Cleveland International Film Festival } March 27 – April 7, 2019 } Tower City Cinemas

Bridges to the Future: Perspectives on the New Realities of Transmedia Filmmaking

April 08, 2017   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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From left to right: Reynaldo Zabala, managing partner and founder of RazorEdge; Rachel Henderson, communications manager for the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign to fight malaria; Mike Knowlton, co-founder of StoryCode and member of the Campfire Marketing Agency; Liza Faktor, cross-platform documentarian and producer of Flint is a Place; Mark Griswold, from the Case Western Reserve University Medical School’s Department of Radiology, who has been involved in the creation of virtual reality training systems; Jared Bendis, officer, Creative New Media at Case Western Reserve University’s Kelvin Smith Library, moderator. Photo by Nathan Migal.

Perspectives: An interactive/immersive exposition/expo/experience, is in its final weekend of its second year at the CIFF, and the exhibition is bigger and better than ever. The program is the “baby” of Mallory Martin, CIFF’s Director of Programming and Projection, who is excited to showcase transmedia creations alongside traditional film. “At the Festival,” she says, “our passion is to help our filmmakers tell their stories, in whatever fashion.”

This year, Perspectives expanded from a four-day showcase to an event that has run for the full length of the Festival, and there has been a steady flow of traffic at the installation. “Obviously, Cleveland is really into interactive storytelling!” Martin exults.

On Friday afternoon, the Perspectives Panel allowed six experts in virtual and augmented reality to share their experiences and visions of the field with interested audience members, including several who hope to dive into producing transmedia content themselves. Jared Bendis served as moderator.

Transmedia is especially useful to, in Reynaldo Zabala’s words, “build bridges, not borders.” When discussing exactly which media they prefer to incorporate, the panelists were all in agreement that the choice of media to use depended on the story they are trying to tell. “We just want to make really good, immersive stuff,” says Bendis.

“Whatever suits the story best,” Liza Faktor adds, although she prefers not to use elaborate VR headsets in her work.

Zabala notes that, at this stage, transmedia is shifting away from being the playground of programmers and technicians “to a more holistic, experience-based approach” where “the creative types are really going to rule this experience.”

The panelists discussed the effect that the nuanced, layered nature of their works, which employ multiple angles and a variety of choices in how to engage with the materials, effect their durability and the ability to rewatch the materials. While Rachel Henderson suggests that one viewing should be enough to tell a complete story–and, in the case of her work, to provoke viewers to take action–“you definitely won’t catch it all if you’re only watching it once.”

For Mark Griswold, who is involved in the creation of augmented reality systems for use by medical students, multiple viewings are an essential component. “When we’re making a class, it’s gotta be rewatchable … it’s meant to be something you’ll revisit,” he explains. “If we do our job right, [each re-watching] will feel different” as students explore a surgical site from multiple angles or try different approaches to resolving a medical issue.

The effect on storytelling can be powerful, too. Right now, according to Mike Knowlton, there has been a deluge of “visit other places” experiences, similar to the travel films that proliferated in the earliest days of cinema. “It goes without saying that we’re going to capture the world,” Bendis acknowledges. “Now we’ve got to raise the bar.”

Such stories, Zabala suggests, need to involve the viewer in their creation. “Why would you take a kid to a sandbox where the castles are already built?” While this may put the onus of some of the “work” onto the viewer, this should ideally present no problem. “A well-designed experience doesn’t feel like work,” Knowlton points out. “I don’t think that that’s lazy storytelling . . . we’re trying to create stories for the way people consume them now.”

“We watch films, a lot of times, to be part of that world,” Griswold adds. “You could have Obi Wan Kenobi land in your living room and tell a story!”

Griswold notes that in about 10-15 years, many of the processing limitations, that currently plague virtual and augmented reality, should be gone, and the equipment should have dropped significantly in price, so we can expect these experiences to proliferate rather than vanish. Still, given that these are young fields, rapidly changing, the panelists discussed just how permanent, or impermanent, their work might turn out to be. Will their works vanish from memory, or persist?

“I think this will last,” Faktor says. “I would rather spend years of my life on something that will last a little bit.”

Griswold agrees, suggesting that, even if some of the early technologies disappear, the experiences themselves will persist in memory. “There’s a permanence to this that film doesn’t have. It’s as if you lived through it.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/07/17 @ 5:30 PM – Perspectives Panel

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