

Dark Side of Strawberries Article

*Click here to see more videos from Reveal.
*Click here to read more investigative digital stories from Reveal.
*Header image from here.