FESTIVALS: onedotzero, UK's Digital Fest Wows, Flutters and Flares
by Steve Boxer
The world is finally beginning to get its collective head around the concept of digital film festivals -- cities as diverse as Rotterdam, Dublin and Austin are now getting in on the act. But London's onedotzero is one of the leading digital festivals and its third iteration, onedotzero3, held as usual at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) between April 30 and May 9, was the biggest, buzziest and busiest yet.
Despite taking up both the ICA's theatres for the first time, running for 10 days and showcasing a more extensive range of programs (varying from compilations of envelope-pushing shorts to premieres of feature-length films and documentaries, via live events and installations plus panel discussions), most screenings were sell-outs. Onedotzero3's agenda may have been forward-looking, but the scale of attendance and interest spoke volumes about the burgeoning global enthusiasm for digital film in general.
The main programs -- wow and flutter 99, wavelength 99, j-star 99 and lens flare 99 - may have borne familiar titles for those who have caught onedotzero fests in the past, but naturally, all had new content. Flagship program wow and flutter 99, showcasing cutting-edge short digital films from a range of talent spanning filmmakers, graphic designers and agencies, featured submissions from the likes of ISO, DOTMOV, Andy Martin, OS2, Spin, Film Unit AV, Shynola, Intro, Honey Brothers, Felt and Butler Brothers. Not all, perhaps, household names, but that's the point of wow and flutter: to introduce newfound talent.
Wavelength 99, showcasing pop/dance music promo and advertising work, did feature efforts from some more familiar names, including Chris Cunningham, Jonathan Glazer, Alex + Martin, Milk Projects, MMS Fuel, Jake Knight, Hexstatic, Edmundo, and Dylan Kendle. The lens flare program, featuring examples of computer-generated animation work culled from computer games, was much expanded from previous years and combined with the first public appearance of Oddworld's feature-length film created around its smash hit game Abe's Exoddus. J-star, a collection of anime, promos and shorts from artists based in Japan, wowed the crowds and left the impression that there's quite a digital scene going on in the land of the rising sun.
The main programs were augmented by a series of features, most notably the UK premiere of "Meeting People Is Easy," Grant Gee's pioneering, digitally-enhanced feature-length documentary about Radiohead touring the world; the Japanese films "Samurai Fiction" and "Perfect Blue" (both of which are crying out for European distribution); a compilation program from the Underworld-associated collective Tomato entitled "VOXIOO" (which saw Tomato moving away from their trademark floating text-and-image approach towards a more reflective, nature-influenced direction); a double bill of Milk Projects' work-in-progress documentary "Sneakers: Size Isn't Everything" and "Goldie: When Saturn Returnz"; and lastly, "Radio On: Remix," a reworking by Chris Petit of his 1979 travelogue.
Two live events at the ICA comprehensively proved that digital film needn't just provide a passive experience. Experimental new media group Antirom teamed up with the avant-garde band Faultline (signed to big beat label Fused and Bruised) for a rip-roaring event that combined conventionally performed music and projected visuals with a set of tunes and images triggered by pads on the ICA's stage. And video-scratching pioneers Hexstatic (associated with the Coldcut collective) previewed "Rewind," their forthcoming audiovisual album for Ninja Tune.
As in previous years, onedotzero3's agenda was an arty one. However, the event never seemed to become off-puttingly arch or self-indulgent, and the fact that onedotzero recently put together six programs for UK TV station Channel 4 (renowned for part-financing, among other efforts, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral") provides a clear pointer that digital film now appeals to an increasingly mainstream audience. It can surely only be a matter of time before digital techniques make a pervasive leap from shorts to feature-length films, rather than just appearing in short segments and sequences.
I caught up with co-directors Shane Walter and Matt Hanson just before they headed off to the Darklight digital film festival in Dublin. They sounded pretty exhilarated by the response to onedotzero3. Hanson gave his impressions of how the festival had altered since last year: "You could really see that the audience had broadened. The way onedotzero has set itself up as different from other digital film festivals is that it's a producing festival. A lot of short films are produced for wow and flutter, our main program, and we saw graphic designers, illustrators and motion graphics people moving into that area."
He continued: "We don't really respect traditional boundaries; it's the production side that we really want to push forward. For example, we championed the work of, for example, Chris Cunningham and Grant Gee before they broke through into the public consciousness, and we want to push forward with those people, as well as newer talents who are less commercially viable in the short-term, doing longer-form work as well." Judging particularly from the work in the showcase wow and flutter program, the likes of the collectives OS2, ISO and Film Unit AV, and the multi-disciplinary Andy Martin -- who is involved with both graphic design and music visuals they could be the Gees and Cunninghams of the future.
Hanson isn't entirely upbeat, however. Although the obvious venue to hold a forward-looking new media festival, it was pretty clear that onedotzero3 programs and features could have run with twice the frequency and still sold out. Hanson tries his best to be as diplomatic as possible: "There's a problem with institutions in the UK. The ICA has been a really good venue for us and still can be, since it has a really good mix of spaces. But if you look at the spaces available worldwide, the UK really trails the field. If you look at things like digital projections, microwave transmissions and new media, the UK's really not geared up to that yet. But all credit to the ICA - it's still the best venue for us."
The Channel 4 produced onedottv series proved that there is a wider audience for digital film work, but is there really a commercial outlet for their content? Hanson is cautiously optimistic: "With video highlights, there are always copyright hassles, particularly where people are doing personal work. But we are looking at pushing it out on DVD," he says. "We'd really like to do something interactive." Look out for that, and also for guest appearances of highlights from the onedotzero3 festival in other digital film festivals around the world.
[Steve Boxer is a London-based journalist who writes for Esquire and the
Daily Telegraph, among others.]