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Cinema of the future

What the future holds for us, cinema professionals? Apart from Cannes Film Festival which we all expect greatly, Malwina Grochowska looks through Tribeca’s programme and events, foreseeing some really interesting things…

Tribeca Film Festival has a prolific, though sometimes overwhelming film program to offer. Still, that is just one part of the constantly growing New York event. Through panels, online applications, and interactive tools, every year the festival becomes more engaged in shaping the new media landscape. Some of the showcased projects are just the example of the power of the Internet crowd, but others serve to develop independent filmmaking. This year, a lot of Tribeca projects were dealing in many different ways with the topic of the future of film, including series of discussions under this title. To organize somehow the diverse approaches, I will draw them along an imaginary popularity line. At one end, the least popular, are the initiatives able to support the most radical form and content in the films. At the other end is the photo of Robert De Niro with Lil Bub. Let’s start with the latter.

At one Tribeca party, a photo was taken, in which Robert De Niro is holding the YouTube star – a funny looking cat named Lil Bub. This photo is a perfect old-meets-new-celebrity-culture symbol. Videos of Lil Bub, snoring, eating, walking, etc, get a crazy amount of views on YouTube. And yet, until some point, the virtual fame did not necessarily translate into the real world. In other words, even a zillion views did not get you a ticket to a party attended by Hollywood A-listers. But then a power shift happened, which Tribeca fully embraced, and is probably one of the first major film festivals to have done so (I cannot imagine Lil Bub crawling red carpet in Cannes, yet…). Lil Bub was present at Tribeca as a star of the Vice-produced documentary LIL BUB & FRIENDZ (2013). The film is less interesting than its subject: it fails to add anything crucial to the phenomenon of Internet cats and lacks a critical distance. It ends up putting together some footage of cats and half-way-there stories of their owners. Nevertheless, that was enough for the film to win award of Best Feature Film in Tribeca Online Festival.

An example of the same tendency of praising popular, but not artistically innovative things, though less adorable than cats, was the presence of PSY (yes, the Gangnam Style guy). He received a Disruptive Innovation Award, which “honors innovators, pioneers and game-changers across various disciplines and domains.” Many other people and projects, including choreographer Twyla Tharp and the City of Manchester, were among the honorees, but of course nobody got the media coverage comparable with the singer’s. Can millions (billions?) viewers be wrong? This is beyond questioning. But as a consequence, Tribeca makes it harder for more ambitious projects that need more support than Lil Bub and PSY to reach broader audiences. Although the whole democratization of message process is great, I would be in favor of the festival sticking to its traditional role of promoting quality content.

An interesting concept that the festival, in a partnership with Vine, brought out was opening a competition for six-second films. Four hundred and fifteen micro-films were submitted, some of them already making good use of the limitations of the new medium. This award also brought to the extreme one of the problems faced by the today’s cinema: the shortening attention span of the viewers. The issue was further addressed by Morgan Spurlock during one of the Future of Film panels. The SUPER SIZE ME (2004) director recently made a three-minute documentary as part of Focus Forward, which brings attention to the world’s ecological and humanitarian issues. It is also sponsored by General Electric. Yes, as Spurlock proved in THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (2011), brands can sometimes be risky but also unavoidable partners for independent documentary filmmakers. The Future of Film Live panel in general brought interesting ideas for producing and distributing films for independent filmmakers, but also highlighted its dangers. I really liked what cinematographer and director Christina Voros said during one of the discussions: “Now you can create faster than you think.”

That is something I got to experience myself during Storyscapes interactive exhibition. Everybody’s voice was welcome here. In SANDY STORYLINE the vast, multi-linear story of last year’s hurricane and its consequences was created thanks to input from amateurs (although the line between “amateur” and “professional” is becoming increasingly blurred). This form of collective creation is perfect for describing real-life events, but it does not work as well in fiction. Another Storyscapes project called THIS EXQUISITE FOREST takes a step further the idea of the Surrealist game “exquisite corpse” – instead of adding a word to an existing sentence, the participants add their own short animation. The effect, shown on the screen, is a long passage of mostly childish-looking and non-connected images. Sure, it is fun to do. My husband and I could not resist adding our piece to this babble. Does it make us creators of something more than louder Total Noise? I doubt it.

Still, such experiments show the possibilities of more collective storytelling. This area has not been sufficiently explored yet. Something more than gibberish – maybe successful non-linear storytelling – will be its next step.

If you are a film industry professional, you can watch films from Tribeca on Festival Scope

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