Exhibits explore how technology can reshape storytelling and engage the audience.
Going to the Tribeca Film Festival? Get ready for your close-up.
For the first time in its 12-year history, the festival will showcase five interactive exhibits that incorporate audiences. So those longing to channel their inner Luke Skywalker will have an opportunity to act out a Star Wars scene, while others can share their innermost thoughts to a robotic therapist and have their musings included in a documentary.
The aim of the exhibits isn’t to find the next Jennifer Lawrence or Daniel Day-Lewis. The project, called Storyscapes, was designed to showcase ways that Web-based interactive or cross-platform approaches can be used to tell a tale.
“I’m interested in the storytelling, and film is one way to do it,” said Ingrid Kopp, director of Digital Initiatives at the Tribeca Film Institute, the nonprofit affiliate of the popular festival. “What we are doing is showing the full spectrum of how stories can be told.”
Storyscapes is TFI’s latest attempt to study how technology is changing the film industry. It grew out of a two-year initiative between TFI and the Ford Foundation to support filmmakers working on social-media projects that go beyond traditional screens. Six of those documentaries will be shown at the festival, which runs from April 17 through April 28. There also will be workshops and panel discussions about new filmmaking trends.
“As a film festival, we have to be part of the conversation about how technology is changing and how we [filmmakers] use it creatively,” said Jane Rosenthal, one of the festival’s founders.
The increased emphasis on nontraditional filmmaking is one way the festival—which was started by Robert De Niro and Ms. Rosenthal after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to bring people back downtown—can set itself apart from others. Over the years, it has experimented with its size and breadth of offerings in an effort to find its niche in the crowded film festival circuit, and the mammoth event has been criticized in the past for lacking a distinct personality. This year, the festival will screen 89 feature films—the same number as last year—at theaters in lower Manhattan.
“To me, focusing on technology is a sign that the festival is forward-thinking,” said Josh Braun, co-president of Submarine, which is representing six films at Tribeca.
Even without the new programming, the festival highlights how much technology has transformed filmmaking. At least 10 of the movies that will be shown were made using funds raised through the Internet. And for one movie, called Tricked, director Paul Verhoeven wrote only the first four minutes, and used crowdsourcing to find 85 different writers to finish the rest.
Much of the experimentation with technology at Tribeca this year, however, is meant solely for education. None of the Storyscapes exhibits were designed for theatrical release. Each already existed, but festival sponsor Bombay Sapphire Gin paid an undisclosed amount to underwrite new elements of each especially for Tribeca.
In fact, some question whether these new interactive methods of storytelling will ever find a way to make money. With funding from the National Film Board of Canada, Hugues Sweeney and his team video-recorded people talking about their insomnia. For Tribeca, they used some of those experiences to create A Journal of Insomnia, which invites festivalgoers to sample someone else’s specific struggle with sleeplessness via the Internet. He was uncertain if it would have attracted independent financing or if viewers would pay to watch it.
“We are still looking for the economic model, and there is no magic recipe,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We wanted to build an audience.”
Drawing interest seems to be the easy part. All of the Storyscapes initiatives triggered significant outside participation. In one, a team created a multimedia archive of people’s Superstorm Sandy experiences, which will offer festivalgoers a chance to add their own recollections. Meanwhile, thousands of people have added their imprint to The Exquisite Forest. Started by a Google creative director and an independent filmmaker, it is a user-generated online gallery of animation. Its popularity already has led to having it on display at the Tate Modern in London, and wannabe artists will be able to add to it at Tribeca.
‘Luke, I am your tabby’
Similarly, when Casey Pugh put out a call on the Internet for people to re-create a 15-second portion of Star Wars in any way they wanted, he got 900 responses, with fans using everything from their cats to liquor bottles as stand-ins for characters. The film now has a cult following on YouTube. Star Wars Uncut will be shown at the festival, and people also will get a chance to act out a scene.
“People really just want to be part of the process,” Mr. Pugh said.
That’s what Alexander Reben hopes. He will bring to the festival about 20 cardboard robots that ask pointed questions, in hopes that people will divulge some interesting stories. At the end of the festival, a film will be created from the footage.
Experts say that there always will be people who simply want to sit back and watch a film, but that finding ways to engage an audience in the process is critical for the new generation.
“This generation has been brought up on being able to control the medium where they get their information,” said Albie Hecht, founding director of the Macaulay Honors College New Media Lab at the City University of New York.
SIDEBAR: What to watch at the Tribeca Film Festival
There are 89 feature films set for screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here are some with big names attached that are generating buzz.
