FESTIVALS: D.FILM's Homegrown Digital Fest Spreads the Word
by Karla Esquivel
(indieWIRE/ 03.05.01) -- D.FILM's Digital Film Festival kicked off its twenty-city world tour at Seattle's historic Moore Theater last week. The Microcinema co-produced event was striking and stylish --almost rave-like. Techno music blasted, digital images flickered across the screen and oversized beach balls were passed around the audience. A slew of iMac's were set up in the lobby so that audience members could create movies and email them to friends. Not your average scene for a film festival, but then D.FILM has every intention of straying from the norm. The point of D.FILM isn't necessarily to acquire indie film contracts as it is to display and empower some of the most innovative work people are shooting and editing in their backyards.
Because of digital video's super accessible technology, anyone can now find a voice via this sharp medium. Festival producer/organizer Bart Cheever co-founded the Low Res Fest back in the early nineties, but soon created D.FILM (an online and roving venue) in order to spread the digital word to the every day person.
"The difference between D.FILM and RESFEST," says Cheever, explaining what sets their fest apart from RES Magazine's annual digital event, "is that RESFEST is more focused on traditional independent filmmakers who want to get into Sundance. D.FILM is more interested in what happens when these digital tools trickle down into the masses and the average person is able to make a film," Cheever adds.
It was ironic that over 800 people crowded into the one of oldest vaudeville theaters in Seattle to watch the latest technology in digital filmmaking. According to Joel Bachar, whose Microcinema.com was the local co-producer of the festival, "Not only is digital video reaching a wider and diverse group of people making movies, but it's also reaching a wider and diverse audience base who wants to come out and be entertained."
And while there were a few costly and high-produced pieces, the bulk of this year's line-up featured a solid collection of short narratives and documentaries produced for very little money. The ninety-minute program was tightly curated and for the most part extremely engaging.
Hip hop photographer Brian Cross' (B+) "Buena Vista Social Club" style documentary "Keepintime: Talking Drums and Whispering Vinyl" was an instant audience favorite. The film brought legendary R & B drummers Earl Palmer, Paul Humphrey and James Gadson together for the first time in order to unite with hip hop dj's J Rocc and Babu (of the Beat Junkies) and DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist.
Brian Cross was able to create an improvised and interactive film that compares and contrasts two generations of musicians. According to Bart Cheever, "If the technology hadn't been there Brian may not have been able to make a film that meant so much to him. He basically just needed a few mini digital camera's in order for his idea to materialize."
Another audience pick was the world premier of "Harry Potter Parking Lot" by Jeff Krulik. It's the third rollicking sequel to his "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" and "Neil Diamond Parking Lot" series. For those unfamiliar with Krulik's work, he basically stands out in the parking lot of these specialized events and documents the insanity with his cameras. In "Harry Potter Parking Lot," we get to meet a swarm of crazed star-struck kiddies and exhausted parents waiting to get their books signed by the legendary J.K. Rowling. Part "Kids Say the Funniest (weirdest) Things," part sociology project, "Harry Potter Parking Lot" is a gem.
Skateboard movies have gained much popularity in the past few years. What started out as a few kids taking dad's camera and shooting skateboard scenes has now turned into a trendy and prosperous medium. D.FILM presented an excerpt of perhaps the most industrious skateboard movie to date: Nikos Constant's "Destroying America" was made for "The Hook-Up Skateboard Company," starring Erik Estrada, skate star Tony Hawk and Ming Tran. Though you never see an actual skateboard, this excerpt is everything a skateboard movie should be: high-energy, action-packed, absurd and ultra-hip. With music by Rob Zombie, this fifty-minute feature/advertisement was shot on 35 mm, mini DV and edited digitally in Constant's living room.
Other films included a tongue-in-cheek music video about Atari 2600 video games called "Computer Music System," by Brazilian technno band Golden Shower, Brian Lefler's "Warplay," and Josh Green's Hollywood trailer parody, "The Holly Wood Project." Also of interest was "LevisXFutura," an animated piece done by Mathew Clark of Houston Gallery in Seattle for Levis in Japan. The film/ad mixes the latest digital technology and pays homage to Futura, one of the most renowned graffiti artists of all time.
With all of these very personal movies in the festival, Bart Cheever thinks that the future of digital D.I.Y filmmaking will be aimed at specific subject matter and audiences. He calls this trend "microgenres" and believes that there is no longer the pressure to create films that have to be likable to a mass audience.
"As professors can now make films in a dead language and share it with other professors around the world who share that similar interest, I think we are going to see a lot more of that across the board. Everyone will be able to take their film interest or genre to the extreme. The skateboard movies are a good example of that."
The festival boasted eleven films, but the program is subject to change as it continues to take submissions (www.dfilm.com) for it's twenty-city tour. One way they establish which films should stay and which ones go is though the audience. Cards are handed out and everyone gets to vote on which films they liked the most and which ones they hated. According to Cheever, "A piece that was cutting edge in the beginning of the festival can seem out of date toward the end, so we are always refreshing the show." He adds, "We want to make sure it's fun and entertaining."
DFILM's Digital Film Festival will find itself in New York, Tokyo, Berlin and as far away as Sao Paolo, Brazil. The next stop on the tour will be at Madison, Wisconsin's Orpheum Theater on March 30th and then to the Ann Arbor Film Festival in April.
[Karla Esquivel is a freelance writer based in Seattle.]