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Digital film fest adjusts its focus

Technology no longer sets Resfest apart. What to do? Look more at the message than the medium.

September 18, 2003|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

It's a common quandary for the founders of groundbreaking events: How do you remain relevant once the rest of the world has caught up with the original concept?

For Resfest, the pioneering digital film festival born during the go-go '90s, the answer rests with ... innovation. Now that digital filmmaking has been embraced by the film establishment, it's no longer the medium but the message that's important.

In 1997, when Resfest began, it was the dawn of digital filmmaking. Computers had become advanced enough for editing and adding effects to video, and early adopters were using this cutting-edge technology to make their own short movies.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area -- ground zero for the digital revolution -- Resfest's founders were perfectly poised to step in and provide a venue for this fledgling film genre.

But seven years later, it isn't at all unusual for major movie directors to shoot their films on video. Wim Wenders, Spike Lee, Lars von Trier -- all of them have made features with cameras that were originally designed for amateurs. Even the top festivals have stepped up to the plate. Today, Toronto, Cannes and Sundance regularly show digitally shot films.

"Once that started to happen, what made Resfest unique was no longer unique," said fest director Jonathan Wells. "We looked back at what had excited us in the beginning and refocused the festival around that -- innovative storytelling."

Whether it's the tale or how it's told, the manner in which it is filmed or its subsequent enhancement, the emphasis at Resfest is fresh and inventive stories. What kind of equipment is used is irrelevant -- and increasingly unimportant as filmmakers mix and match various media.

"If something was shot on film and the crazy effects were done on a computer, is that digital? If it's shot in video and transferred to film, is that digital? Where do you draw the line?" asked Wells, 33. "We decided it was crazy to do that."

More than 100 short films will be screened at this year's fest, which comes to Los Angeles on Wednesday, the second stop on a 14-city tour that begins in San Francisco today and ends in Osaka, Japan, in December.

The five-day event features shorts, music videos and animation coupled with parties, seminars, studio tours and live music.

Highlights at this year's fest include a retrospective of acclaimed French filmmaker Michel Gondry, whose videos for artists like Bjork and commercials for Levi's and Nike have won him numerous awards, and a collection of Spike Jonze rarities, including a video about making a video for the band Oasis.

The rest of the festival's films are separated into theme-based programs -- some of them technological, others by subject.

The "By Design" series, for example, spotlights experimental motion design, whereas films in "Off the Map," screened in collaboration with National Geographic magazine, reinterpret traditional notions of geography and ethnicity.

Music videos, one of Resfest's calling cards, are separated into two programs -- "Videos That Rock," including songs by Radiohead, Beck and Queens of the Stone Age, and "Cinema Electronica," with Kid Koala, DJ Shadow and Royksopp.

While music videos were once all the rage, they are shown less and less frequently on television. And while some small, independent theaters show short films before their features, most don't.

The styles and directorial vision of these videos and shorts are often at the vanguard of innovation, yet they tend to slip under the radar because there are so few outlets to show them. It takes events like Resfest to bring them into the public sphere.

"For our films, Resfest is almost the only place that anybody sees them because we don't really distribute them," said Bob Sabiston, an artist who's participated in the fest since its inception and whose animation software created the look behind Richard Linklater's 2001 film, "Waking Life."

His submission this year: an animated interpretation of Von Trier's "The Perfect Human."

The emphasis of the fest is movies, but there will also be parties, live music and two tours of artists' studios.

The Westside tour includes a stop at Tractor, the studio run by Swedish brothers who have made award-winning videos for Madonna and Fat Boy Slim; the Eastside tour will visit street artist Shepard Fairey.

"Unlike other film festivals, it's a different audience. We get people who are interested in innovative filmmaking, but we also get people from the music industry, people who are into cutting-edge design, cool fashion," said Wells. "It's not just tech heads who are doing this."



When: Wednesday through Sept. 28

Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Cost: Screenings, $10 in advance, $12 at door; studio tours, $75; all-access pass, $99.


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