Before Midnight. The third chapter in a popular saga of two lovers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who met on a train in Europe when they were young in the first installment and reunited years later in the second. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Big Men. A documentary produced by Brad Pitt that explores the toll of oil exploration by big corporations in Africa. Distributor: In the market for one
Bridegroom. Former President Bill Clinton will introduce this timely documentary about the ongoing debate over the right of same-sex couples to marry. Distributor: In the market for one
Byzantium. The latest film by Interview With the Vampire director Neil Jordan, which has the undead wreaking havoc on mere mortals. Distributor: IFC Films
Gasland Part II. The follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Gasland, which continues to explore the controversy around hydraulic fracturing. Distributor: HBO
I Got Somethin’ to Tell You. Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg makes her directorial debut with a documentary about the late comedian Moms Mabley. The presumably wealthy co-host of The Viewgenerated controversy by using Kickstarter to help raise funds for the movie. Distributor: In the market for one
In God We Trust. A documentary about swindler extraordinaire Bernie Madoff’s longtime personal secretary, Eleanor Squillari, and her obsession with the case. Distributor: In the market for one
Lenny Cooke. A documentary about one of the most hyped basketball players ever, who was supposed to be an NBA star but never played in the league. It is the first documentary by brothers Bennie and Joshua Safdie, whose fictional films like Daddy Long Legs have won critical praise and been shown at other festivals, such as Cannes. Distributor: In the market for one
Mistaken for Strangers. This documentary, which follows the rock band The National on the road, will open the festival. It’s directed by Tom Berninger, a roadie with the band and the younger brother of its lead singer. Distributor: In the market for one
Reluctant Fundamentalist. The latest film from director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, TheNamesake) who adapts the best-selling book about how a young Pakistani-born man’s cushy life is upended after 9/11. Distributor: IFC Films
The documentary Bear 71, which premiered at Sundance, invites its viewers to engage with Banff National Park in an interactive experience that allows its viewers to join the forest’s tagged wildlife at the project’s temporary home at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art or by way of webcam through the documentary’s website.
A bear walks through the Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies and is ensnared in a trap where she is tranquilized, tagged, and collared with a GPS device. She has now become Bear 71, and joins a group of wired wildlife who document the interactions between nature and their increasingly encroaching human neighbors. Bear 71 is a new interactive project produced by the National Film Board of Canada’s digital studio, and includes an interactive web documentary site, a social media microsite, and a live installation piece that launched in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival.
The main part of the project consists of an interactive web documentary created by NFB’s Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison, which introduces viewers to Bear 71 and then drops them into an interactive map of the Park, where they encounter other wired creatures that live in Bear 71′s home range: golden eagles, Big Horn sheep, wolves, and deer mice, all similarly tagged and under surveillance. The animals’ movements can be seen as they move about the park, and clicking on their markers reveals a video feed and information about the animal. Viewers can click on their own marker as well, which launches a group of surveillance feeds including their own (the site requests access to the viewer’s webcam and microphone, which can be denied) and any other viewers who happen to be browsing the site at the same time, tagged and tracked like the animals. Landmarks such as the freeway and railroad that run through the park can be seen, cars and trains moving on them as the animal’s markers cross back and forth, highlighting one of the project’s main points: when technology and the wild intersect, it is often to the detriment of the wildlife. There are also video feeds and observation points marked on the map, showing actual pictures and videos from their real-life counterparts in the Park.
While exploring the interactive map, the story continues from Bear 71′s point of view as she describes life for herself, her cubs, and the other resident animals, narrated by Mia Kirshner (The L Word, 24). During the narrative, Bear 71′s marker can be followed as she moves through the forest, in line with the story. In one of her stories, Bear 71 explains how the trains often spill grain onto the tracks, tempting bears to go onto the tracks to eat the grain only to be hit by subsequent trains. During this, if the viewer has followed her marker, the train goes by in pixelated form, backed by a sound effect track. In another, Bear 71 talks about swimming in the lake as the Banff park rangers look on (having tracked her there), and her marker can be seen moving through the map representation of the lake. The entire story is 20 minutes long, and afterwards the viewer is left on the map to explore at will, or to replay the story.
There’s an additional social networking layer to the story, centered around @iambear71 on Twitter, a Tumblr blog, and a microsite where visitors can role play as one of Banff’s wired wild animals. Selecting an animal displays a screen capture from a video feed, facts about the creature, and the ability to tweet as the chosen animal.
The highlight of the project is the art installation, which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier in Park City, Utah on January 20th and was on display through the 29th. Co-created by Lance Weiler (Pandemic 1.0), the installation has a large screen which shows surveillance videos of the wired animals alongside viewers of the website, a larger version of the window seen on the main website when the viewer clicks on their own marker. Along with the surveillance screen is another large screen playing the interactive documentary as seen on the main website. Unlike the online version, the installation uses an iPad to add an additional layer of augmented reality by allowing the viewer to use the iPad’s camera to “select” one of the trail markers, and view the video recorded from that trail marker’s camera. Also included with the installation are an actual trail cam from Banff, and a tree brought over from Banff, stripped to resemble a bear’s rub tree. The installation can now be seen at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art through April 19.
