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StoryCorps Animated Shorts

(US DVD: 1 May 2012)

On his deathbed, the poet John Keats requested that his tombstone read, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”, perhaps believing that he, and his poetry, would quickly be forgotten.


In one of the interviews accompanying StoryCorps Animated Shorts, producer Dave Isay recalls a project in which a homeless man grabbed a book containing his picture and ran down the hall, screaming “I exist!” That’s part of the allure of StoryCorps, not only for the people whose stories are captured, but also those of us listening: the idea that the vividness of someone’s life story is captured, and won’t fade with time and the increasingly hazy memories of those left behind.


If you’ve listened to NPR on a Friday morning over the last few years, chances are you know what Story Corps is all about. For a few minutes, you get to hear an average person being interviewed by a friend or family member, talking about their life. The stories can be about anything: loves found and lost, immigrant experiences, parenting, death, pretty much the entire range of the human experience. It’s very rare that you listen to a StoryCorps segment without reaching for the tissues.


Since it began in 2003 with a recording booth in New York’s Grand Central Station (and expanding to include mobile booths that travel the country), StoryCorps has amassed 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 people. Two CDs are created from each 40-minute session, one going to the participants, the other going to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Short excerpts of some sessions wind up on a weekly basis on NPR’s Morning Edition broadcasts.


Generally, the broadcast StoryCorps segments are nothing short of amazing. Not only do you get to hear a truly interesting story, but you can also often feel the bond between the people doing the interview. It’s not uncommon for a child to interview a parent, or for grandchildren to interview grandparents, or for people to just sit and recollect some event or person from their past. Through their openness (and the editor’s art in finding the best snippets of the conversation), you feel like you’re sitting in on something rich and worthwhile.


The ten shorts on this DVD are some of the most memorable. Somewhere along the line during the StoryCorps project, the Rauch Brothers began animating some of their favorite segments. So you get a mother being interviewed by her autistic son (“Q&A”), an elderly man recalling how he killed a German soldier in World War II and how that act still haunts him (“Germans in the Woods”), three tales of losing a loved one on September 11, 2001 (one of StoryCorps’ initiatives is to record a tribute to everyone who died in the 9/11 tragedy), recollections of a no-nonsense Sunday School Teacher (“Miss Devine”), and more. 


It also contains what arguably might be the classic StoryCorps segment, “Danny and Annie”, which features two truly unique and devoted voices talking their relationship from its start to its impending end due to Danny’s cancer. It’s a tearjerker even by StoryCorps’ standards. In the coming Terminator-styled robot apocalypse, “Danny and Annie” should be required viewing to distinguish the humans from the machines.


Often whimsical, even on the saddest of stories, the animations are simple and fluid, complementing the stories being told rather than trying to stake out their own claim as the star of the stories. Because in the end, the stories are the heart of StoryCorps, as well as the truth that stories swirl around us every day, in our lives and the lives of others.

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Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


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