Virginia Voices Uses Crowdsourcing to Document Stories of the Commonwealth | Community Idea Stations


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Virginia Voices Uses Crowdsourcing to Document Stories of the Commonwealth

Virginia Voices is an ambitious project from the Virginia Historical Society that is gathering hundreds of stories of everyday people throughout the Commonwealth. Through crowdsourced videos and professional filming, the initiative will produce a documentary and interactive database. For Virginia Currents, Catherine Komp has more.

Learn More: Watch the Virginia Voices trailer, user-generated videos and find out how you can submit your own. Deadline for videos to be considered for the documentary is July 1; videos submitted after that date will be included in the interactive database.


Between the mountains and the sea, the city and the country, Virginians have many stories to tell:

Montage: The river has been a huge part of my life...None of us are landed gentry, none of us made a fortune...I was born in the house up here on the top of the hill, that was in 1928...

The Virginia Historical Society wanted to capture the diversity of the state and find a way to document the stories that “won’t make the textbook.”

Jeff Boedeker: This is the largest state-specific crowdsourced film of its kind.

Jeff Boedeker is Producer of Virginia Voices.

Boedeker: This isn’t just oral history, people are showing us their lives, so not only are people talking about their lives, but we also see it and we see it literally through their lens, it’s a very first-person approach.

Boedeker has been traveling the state since last August, visiting more than 50 cities and towns to film residents and encourage others to make their own videos. Four questions help guide contributors and will shape the documentary:

Boedeker: What’s your family history? What are your hopes? What’s in your backyard? And what’s your favorite place?

Boedeker says they didn’t want to record subjects easily found with a Google search. Instead, they discovered people and places by talking to residents, who made recommendations or had good stories themselves. One trip took them to the Capron home of Nottoway Nation Chief Lynette Allston:

Lynette Allston: What’s in my backyard? The essence of all my ancestors. How they were able to manage, so I feel their strength. There’s power here, there’s fulfillment here.

Another segment includes sweeping aerial footage of the Shenandoah Valley. In this story, pilot Rock Skowbo shares what’s in his backyard: thousands of pieces of an airplane last flown by his finance Jane Wicker.

Rock Skowbo: They say that everything happens for a reason, I don’t know what the reason is for this, I probably will never know. I was standing right there when it happened and I was in disbelief then and am still in disbelief. Obviously this is huge reminder that this is real, but I still can’t believe that it happened, I can’t find a good excuse for it to happen.

Virginia Voices includes a broad range of human experiences and emotions. The project sent one of their cameras to Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake.

Monty Fenner: I started playing football at the age of seven...

There, the football coach gave it to one of his athletes, Monty Fenner. When the camera came back, Boedeker found an inspiring, linear narrative.

Boedeker: It was amazing that this kid, he decided to film the moment that he signed for a football scholarship to Townson, a full ride, and he filmed leading up to it, getting fitted for suit with uncle, and this all kind of revolves around football being his favorite place, so the football field is his favorite place. So, it’s interesting that for him he’s first one in his family who’s going to college, that’s how he’s making history and that’s his family history right now.

Fenner: I’m very thankful for my mom, for raising us well, and I love this team, all of us had a good bond together. I’m proud of myself for doing all this. Some of my dreams are coming true, it’s not done yet, I have a lot of life to live.

Fenner just moved into his dorm room at Townsend, so Boedeker sent the camera back to him to film part of this new chapter in his life. Boedeker says he hopes Fenner and others who participate in Virginia Voices feel like they’re a part of something larger.

Boedeker: At a museum when you look at artifacts, there’s so much left to the imagination, which is great but there’s so many questions that I constantly have and we just don’t know because it’s not documented, but here we can actually document our lives and you can really share your life in an honest way and people will really know our hopes, our failures, our dreams and they see that, they can see where we’ve come from and how we’ve progressed.

For those who don’t have access to equipment or a smartphone, the Virginia Voices project is lending out cameras. And Boedeker says they’re not looking for Spielberg-quality filming. What’s more important, he says, is authenticity. The Virginia Voices documentary will premiere in September at the Virginia Historical Society, and all the stories collected will be included in the interactive database. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.