Resfest '97: The San Francisco Experience
by Tim LaTorre
The ResFest Digital Film Festival continued its globe-trotting tour with a stop in San Francisco this past
weekend bringing digital delights to Silicon Valley's backdoor. Having previously conquered Rotterdam in
February, London in April, Montreal in June, and Los Angeles in August, the fest will be heading on to Chicago
(October 18), New York City (October 23-25), and Orlando (December 5-6). In this incarnation, the event
included its staple shorts programs, "ResFest Shorts" and "Cinema Electronica" (a collection focusing on the
influence of "electronica" music on the digital film aesthetic), a panel discussion aptly-titled "The Future
of Filmmaking," and the Bay Area premiere of Frank Grow's "Love God," a feature which was shot with the
Sony DVW-700 Digital Betacam and Hi-8 and edited and effected on the Avid and Media 100.
What exactly is the purpose of ResFest? According to Jonathan Wells, the festival director, "the mission of
ResFest is to have a celebration of what's happening with the combination of technology and filmmaking. Our
goal is to both inspire people to make films and to also entertain them." Each stop in the ResFest circuit
gathers together a new mix of exhibits from tool developers, local nonprofit film foundations, and regional
panels starring local filmmakers and industry professionals.
Every film showcased in the ResFest lineup had to, at some point in its production, enter the digital realm.
While some of the films were shot originally on celluloid or analog video and then digitized, edited and
posted on desktop computers, most of the films remained completely digital from start to finish, either as
computer-generated animation or shot with recently released digital camcorders. Many of the films were cut
on either Avid or Media 100 non-linear editing systems and augmented with any of a number of post-production
effects. If there was a special award given to the most popular software with digital filmmakers it would have
to go to Adobe's power troika - Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects - which received cheers every
time the Adobe logo flashed upon a screen or was mentioned on stage.
While both shorts programs were the same as in the festival's previous stops, the panel discussion "The Future
of Filmmaking" tapped local digital artists to explain the influence of new digital technologies on the
filmmaking process. The panel included two digital filmmakers: Nick Philip, whose "Radical Beauty Concept"
and "Optical Poem" screened in the "cinema electronica" program, and Eric Henry, director of "Wood
Technology In The Design Of Structures," and two industry professionals: Kyle Cooper, creative
director/managing partner at Imaginary Forces (a new media company most well known for their creation
of feature film opening credit sequences including "Seven," "The Eraser," and "The Island Of
Dr. Moreau"), and Stu Maschwitz, a visual effects artist at San Rafael's Industrial Light & Magic.
As Wells stated, the purpose of the discussion was to uncover "how these people are using these digital tools
creatively, some of the pros-and-cons/differences between traditional filmmaking, and what exactly digital
filmmaking is." While all had an apparent enthusiasm for being a part of this breed of filmmaking, they
recognized the difficulties inherent in such a seemingly boundless artform.
When asked how this new technology has effected the production process, the panel agreed that while the
digital orientation does make certain aspects of filmmaking easier, it adds its own set of complications.
As Maschwitz conceded, "there's just as many little technical problems which need to be solved along the
way that can bog you down and keep you from getting stuff done. The glory time is when you're sitting there
in front of the computer putting shots together, knowing that every frame of your film and every pixel in
every frame is available to you to destroy or bring back or hold onto or color-correct or whatever."
He also revealed that sometimes the limitlessness of the medium can be intimidating. "It's all so malleable
and it's all so editable, it's really hard to know when it's done."
While the means of production have become more accessible, low-budget digital filmmaking still requires
quite a bit of outside help. Both Henry and Maschwitz recognized that "pulling in favors" was an integral
part to their own productivity since the costs of owning a fully operational home system are still so high.
Like many traditional low-budget filmmakers, they produced their films with help from companies who they
were employed by or had internships with. Maschwitz, who is completing his own film, "Skate Warrior,"
declared that "I don't want to own an Avid, I want to borrow an Avid."
In addressing the speed at which technology seems to outdate itself Maschwitz acknowledged that when
buying equipment for digital production, "you've got to run out and buy something exactly the day you
need it, because if you buy it the day before you need it, you've wasted money. It'll probably drop in
price that day. You get it when you need it."
Although the technology is available everywhere, Philip, originally from the U.K., acknowledged that
being a San Francisco-based digital filmmaker has its advantages. "I think we're actually quite lucky
being here in San Francisco where there's just so much technology. Even at the street level, the
trickle down is far higher than, I know for sure, in London. And access to programmers and people
and post houses. I think we're very lucky here because we do have access to technology and the
community is really into it. I think we should be very thankful for that."
[Tim LaTorre, one of the original co-founders of indieWIRE's predecessor, iLINE, lives in San
Francisco and works in New Media.]