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HSE Holds Storytelling Festival

On May 17-18, HSE’s Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design hosted its annual Telling Stories Fest in Moscow with the support of the Moscow Innovation Agency. In the festival’s first discussion forum, ‘Storytelling: How to Talk to Be Heard’, festival headliners and media industry experts shared personal stories of success as well as their thoughts on the future of storytelling.

Tatiana Rivchun, General Producer of the Telling Stories Fest and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design at HSE, opened the discussion by noting that one of the main tasks facing the faculty is to teach students how to ‘tell’ stories. She invited the speakers to share stories from their own lives and careers and to talk about where stories come from and how one can learn (and teach others) how to create them.

‘I really believe that stories document our lives and define who we are,’ said Namgay Zam, an independent journalist, media trainer and the Executive Director of the Bhutan Journalists Association. She is confident that, if you are going to tell a story, you must be authentic, honest with yourself and attentive to your individuality. 

Alexander Akopov, Producer and President of the Foundation of the Russian Television Academy, believes that if we are going to talk about the development of the industry, each of us needs to learn how to talk about ourselves and our own lives openly and without constraint. ‘I constantly talk about stories, because it is what we do on a daily basis. There is one serious problem that everyone who wants to be ‘true to themselves’ encounters—a problem of culture. This is not just a Russian cultural problem, but a European one. We know very well that any American, whether it be a schoolboy, and electrician, or Steven Spielberg, can talk about himself. And this is normal. In our culture, unfortunately, what’s normal is to sit in a corner and wait until you’re addressed. It is one of the main problems that exist in our society. Therefore, in order to talk about storytelling, Russians first need to learn how to answer the question, “How are you?”. If we start working on that now, maybe 30 or 40 years from now our children and grandchildren will understand that talking about yourself is nothing shameful—it is a normal means of survival in our surrounding world.’ 

Storytelling is probably the only way to somehow get answers to questions and begin to understand something

Letting people talk about themselves is the very idea of lookatme.ru project that was started 12 years ago. The project was conceived by Vasily Esmanov, who is also the founder of the publications The Village, Furfur, Wonderzineand Hopes & Fears and now a media expert and co-founder of the bureau MAKE SENSE. ‘I’ve always been interested in the story as the most reliable “means” of conveying our faith and beliefs,’ he said. ‘Now we are all forced to ask who we are, who we are to each other and what will come of us. Storytelling is probably the only way to somehow get answers to questions and begin to understand something.’

Storytelling is a subject of interest not only for various forms of media but for the fashion industry as well. According to Anzor Kankulov, journalist and Creative Director of the Telling Stories Fest and Supervisor of the ‘Fashion’ department of HSE’s School of Design, the word ‘storytelling’ is also an important buzzword in the fashion world right now. ‘For me, telling a story means creating a world, and that world can be created by different means. And thanks to modern technology, we can create not just stories, but a new world, a new universe, which we can immerse ourselves in through visual images and objects.’

Jonas Kjellberg, festival headliner, co-founder of Skype, founder of Player: IO, investor, author of several books and an instructor at the MBA programs of Stanford University and Stockholm School of Economics, shared his own life story with students. He spoke about the many projects, ideas and startups he worked with as an investor or creator. Of the 50 companies he helped in some way to create, many did not survive, while others flourished—even though no one really believed they would (such as Lamoda, an online retail company, or Avito, the Russian version of Craigslist). In addition, he became a teacher, published several books, and all the meanwhile did what he was genuinely interesting in. ‘We often hear the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”’ he said. ‘My mom is very disappointed in me, because she thinks I don’t have a normal, real job. She says, “You can’t just travel around the world and chat with people. You’re setting a bad example for your kids. Look at your brother, he works at a large bank.” It’s true, I don’t know who I am or what I did before, but I do know what I want to do tomorrow. I want to work with people who I like. And I would advise everyone to try and do what they want.’

Alik Sakharov, an American film director and cameraman (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Black Sails, and others), was the headliner for the festival’s film events category and also celebrated his birthday in Moscow. Responding to a question, he remarked, ‘First of all, you need to understand what exactly you want to say. Your end goal must be clearly expressed—if not to everyone, then at least to you. You should know where you’re going. A director is someone who carries a torch. He’s a leader whom the team will follow. If you have something to say, pursuie it and do your best to be honest with yourself.’

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