RESFEST '99: The Future of Filmmaking, Part II: The Discussion Continues
by Eugene Hernandez
While Mike Figgis became the new poster boy for digital filmmaking at this weekend's "Future of Filmmaking" conversation, a handful of others participated in the discussion on Sunday and at last month's installment in New York. Panelists included Rebeca Mendez, whose "Orpheus Revisted" screened in RESFEST's Shorts program, Jon Reiss director of the RESFEST feature documentary "Better Living Through Circuitry," Scott Stewart of The Orphanage (creator of the RESFEST trailer), "Snack and Drink" director Bob Sabiston (shorts program), Jason Kliot from Open City Films/Blow-Up Pictures and "Lars from 1 - 10" director Sophie Fiennes (longform shorts program).
On such occasions, seminar participants often invoke the names of a small group when considering the movies and the moviemakers that have had the greatest influence on the burgeoning community of digital filmmakers: Thomas Vinterberg ("The Celebration"), Bennett Miller ("The Cruise"), and Hal Hartley ("The Book of Life"). As this group gathered to discuss their work and look to the future, it was obvious that digital movement has entered a new phase. The next stage is marked by an increasing number of companies dedicated to digtial moviemaking.
Without a doubt the production company leading the digital filmmaking pack is Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente's Blow-Up Pictures, a division of their Open City Films which is run by former IFP Market Director Sharan Sklar. Announced at Sundance earlier this year, the unit is already at work on its fifth movie. Among its notable first crop of films are Miguel Arteta's "Chuck and Buck" and Alan Wade's "The Pornographer (A Love Story)." Commenting on the reasons for starting the company, Kliot told the audience, "We felt like we'd been getting dreck (at Open City), "IndieWood mediocre crap," he added, "You have to compromise if you want to make a movie for $2 million."
With digital, Kliot offered, "You can keep shooting until you get the performance you want." Interestingly, with projects like Arteta's "Chuck," movies are being shot with multiple cameras aimed at each scene, intending to free the actors to deliver more solid performances. Stewart called the freedom afforded by digital moviemaking a "boon to actors."
On the tech side, panelists discussed an array of generally low-budget techniques. While many made movies using PAL versions of popular mini-DV cameras such as Sony's VX-1000 to achieve a frame rate closer to that of actual film, others lit their movies with inexpensive "Chinese lanterns." The most unique process discussed was that of Bob Sabiston, who with Tommy Pallotta, has now created two short films and a slew of MTV interstitials using animation software created by Sabiston. "Snack and Drink" and "Roadhead" marry documentary video footage with a program that allows animators to trace over video frames and create an enhanced, sometimes quite colorful, silhouette image. The end result yields a signature genre of animated work that Sabiston and Pallotta are applying to a handful of new projects.
Of the group, Rebeca Mendez spoke most passionately about the new aesthetics emerging through this new media. Taking a shower, explained Mendez drawing a comparison, is not about cleanliness, but rather about steam, warmth and drops of water dripping from a body. This is the sort of language being used to imagine the possibilities for digital work. She is teaching a digital filmmaking class for designers. "Collage has been one of the most imporant organizing systems of this century," Mendez explained, "I am bored with it, I can't wait for another way -- what is it that we are going to create that will be voluptuous."
Of course. in the end the group bemoaned the lack of an infrastructure for exhibiting new digital work. While the New York contingent expressed excitement over the recent news that the Sundance Film Festival intends to project work digitally, in Los Angeles Mike Figgis imagined a world where popular coffee-house chains like Starbucks become new hotbeds for digital cinema projected in mini-theaters. A handful of people with similar goals approached the filmmaker after the event to compare notes on executing such a plan. Mendez on the other hand championed the Internet as the ultimate home for digital work. While most met the suggestion with the usual discussion of low bandwith resulting in choppy, small screen delivery, Kliot offered a unique perspective.
"I am worried about web- based distribution," he explained, "Independent film could equal web distribution, with that we are marginalized."