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Frame By Frame: Senior Programmer Shari Frilot Lists 12 Groundbreaking Projects from the Sundance Film Festival and New Frontier

Frame By Frame: Senior Programmer Shari Frilot Lists 12 Groundbreaking Projects from the Sundance Film Festival and New Frontier

If you’ve been following our ongoing series Frame By Frame,
you know that we recently spoke with
Shari Frilot, senior film programmer of
the Sundance Film Festival and chief curator of the Sundance New Frontier
program.

As a bonus to that conversation, Shari has curated a list of groundbreaking projects to come through the Festival, as well
as projects that represent what New Frontier is about and the range of works
that they show.

FESTIVAL FILMS


Stanley Nelson’s THE
BLACK PRESS: SOLDIERS WITHOUT SWORDS

This is the very first film I ever chased down and fought
for. I thought the liberation story he was telling was fresh and incredibly
important and I felt Sundance audiences needed to see and talk about it. Stanley
told me he never thought about submitting his films to the Sundance Film
Festival until I asked him to in 1998. Since then, he has won numerous prizes
and premiered the lion’s share of his singularly important ouvre of films about
African American history at the Festival.

Ava DuVernay’s MIDDLE
OF NOWHERE

For this film, Ava made history at the 2012 Festival’s
Awards night by earning the distinction of being the first African-American female
to win the Festival’s Directing Prize. It was such a radiant triumph and a
glorious launch of the career of a truly gifted director.

Thomas Allen Harris’ THROUGH
A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE
and the
accompanying transmedia project, DIGITAL
DIASPORA FAMILY REUNION

This remarkable project brings us a seminal history of Black
photographers and photography in America, as well as inspires an investment by
individual black families around the country in their own family archive. Black
families are encouraged to share their archives and participate in a database
of family photographs that have since been cross-referenced to locate lost
family members. This is a groundbreaking project, that since its premiere at the
Sundance Film Festival, has gone on to play a litany of major film festivals
around the world.

Dennis Dortch’s A
GOOD DAY TO BE BLACK AND SEXY

This is the little film that could. This first feature is so
well observed and performed that when I watched it, I felt I was taken
hilariously through the blood and guts of what it means to be in a Black love
relationship. When Dennis struggled with the distribution deal he secured at the
Festival, he decided to innovate the business model, founding his own YouTube
channel, blackandsexy.tv,which became a home to many more black filmmakers on
the internet and launched the incredibly entertaining web series, THE COUPLE,
which was recently acquired by HBO.

Lee Daniel’s PUSH:
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SAPPHIRE (later titled PRECIOUS)

I was the very first person beyond the film team to see
this. I watched it on the filmmaker’s edit bay, which was set up by my good
friend and publicist, Wellington Love. I was cranky and on vacation and didn’t
want to watch films, but because he was my friend, I told him I’d do it and I
reminded him of our policy of not attending screenings with the filmmakers
present and not talking about the films afterwards with anyone until we process
it with our programming team.  After the film, Wellington and I had lunch and we were barely
able to eat the food. We were as pale as two Black people could be, just looking
at each other. Finally, I burst out “OMG! I know I’m not supposed to talk about
it, but Mo’Nique is going to win an Oscar for that performance!”

Andrew Dosunmu’s
films, RESTLESS CITY and MOTHER OF GEORGE

Andrew is an astonishing filmmaker who, before his debut
feature, was a renowned Nigerian fashion photographer and creative director. After
many years of following African cinema, I understood the importance and
freshness of how Dosunmu was infusing an entirely American perspective into the
traditionally polished look and feel of West African cinema. I’m very proud to
have played a part in launching Andrew’s career as a feature filmmaker. His
films are gifts to our community.

Terence Nance’s AN
OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY

This film could not be ignored. It is wildly imaginative, original
and formally incredible, and as a debut feature, really harkened the arrival of
a major talent. A kind of renaissance artist, Terence Nance is one of the most
interesting young filmmakers working today, and he continues to innovate the
field of cinematic expression through his various collaborative efforts. He is
constantly performing with his band, creating collective performances and
interactive works, and is now participating in the first New Frontier Artist
Residency established at the MIT Media Lab with data visualist Sep Kamvar.

NEW FRONTIER PROJECTS 

The 3D projection
mapped storytelling of Klip Collective

In 2006, Ricardo Rivera had me on the phone for hours
convincing me that he would make what he was saying, happen. For the inaugural
year of New Frontier, he wanted to transform the furniture of the lounge in the
basement venue into moving stories. The tables, where people would take
meetings, would become fishes swimming in bowls, and skillets frying up bacon
and eggs. It was exactly what he and his collective delivered and it blew our
audiences minds.

He went on to secure multiple patents for projection mapping
and now stages big projection mapping events for clients such as Nike, NBC Sports,
and The Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Ricardo’s Klip Collective was
invited back to participate in subsequent editions of New Frontier – 2013
(“What Is He Doing In There?”) and 2014 (“What Is He Projecting In There?”) –
with large scale works that projection mapped the entirety of the New Frontier
and Egyptian Theater venues, transforming their architecture into interactive stories
that resonated with what’s going on inside.

