FESTIVALS: RESFEST Sprints Forward, with Digital Revolution's Rapid Evolution
by G. Allen Johnson
(indieWIRE/9.19.00) --As RESFEST, the digital filmmaking festival concocted by RES Magazine, makes its yearly whistle stop tour around the world, it's remarkable how the vast potential and possibilities open to independent filmmakers have not only increased since last time around, but have become more and more a reality.
Indie filmmaking, thanks to the slam-bang 1-2 punch of digital technology and computer sophistication, is inching -- no, sprinting in Maurice Greene-like fashion -- toward a time when anyone can make a movie (just like 20 years ago when, thanks to that freaky self-publishing fad, anyone could write a book). Nowadays, all you need to not only make a movie -- or a commercial, video or short film -- but to distribute it as well, is a digital camera and PC.
Or as Ben Olander, CEO of the San Francisco-based dot-com production company Angry Monkey put it to great applause: "It just means movies are more and more being taken out of the hands of big corporations and into the hands of individuals."
Kicking off at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on Sept. 7 and spending last weekend at Seattle's Cinerama, RESFEST is armed with 75 movies -- three features and an array of shorts, long shorts and music videos culled from more than 1,200 entries. Olander, one of the speakers of the popular Future of Filmmaking panel, is representative of a new movement picking up steam: Internet distribution. And its burgeoning popularity led RESFEST to add a new section to the festival: Net Cinema Shorts.
Olander says newer, faster and more versatile Flash and Photoshop programs are revolutionizing filmmaking. "It changes your relationship as a creator with the audience," Olander said. "What used to take 70 people six months to create now takes just a handful of people two months to create."
To be more exact: "We're entering a golden age," asserted former Industrial Light and Magic employee and current digital filmmaker Jonathan Rothbart.
Actually, at a festival like this, the shorts and videos are the stars. There are three features: Gary Winick's "Sam the Man," starring Fisher Stevens, Anabella Sciorra and Rob Morrow; Kristian Levring's "The King Is Alive," which is No. 4 in the Dogme '95 series and stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Janet McTeer (and did not screen in San Francisco); and DJ Qbert's 45-minute animated "Wave Twisters."
But if you're a wanna-be digi-head looking for inspiration, wouldn't a cutting edge animated short, like Michael Overbeck's wonderful "Tongues and Taxis" from the RESFEST shorts section; or a surrealistic mixing of film, video and Adobe After Effects to create a day in L.A. without gravity -- the 12-minute "This Guy is Falling" by Michael Horowitz and Gareth Smith in the Long Shorts program -- be more inspiring?
Also proving popular is Cinema Electronica, a program of cutting edge music videos from all over the world. A favorite of the 21: Fatboy Slim's "Right Here, Right Now," a video directed by Hammer & Tongs of Britain that depicts human evolution from single-celled organism to couch potato.
Surely the most inspiring section, however, for any couch potato looking for the strength and willpower to do something meaningful lies in the Net Cinema shorts. "People are starting to create films for the Web specifically, which is fascinating, because the Web is limiting," festival executive director John Scalise said. "So these narratives are being scaled back, mainly with animated stuff, because it works well on the Web. The stories have to be quick because people don't take the time to watch, so a whole new style has been created."
"Because anyone can get on the Web, Wild Brain (www.wildbrain.com) is like a world-wide broadcaster with a potential six billion audience," said George Evelyn, an animator in the Bay Area who co-directed a two-and-a-half minute animated short, "Kozik's Inferno," for that company.
Olander and Angry Monkey (angrymonkey.com) are working on interactive movies for the Web, including stories equipped with a "Mood-O-Meter" for the viewer to select the tone of a story (you can see a horror film as a straight shocker or as a parody, for example). He says such Internet capabilities are going largely untapped.
"I don't think anyone has learned to do it well," Olander said. "You think of stories more as environment than as linear, which creates possibilities as opposed to driving toward a conclusion. But really, pencil and paper are the best tools, because the tool will never replace the story."
Maybe so, but the RESFEST is all about the tools. Many of the attendees have stories worked out and scripted, but are looking for programs and equipment that can best help them put their vision on the screen -- be it the big screen or the computer screen. Big-money sponsors like IBM and Adobe have booths displaying such programs.
Jonathon Rothbart is completing a digital feature, "The Orphanage," and showed off a short film starring Minnie Driver which utilized a method he helped create called "magic bullet.'' The method, which involves de-interlacing the image and color corrections, gives it a number of "film" properties. Like all video, it doesn't quite have that warm, sumptuous glow of film, but it does narrow the divide between film and digital video.
"Digital filmmaking will explode traditional filmmaking," Scalise said. "Narrative filmmaking will be stripped down to a fine art. Now you can have a kid -- he or she can come in with a $5,000 system and create a feature film. 'Wave Twisters' is a perfect example of that. It's pretty brilliant; it probably cost $60,000 and it's fully animated, done all in After Effects."
RESFEST (www.resfest.com) moves to London (Sept. 28-30), Chicago (Oct. 5-7), Montreal (Oct.12-15), New York (Oct. 18-21), Los Angeles (Nov. 1-3), Seoul (Nov. 16-19), Tokyo (Nov. 24-26) and Osaka (Dec. 2-3).
[G. Allen Johnson is a contributing film critic to indieWIRE.]