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New Voices in Indie New Media

by DAVID ROSEN

On April 20th, the Tribeca Film Institute held its 2nd “Interactive” conference as part of Tribeca’s 11th film festival. In the spirit of the wonderful eclecticism that marks the curatorial originality of the festival’s film selections, Ingrid Kopp, Tribeca’s director of digital initiatives, pulled together a diverse assortment of new-media projects from across the country to show the vitality of local makers engaged in what was broadly referred to as “transmedia storytelling.”

And transmedia storytelling is the right concept. Digital technology has superseded analog media, permitting more then simply rendering a linear wave signal into a series of 1s and 0s. It permits the reconception and integration of traditionally distinct media formats – like live presentation, text, photos, drawings, animations, video and audio – into new types of aesthetic experiences. It enables

21ST century digital media, the culture high-performance production tools (shooting, editing, music) and smart handheld device, 3G or 4G wireless networks, Internet connectivity and all at an affordable price.

Transmedia storytelling also permits personal experience to become a social expression, reconceiving the relationship between the active ”maker” and the passive “audience.” The traditional one-way, monologic media relation is being augmented by an increasing reliance on two-way, dialogic relations. Aspects of these dynamic tendencies in digital media were displayed and discussed by various presenters at Tribeca. (Sadly, the Tribeca Inactive site does not offer links to all the presentations.)

* * *

A variety of different approaches to innovative storytelling were showcased. Ten were part of a nationwide undertaking dubbed “Localore” that highlight public radio and TV stations working on community-based projects. They were produced through the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), a network of nearly 1,000 media makers, journalists, producers, technologists and sound artists.

Among the Localore projects presented were: “Austin Music Map,” what else?; “Reinvention Stories,” in which residents of Dayton, OH, one of America’s “fastest-dying cities,” reflect on what’s happening; “Ed Zed Omega,” which asks Twin City, MN, kids, “What does school accomplish?”; and “Sonic Trace,” the voices of Latin American immigrants living in Los Angeles.

Some projects showed how new-media could be harnessed to address more social or political issues. Deanna Zandt’s presentation was illustrative. In the wake of the Susan B. Komen Foundation’s intentions to stop supporting Planned Parenthood, she launched an exemplary grass-root campaign — “Planned Parenthood Saved Me” — that helped turn the tide.

Other projects suggest new forms of transmedia storytelling, including the reinvention of old media. Marisa Jahn profiled “New Day New Standard” that utilizes a good-old telephone hotline to reach nannies, housekeepers and other domestic workers. Tiffany Shlain’s “Cloud Filmmaking” creates short collaborative works based on video material curated from contributions from people all over the globe and then customized for local non-profits. Hank Willis Thomas introduced “Question Bridge: Black Males,” which addresses the issue of black male identity. And “Welcome Table,” a project by Joslyn Barnes and Fekkak Mamdough, uses an art installation to reveal the lives and working conditions of restaurant kitchen workers.

Still other projects took new-media storytelling in very different directions. The Film Board of Canada showed a clip Stan Douglas’ “Circa 1948,” what it calls “a 3D historical augmented reality app” recreating Vancouver in ’48.  Two media artists, James George and Jonathan Minard, displayed “CLOUDS,” a 3D online video work of art using open-source tools and with Kickstarter funding.  And Casey Pugh demonstrated “Star Wars Uncut,” a wonderfully creative reconception of a movie classic with the addition of “crowd filmmaking.”

More was shown and much more talked about, including panels about adventure games and hardcore programming.  What it all showed is that the spirit of indie new-media is a live and flourishing.

David Rosen writes the Media Current column for Filmmaker and regularly contributes to the Brooklyn Rail.  Check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com; he can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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