 Joseph Gordon
Levitt’s hitRECord.org

In 2009, Joe was excited about a new business model for
making movies that involved new media technology. He wanted to collaborate with
a community of thousands of talented people he didn’t know, to make films that
involved hundreds of creative artists at a time, on common ideas they
discussed. What we know as crowdsourcing was starting to gain traction back then,
but no one had done it quite the way Joe and his brother Burning Dan were going
to do it.

The two brothers re-inaugurated their website, hitRECord.org,
and launched it at the 2010 edition of New Frontier. We built them a studio
where they would bring in a constant stream of talent from the festival, as
well as incorporate a myriad of creative elements being contributed online
internationally. At the end of the fest, Joe presented a live show of completed
films that captivated two sold out shows. hitRECord went on to become a
traveling show that filled venues as large as the Orpheum Theater in Los
Angeles and a television show that is presently broadcast on Pivot TV.

The theatrical works
of Blast Theory, and animator/performer, Miwa Matreyek

2010 was a tough year. The economy was in the dumps and New
Frontier had moved to a venue with some smaller spaces. But the audiences who made
it inside were made speechless by the performances from animator/performance
artist, Miwa Matreyek. Miwa incorporates her own shadow into the projection of
her exquisitely rendered animations to tell stories of the environment and
human creation
. Popular demand brought Matreyek back to the 2014 edition of New
Frontier, where she received standing ovations in the Egyptian Theater.

The broken economy also didn’t stop us from creatively
forming a commission for geo-locative cinematic work. We teamed with Canada’s
Banff Centre and the Zero1 San Jose Biennial for Art on the Edge to create a
commission that would inspire an original work that made a cinematic story out
of the geography upon which these festivals existed. The UK collective, Blast
Theory, won the international competition and developed A MACHINE TO SEE WITH, a
LARP (Live Action Role Playing) that created bank robbers out of willing
audiences.

Chris Johnson and Hank
Willis Thomas’ transmedia work, QUESTION BRIDGE: BLACK MALES

Chris and Hank were talking about creating an intimate,
vulnerable and nearly impossible conversation between Black men in America nationwide.
This unprecedented conversation would happen man to man, where one man would
ask a question, and the other man would answer it.  But their vision was not for a grand convening. They would
put each man in a room alone with a camera, outside the society’s scrutiny, and
have them either ask a question, or answer a question posed by another man. This
consistently brought out a level of vulnerable candor rarely seen. They found
men on street corners, prisons, art studios, Hollywood, and Capitol Hill to
participate and in 2012 Chris and Hank and their team of producers would take
these questions and create a transmedia piece (installation, website) that
stitched the interviews into a dynamic and seamless conversation that blew
people’s minds as it elevated the conversation about race as much as it redefined
what a social network can be. There hasn’t been a piece yet at New Frontier
that has gotten the amount of heartfelt fan mail as this work did.

Nonny de la Pena’s
HUNGER IN LOS ANGELES & The Oculus Rift

In many ways, this work represents so much of what New
Frontier is all about. Nonny is a noted journalist who was determined to find methods
of telling the news in immersive ways.  To this end, she took a fellowship at USC and set up a media
lab to experiment and explore. When I visited her lab back in 2011, the work
that struck me the most was a virtual reality experience she created with 19-year
old technologist Palmer Lucky of an eyewitness account of a homeless man
passing out from a diabetic coma on a hunger line.  

The role of a journalist is to inform a broad audience of
the news, but Nonny’s piece engaged one person at a time for 10 minutes in a
cumbersome contraption consisting of a VR simulator that involved a backpack
and umbilical cord, an animated sim world, and a large room filled with sensors
tracking the position of the user to feedback into their experience inside the VR
sim environment. I asked Nonny – “This is a powerful experience, but what are
you after with this line of exploration as a journalist? You can only speak to
one person at a time.” She replied “I don’t know yet, but I know this is how people
must experience the news.” She was so convinced, and the work was so
convincing, I rolled the dice and brought it to the 2012 edition of New
Frontier.

So what do you get when you bring together a noted
journalist experimenting with the form of her craft, a creative technologist
obsessed with Virtual Reality, an audience of storytellers, and a film oriented
press corp? You get enough momentum to envision and create a new mainstream media
platform. Technologist Palmer Lucky used that momentum to Kickstart a consumer
version of his VR simulator – he set the goal for $250,000 and raised $2.5
million – and founded the consumer VR simulator, Oculus Rift. Pioneering
storytellers such as Chris Milk, embraced this platform and created brand new
ways of telling stories with the cinematic image. With behemoths like Facebook
and Samsung (and now Google and Sony have branded VR simulators) virtual
reality is poised to make a comeback much like how mobile phones reincarnated
from Palm Pilot to the wildly popular iPhone.

Putting storytelling talent, new technology, and an open
audience under a single roof to create something that is much larger than the
sum of its parts is what New Frontier is all about.

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Shari is our shining star. We all thank you.

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