The Sydney Film Festival is one of the great long-standing and diverse film festivals of the world. Moreover it is a public event that comes out of a long history of such Celebrations of Cinema. But this word ‘Cinema’ is a very slippery thing and does beg the question in the 21st century of What exactly is Cinema and What defines a Cinematic Experience?
Is it a place, a building - the cinema theatre - embodying the public gathering to worship the big screen? Is it a particular technology, a specific mechanic for viewing moving images? Is it a type of experience - that something is ‘cinematic’? Indeed is it some sort of artistic ‘brand’ a way to define a particular moving image art work as ‘high art’ (a weapon leveled for many years by ‘Cinema’ against Television). I’ve explored these ideas before in a post entitled ‘A functional definition of cinema’ where I have argued that such definitions are based on cultural constructs and specific technologies which largely have no scope to evolve. If Cinema means ‘sitting in a cinema theatre watching large screen projection’ then what of all the other forms of Moving Image Narrative Media that are still by literal definition Kinema? (Kine from the Greek meaning Movement). And moreover, what of this idea of the ‘cinematic’ - a term connected to ideas of scale, grandeur, big stories, big ideas, high quality visuals - by these measures how can Game of Thrones, Bioshock or Asylum 626 be considered anything but wholly ‘cinematic’; yet they are a TV series, video game and interactive online adventure respectively. Nothing to do with Projection, on a Big Screen, in a dark Public Theatre.
‘Cinema’ as connected to either place or technology, is perhaps a word that needs re-evaluation if it is to effectively describe the experiences audience’s seek from modern moving images on modern screens (be they large, small, multi or interactive). And so, into this years Sydney Film Festival we get a broad injection of new ‘cinema’ creations with a focus on Interactive Storytelling and Immersive experiences offered by multi-platform and online productions.
As I blogged previously, I hosted a panel at this years Sydney Film Festival where some of Australia’s leading creators, producers and thinkers around interactive narrative shared their ideas and perspectives on the brave new world. Such works were not made to be shown in a ‘cinema’, nor were built for a technology we otherwise associate with the ‘cinema theatre’, and yet in ideas, engagement and visual deftness they were arguably rather ‘cinematic’.
The event was kicked off by Ruth Harley CEO of Australia’s peak screen development and investment agency, Screen Australia. Dr Harley outlined the diversity of new media, multi-platform and interactive projects that Screen Aus is investing in as part of its Digital Ignition and All Media Fund programs. The range is certainly rich and bodes well from a continued strong and sustainable presence of Australian practitioners in this new media space.
Following Ruth Harley I presented on the work I’ve been doing with Portal Entertainment in building immersive horror-thriller interactive experiences for mobile devices. Drawing upon the highly successful Immersive Writing Lab programme and its associated International Storyworld Writing Competition, I framed the discussion around interactive storytelling with a set of key principles we’ve developed as our in-house mantra on our forth-comming projects Nightwatch and The Craftsman (below).
Following my tub-thumping efforts was Managing Editor of SBS Online, Nick Doherty. Nick has been responsible for a swathe of highly successful, and even more highly regarded, online and interactive works from SBS - including the multi award-winning GoaHippyTribe. In some cases parallel and supporting projects to broadcast productions, in other instances, wholly stand-alone digital works. Nick presented a public premiere of their online interactive documentary The Block which is both lovingly presented in its visuals and emotionally compelling in its characters.
Staying with Documentary, Anna Grieve discussed her award winning Big Stories Small Towns which not only presents an interactive documentary in the electronic sense but also a project that sees deep interaction with the communities that are the basis for the stories. Filmmakers in residence, community digital story-telling workshops and public events all form part of a broad multi-platform and interactive ecosystem.
Researcher, critic and filmmaker Julia Scott-Stevenson, fresh from this years SXSW, gave a report on where we’re headed, what’s interesting from overseas and made some sharp observations about the challenges of producing sustainable and engaging multi-platform works.
Mike Cowap, Investment Manager with Screen Australia, who holds particular responsibility for developing talent and projects in games, online and multi-platform, gave us the low-down on where the Australian industry is at and leveled 5 key points to keep in mind:
- We fund it
- Australia’s good at it
- You need to consume it to understand it
- Use existing platforms
- Take crowd-funding seriously
Rounding out the session was Justin Wight from digital production studio Monkey Stack and their animation-based project, Double Happy vs the Infinite Sadness.
Aside from being a brilliantly realised project at a visual and conceptual level, Justin’s multi-platform and interactive project Double Happy makes for a highly compelling case study of how to clearly identify your audience and build dynamic community relationships that bring vast amounts of eyeballs to your story.
The presence of such creative practitioners and their inclusion in the Sydney Film Festival program speaks to the most important element for new media forms in 2012… Normalisation. No longer the ‘other’, the ‘fringe’ or the beaten red-headed step-child no body talks to, digital interactive and multi-platform is simply moving to the centre and being normalised as common, mainstream audience-focused experiences. Screen-based creations that have every reason and means to be cinematically engaging and enormously satisfying.