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October 29, 1997 2:00 AM
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Digital Filmmaking Comes to New York

Digital Filmmaking Comes to New York

by Jessica Shulsinger




The ResFest Digital Film Festival was in New York City this weekend,
October 23-25, with screenings and a director's panel discussion at the
Directors Guild of America and the Lighthouse. New York was the third stop
for ResFest -- having begun in San Francisco and shown in Chicago, it will
end its '97 tour in Orlando. ResFest opened with an introduction by
Festival Director Jonathan Wells and Managing Director John Scalise,
welcoming a sold-out crowd at the DGA Theater Thursday night with ResFest
Shorts, an 85-minute program integrating a diverse set of 16 films, some
receiving U.S. or world premieres. The films were created using a vast
array of production equipment, incorporating old and new technology,
ranging from Adobe software, to 16mm and Super 8 film, to hidden MiniDV
cameras.


The selections represented the distinct and varied visions of contemporary
filmmakers utilizing digital techniques. They included entirely
computer-generated pieces like John Tissavary's "N-Train", Michael Levine's
"Solitary Journey", and Joshua Cordes' "Once"; real-life stories such as the
black-comedy, sitcom-style "The Last Supper" by Jeremy Boxer, and the funny
and touching story of a would-be bank robber in Max Osterwies "Jimmy Young And The
Job
"; the documentary of professional skateboarder and part-time
artist Ed Templeton, "Deformer", by Mike Mills; and Roman Coppola's slyly
staged documentary "Taxloss", of a unsuspecting rush-hour crowd at a London
Underground station, who suddenly become the recipients of 25,000 British
pounds ($40,000) as it falls mysteriously from the balconies above.


Cinema Electronica, the other feature program in ResFest , reflects the
re-entry and re-popularization of dance and house electronic music styles
-- techno, ambient, dub, and trip hop -- on the music video, all diverging
to define the new "electronica." Some of the films combine news or other
video footage with electronic-based music to create a
rhythmically-integrated work of video art, often centering on a social or
political theme or story beyond just a visual extension of the music. Neil
Goodwin directs Coldcut's "Panopticon", which illustrates the destruction of
our natural world in the rush to construct the cement and steel evolution
of our cities. Goodwin used protest footage from England showing people
fighting with their bodies to keep trees from being cut down and fields
from being destroyed in the name of such evolution.


Other pieces, like H-Gun's "Are You There" and "Helter Skelter", both directed
by Ben Stokes, are envisioned as more of an interpretation of the music
through video images and real actors. Also included are computer-produced
graphic videos like Sublime Films' "Optical Poem", directed by Nick Philip,
and Bermuda Shorts' "Music For Babies" directed by Run Wrake - more ethereal,
stream of consciousness electronic visions driven by music.


The final event of the New York ResFest was the Digital Film Panel, focused
on the theme, "The Future of Filmmaking." Panelists included Rob Nilsson,
the only American filmmaker to have won both the Camera d'Or at Cannes and
the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; John Tissavary, an independent film and
media artist, as well as the head of Luna Cie, Inc., which he founded in
1992; Graham Wood of the London-based Tomato Design Collective; and Gardner
Post of the Emergency Broadcast Network. Festival Director Jonathan Wells
served as the moderator. The filmmakers discussed their works-in-progress
and debated digital film's pros - lower upfront costs; smoother, more
intuitive filming; the need for less people despite similar production time
on a film - and cons - "none." Nilsson, in particular, expressed his
disbelief at the "contortions" young filmmakers go through to create a
budget that will allow them to use 35mm. If a filmmaker's goal is the big
screen, as Nilsson's is, the money spent on 35mm production and development
can be equally well-spent on a final blow-up of the film for the big
screen. "Use video; go digital!" Nilsson repeatedly urged.


Tissavary, responding to an audience question about a revolution in
filmmaking because of technological progress, digitally and otherwise, said
he did not think such a revolution will occur in the film world. He
maintained that will primarily help "change the details of an [artist's]
execution" of his work. Post speculated on the future market of digital
film, anticipating the future possibility of full-frame, full-motion video
over the internet "to bypass the FCC." He jokingly added that while he had
worked with interactive video formats -- his company designed interactive
video kiosks that were used on the Lollapolloza tour -- the control should
"remain in the hands of the experts."


Wood spoke primarily about creative relationships and production in a
collective such as his. He described the process as organic; a truly
collaborative, person-to-person effort, involving a trust and belief in the
ideas and applications of the other artists in Tomato, or any collective
group. "The best tools," Wood said, "are the people you're working with and
your brain." ResFest '97 also saw the launch of Res, The Magazine of
Digital Filmmaking, which will hit the newsstands in November.

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