Whither the DIY Auteurs of DV?
20-01-06 Revista de Prensa
by Jason Silverman
You haven't heard of the vampire film Moonshine yet, but you will. The film premieres at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, which starts Thursday in Park City, Utah, and it has a back story to make every aspiring filmmaker green with envy.
Roger Ingraham, the film's director, dropped out of high school, wrote a script and, at age 19, shot Moonshine using several dozen volunteer actors and crew. Total price: $9,200, including the cost of a Panasonic camera, a PowerBook G4 and website hosting.
An agent from the William Morris Agency saw a trailer for Moonshine while surfing the net, and helped usher the film into Sundance.
While Moonshine has yet to be screened for the media or audiences -- Ingraham was still fine-tuning the movie a week before its premiere -- it already feels like the stuff of legend. It's the kind of filmmaker-from-nowhere tale that Sundance and proponents of digital filmmaking have been promising for years, but so far has been relatively rare. Despite the hype, DV hasn't yet revolutionized the industry the way proponents had hoped.
Still, Sundance deserves credit for making a story like Ingraham's possible. The festival has been a champion of new media for years. In 1995, the festival began hosting digital filmmaking demos and in 1999 it became the first major festival to use digital projection.
Each year, Sundance showcases enough outstanding digital works -- Richard Linklater's Waking Life, Miguel Arteta's Chuck & Buck and Peter Hedges' Oscar-winning Pieces of April among them -- to win over most skeptics.
"Sundance has made a lot of (digital) movies look good," said Anne Thompson, deputy film editor at The Hollywood Reporter and author of the RiskyBiz blog. "And that has made distributors less concerned than they had been about how these films would play."
Thompson said digital technologies would have made their way to the public without Sundance -- the financial imperative is too strong -- but the festival has helped position DV as an artistically and commercially viable form.
At Sundance, a total of 90 movies -- including Moonshine and 24 of the 32 works in the Independent Film Competition -- will be projected digitally. That's double the number in 2004.
And digital media will be one of the most-discussed topics at this year's festival, with panels on blogs and podcasting (moderated by Weblogs Inc.'s Jason Calacanis), mobile technologies (moderated by The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg) and film marketing in the age of the webcast.
Among the digital films premiering at the festival are the short The Tribe by Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain, American Blackout by Ian Inaba of the Guerrilla News Network and Chris Paine's investigative doc Who Killed the Electric Car?.
And, of course, Moonshine, a film that, like the 2004 Sundance sensation Tarnation, suggests a new form of DV-driven, DIY cinema is possible.
"Even now, there are people who insist on going with film," Ingraham said with some wonderment. "With the ease of shooting digitally, that just blows my mind."
Those who have profited most from DV, the companies that sell digital cameras and software, have become reliable patrons of Sundance. Walk down Main Street in Park City this week and you'll see the HP Snapshot Chalet, the Intel Digital Experience Zone and the Adobe Lounge. Further up Main Street is the Sundance Film Center (previously known as the Digital Center), featuring daily demos by Sony and Panavision (both are unveiling new HD cameras at the festival) and by Hewlett-Packard, Avid and Adobe.
Some find the dance between Sundance and its sponsors a bit unseemly. While Sundance was created to support scrappy little filmmakers, it appears at times as if gigantic corporations are running the thing.
But Ian Calderon, Sundance's head of digital initiatives, describes the relationship between the festival, filmmakers and tech companies as "codependent."
"Digital technologies are a core component of today's filmmaking process," said Calderon, "and many of our largest supporters are Fortune 500 tech companies that hope to reach both general audiences and the filmmaking community."
It's true that digital filmmakers develop an especially intense relationship with their gear. In his interview, Ingraham praised his Panasonic AGDVX100A long before mentioning his cast and crew.
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