An Interview with Bart Cheever, Producer of the D.Film Digital Film Festival
by Scout Finch
Bart Cheever is the director of the D.Film Digital Film Festival, a
collection of independently produced films made, in one way or another,
with the help of emerging computer technologies. The 20 or so pieces in the
D.Film show range from fairly static computer animation to astoundingly
personal and heartfelt short films, shot on film and edited with software.
All of the films maintain a high level of quality that is reassuring in a
festival so young.
Last year Cheever and Jonathon Wells, now of ResFest fame, founded The Low
Res Film Festival, a hugely successful digital film festival that enjoyed
sold out runs in Hollywood, San Francisco, New York and London. This year
the two former partners have ventured down different paths, with Bart
taking the decidedly less glamorous route of handing out flyers and
physically taking his show on the road. I sat down with Bart in a San
Francisco all-night diner/video store to talk about the festival, which
opened November 7th at the Koret Auditorium in the San Francisco Main
Library. While "Entertainment Tonight" blared in the background, we
discussed a whole new kind of entertainment.
indieWIRE: I'm curious about your own background as a filmmaker.
Bart Cheever: I was a film student. But I got kind of turned off by the
fact that you either had to go and be a cameraman on "The Love Boat," or
you would be shooting shorts and be really broke for the rest of your life,
just scratching along. I got into multimedia, was a producer for a video
game company. I just started making films, messing around with Premiere
[software]. And I loved the feeling that you could go out with a camera and
shoot something in the afternoon, edit it later that afternoon and have it
up on the web that night. It kind of rekindled in me the whole desire to
make films -- a different way of doing it.
iW: D.Film seems to focus on underground stuff, independent work, instead
of the sort of high gloss work often associated with computer-generated art.
Cheever: LowRes was incredibly successful, much more successful than we
ever thought it would be. My partner and I started out as a couple of
people making films on a Macintosh because we loved it. We tapped into this
huge thing -- but I think it became apparent that we were moving in
different directions. . . What we're trying to do with D.Film is focus on
the artist, and the work that they're creating, and not really on the tools
iW: What do you see as the ultimate destination of these films? Clearly
they've been created, in many cases, as highly personal statements. How
will they be seen?
Cheever: That's what's so cool about [D.Film]. That's what's so punk rock.
When we did the Low Res shows in L.A., everyone asked us, "How are you
gonna make money out of this? How's it gonna be distributed?" And it's not.
It's punk rock--
iW: It's not about money?
Cheever: We're doing it just to do it. It's pure expression. When Mark
[Edgington] made "Anna In The Sky" [one of the films in the festival, and a
previous Sundance entry], he didn't have to go out and raise a hundred
thousand dollars to make that short film, because he edited it at home on a
Macintosh in his living room. It's so much more affordable to make films
this way that the motivation is totally different. You don't have to sell a
product or create Hollywood entertainment.
iW: How would a newcomer figure out what programs they'd need to start
making these films on their own?
Cheever: That's a really good question, because there aren't a whole lot of
resources -- the whole phenomenon is so new -- and one of the things we're
trying to do with the D.Film website is make it a resource for people who
are just getting into this for the first time, to figure out what they
need, how everything works, even just what the words mean. We have a
bibliography of different books out there -- there's a few good ones, but
there's a lot of really bad ones. There are also lots of high-priced
classes out there, but at this point the best thing to do is pick up some
software and start experimenting. That's how the whole festival was born.
The two guys (Rodney & Syd) who made "Somebody Goofed" didn't know anything
about AfterEffects [the program used to create the film]. They just read
the AfterEffects "Classroom In A Book" series, and made this incredible
iW: And how much does it cost to install AfterEffects, for instance?
Cheever: It's below 500 dollars -- and this is a tool people are using to
create broadcast quality graphics on major networks. That's just the
mid-range. One of the pieces in the show "Amend", by former textile designer
Staceyjoy Elkin, was made with software downloaded from the web for $20.
iW: It's very beautiful.
Cheever: For the San Francisco [show], she did another piece called "Azimuth"
using the same software, but it's in 3-D, so people will have the red and
blue glasses and [will see the image] spin around.
iW: It seems that much of digital filmmaking has the power to transcend
language barriers -- a work like "Amend" could be appreciated in any culture.
Cheever: On our website, we've just been inundated by people all over the
world -- India, Malaysia, Vietnam, places you wouldn't even know people are
using computers. But they're making films this way everywhere. Anyone
anywhere can put a film up on the web and anyone anywhere can view it. One
of the coolest thing about doing this festival is that every time I do a
show, people come up afterwards and they're like, "Fuck! I'm not a
filmmaker, but I want to make films! I've got a Macintosh at home, I've got
iW: It's been said that the digital revolution will reach a certain point
and go no further until people stop thinking of the new media in terms of
the old media. For instance, we call them web "pages" even though they're
not really pages at all -- so until we get past this reliance on print
media to describe the Internet, it will never fully integrate into society.
Do you think that applies to digital film?
Cheever: Well, there's a parallel with D.Film in that a lot of people are
still making (digital) films that mirror or mimic traditional forms of
cinema. But the tools really allow you to do anything you want. And I think
that five years or ten years down the line, when a new sort of aesthetic
emerges from digital film, we're going to be seeing some really amazing
things. What we're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg.
[See the D.Film website for more information
[Scout Finch is a freelance writer and musician living in San Francisco,
CA. He self-publishes a zine called I ATE AN ELEPHANT focusing on film,
music, publishing and pop culture in general.]