By Suyash Gabriel
Everyone has a great story to tell. At least that’s the notion that Michael Burns, director of Tall Tales, seems to believe. This isn’t far from the truth. However, what separates an average narrative from a truly great story are the tiny details that one chooses to either leave out or weave in. The way a story is told can make all the difference.
Tall Tales was started in Mumbai by Michael Burns, a 37-year-old American documentary filmmaker and video-editor, in April last year. “Tall Tales allows ordinary people to share the extraordinary experiences that they haven’t had a chance to tell yet, in a public forum, and thereby have that experience validated. We take these experiences and sculpt them into unforgettable and well orated stories,” says Burns.
Tall Tales had its debut in Delhi at Zorba the Buddha last Saturday, where five different stories covered a wide spectrum of experiences. From a journalist talking about corruption and politics during her time covering elections in Congo to a mother’s heart-wrenching story about losing her son in a fire, people from different backgrounds and approaches to storytelling came together in a small yet comfortable, dimly-lit room.
“We get a number of entries, all of which have to be non-fiction. From these, we choose the best entries and call them for auditions, after which those selected are called for the editing stage. This is a back-and-forth process in which we crop, pepper and rework the written story and fine tune their oral presentation. The stories are then showcased at our performances,” he says. Tall Tales performances in Mumbai have taken place at multiple venues, with over 50 stories being shared.
Inspired by a radio show in the US that features people who tell real stories centered around a theme every week, Burns came to India, with the idea of launching a similar radio channel. However, believing that a radio channel wouldn’t gather enough steam in India, he converted the initiative into a performance-based format. “A documentary gives you an accurate, yet well told and interesting account of real life events. We do the same thing with the stories,” he says.
Sreelekha Chatterjee, one of the participants at the workshop, narrated her story about an autowala during the protests in Delhi when CNG was made compulsory for public transport vehicles.
Chatterjee, who teaches at the University of Calcutta, says “I’ve written stories and had them published, but telling a story is completely different. Here, we get a chance to relive experiences, and take the audience on that journey as well. It’s not just words being recited, but real emotion.”