Bear 71 is a unique and powerful way of telling the story of a bear under the influence of human technology, using that same technology as the medium. By adding viewers as markers on the map alongside the video feeds from animals and fellow visitors to the site, Bear 71 allows its audience to watch surveillance of fellow participants while at the same time being subject to surveillance. The pervasiveness of observation throughout the story helps to bring the viewer deeper into the story, nurturing a deeper sympathy and connection with the wild’s wired animals.
Jam3, in collaboration with the National Film Board, have just completed the interactive documentary Bear 71. The multi-user experience launched alongside an installation at the Sundance festival entitled “Bear 71 Live”. The narrative follows the life of a female grizzly bear in Canada’s Banff National Park from the moment she is tagged and collared by park rangers to the moment of her untimely death. Created by Jeremy Mendes and Leanna Allison, the story is narrated by Mia Kirshner from the bear’s perspective, but users witness it through real footage collected from surveillance cameras that encompass the park.
Bear 71 highlights how our increasingly heavy dependence on technology separates us from nature even though it allows us to keep closer tabs on it. It also forces us to confront how we view ourselves in relation to technology and nature, and makes us question the validity of surveillance both in the wild and in human society. Bear 71 blurs the line between the wild world and the wired one.
While watching TV the other night, a commercial came on showing a couple hiking and camping in the woods. The wife was clearly not an “outdoorsy type” and visibly out of her element, but putting on a brave face while scaling the steep cliffs and fighting off mosquitos. Then at night, in the golden glow of the campfire, the guy pulls out a laptop with Boardwalk Empire, “her show,” all cued up and suddenly she’s all glowing and loving camping and life again.
Anyway, images like that make me wonder if we’ve finally reached a point where we’re no longer capable of enjoying nature without the comforting crutch of technology (to speak nothing of the cities, where we’ve proven actively incapable of surviving without our technological appendages). More importantly, do we even consider how our use of technology—even our very presence—impacts animals and nature?
It’s exactly this topic that co-creators Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison are examining in their new interactive web-based documentary Bear 71, from the innovative National Film Board of Canada (NFB), that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this week.
The 20-minute documentary chronicles the life of a female bear in the Canadian Rockies who was tagged and tracked by Banff National Park rangers from 2001-2009. Told from the first-person perspective of the female grizzly, named Bear 71, the film is split between live footage of the bear’s key experiences and a virtual map that the user can navigate freely—supplemented with over one million photos captured by Allison with motion-triggered cameras, as well as several videos, all set to a soundtrack of Radiohead, Atlas Sound, Tim Hecker and Caspian.
As Bear 71 lets us into her life, we learn about how her landscape has changed, how she has to deal with new human smells that hinder her ability to find food, and most importantly how she must learn to not listen to her natural instincts in order to survive in this new kind of world. The documentary poses questions like “How can we coexist with nature?” and shows that even while we’re able to keep closer tabs on nature and animals through the use of technology and surveillance, it renders us even more detached.
As part of the interactive experience, users have the option of either exploring the bear’s world via webcam (where they can interact in real-time with other users) or visiting the Bear 71 microsite and choosing another animal to embody to find out how human presence affects other types of wildlife.
Funded by NFB, Canada’s public producer and distributor, Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison directed Bear 71, an app-enabled interactive documentary and installation in Utah. The work presents a powerful story from the perspective of a female grizzly bear who comments on the Banff National Park rangers tracking her to reveal insights on the relationship of wildlife to the digital world. The emotional narrative provides insight on the conditions of wildlife in the age of networks, information exchange, and digital surveillance and more importantly draws a striking parallel between how the web tracks people to gather information and how animals are surveilled to provide security.
Online users will be able to use access an augmented reality app that depicts an interactive forest environment rich with bears, cougars, sheep, and deer. They can also use their webcam and social media channels to get involved with the documentary through various gamification elements. According to NFB Executive Producer, Loc Dao:
The augmented reality app is a feature unique to the installation–that runs for 10 days at New Frontier and for four months at UMOCA (Utah Museum of Contemporary Art ). Online the user faces the disconnect from nature by the very form they are using — sitting in front of their computer. Similarly, at the installation the viewer is out of their element, being in a public space, and like many of us who live our lives through iPhones and digital cameras, the user at the installation experiences the grandiose 24-foot wide digital grid world of Bear 71 through a tablet app, limiting their view of the bigger picture and giving them safe distance from what’s happening in front of them.
The installation premiered at Sundance Film Festival and has been installed in The Yard in Park City and UMOCA until April 19.
via PSFK: http://www.psfk.com/2012/01/interactive-ar-documentary-nfb.html#ixzz1vdEvm2s9