The Confessional

The Confessional

The Confessional:
an innovative surveying technique at the 2017-18 Woodford Folk Festival

by Gary Burke

Late last November at Woodford I was casually discussing a technique Laura Stocker and I had developed to add depth and colour to our community surveys. It’s a process where interviews are recorded on video but there is no voice over: the interviewees responses create the overall narrative. We call it ‘VideoVoice’.

The way it works is a bit like jazz, or bluegrass: we devise a framework of 10 or so questions for the survey, but respondents are free to improvise their comments (solos) within that structure. This gives a spontaneous quality to the responses as it allows unthought-of perspectives to emerge. The video recording removes the need for basic questions about age and gender; and seeing the face and hearing the voice enhances the viewer’s interpretation of the responses.

Organisers were quickly on the phone to Robyn about that old phone booth stored out back: could it be painted up and found a space for the booth (opposite Coopers Bar). Christina Cannes joined the conversation and said she’d had a similar idea for an audio booth, and wanted to call it ‘The Confessional’. We had a perfect name. Thanks Christina!

Cas McCullough was asked to find volunteers to help Laura and I with the interviewing. She came up with the amazing Katrina Donaghy and Juan Polanco, who took to the idea and technology like ducks to water.

Overall we recorded 72 interviews. Youngest was six (she’d been to seven festivals if you count the one where her mum was still pregnant), and oldest was somewhere politely over 60. We heard from day-trippers, full festival campers, volunteers and artists. We asked people to be truthful, realistic and constructive about memorable experiences, ideas for improvement and what they’d like to take away from the festival in their hearts.

Three couples said they’d met their long term spouses at Woodford and attend each year to re-affirm and strengthen their love. And then there’s the guy who heard about Woodford in Africa, even though he lives in Melbourne; the youth who has been to Woodford every of the 18 years of his life. There’s the lady who burst into tears when she was leaving last year’s festival (and had to come back this year, of course); the person who remembered the flood-ridden festival of 2010-11 when Bill asked the Tibetan monks to pray for the rain to stop during the closing ceremony, and it did, only to start again as soon as it was over. Almost everyone mentions the ‘freedom to be’, the acceptance, lack of anger, the smiles and the serendipity of what you find around the corner. So many speak of the festival as ‘coming home’, ‘the world as it could/should be’… ‘and why not?’ Of course there is the music, the surprises, the unheard-of performers who are soon to be well known (you heard it first….). There’s the unforgettable dances, the side-splitting, aisle-rolling comics, the serene feeling of ‘welcome’ from the ticketers at the entrance, the great attention to detail, the street art, the joy and meaning from being a volunteer, and we heard many times how smoothly runs the festival. The video caught the excellent outfits some of the patrons were wearing!

The Confessional videos will be used to provide feedback, ideas and pats-on-the-back to organisers. There are heaps of diverse, spontaneous testimonials that can be used for promotional material. The videos will be archived in the Lore Centre so future generations can hear what their predecessors thought. For now, they remind us of the great aspects of Woodford that we so easily forget in the daily grind.

Like many Woodfordian innovations, it’s a steady-as-she-goes process. It’s now February and I’ve edited two thirds of the 8 hours of interviews. Resources are tight, as usual, but the plan is to make a good draft to preview. If it’s worthy, resources will be mobilised in the usual fashion – that is, we don’t know how yet – to tweak the videos and make them more publicly available.

I can’t wait for you all to see them.

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