Sundance festival views tech through wide angle

More than ever, Robert Redford's independent film festival will focus on technology, particularly in the area of emerging media.

Ian Calderon, who heads up digital initiatives for the Sundance Film Institute, sees technology as an independent filmmaker's paintbrush, a tool that helps the artist tell a story.

That toolbox, however, has expanded well beyond digital cameras and editing software. It's full of evolving media technologies such as mobile video-playing devices with bigger screens and better storage, social-networking and video-sharing sites, and even virtual worlds.

Ian Calderon
Credit: Directors Guild of America
Ian Calderon, director of digital
initiatives at the Sundance Film
Institute, says independents
embrace new technologies.

"These kinds of things are getting closer together instead of further apart," Calderon said. "The possibilities and permutations of distribution are expanding so rapidly...these developments are good things for artists."

Such developments will share the spotlight in coming days as the Sundance Film Festival--Robert Redford's annual independent film showcase--also pans in this year on emerging and converging technologies and their implications for the filmmaking world. The festival takes place January 18 to 28 in Park City, Utah.

Most notably, the festival has renamed its media center "New Frontier," which is also the name of a category of films showcasing the intersection of art and new technology. The New Frontier center will be a venue for films, as well as related media installations and performances, and panel discussions.

Panel topics will include the business of Web 2.0 as it pertains to user-generated media, and independent video gaming as a new medium for film artistry.

"Independent filmmakers were the first to embrace digital technology, then Hollywood caught up," Calderon said, adding that likewise, independents will be the ones pushing the limits of new technologies. "The technology and the creative community need to rely on each other. They need to coexist with mutual respect."

In an example of what the industry calls "media convergence," Lynn Hershman Leeson will be the first filmmaker to screen a feature-length film in the virtual world of . In her documentary, , actors interpret the legally touchy subject of artist Steve Kurtz, whose work led the FBI to detain him as a suspected bioterrorist. Avatars of Leeson, Kurtz and actress Tilda Swinton will be present for the premiere.

"The technology and the creative community need to rely on each other. They need to coexist with mutual respect."
--Ian Calderon, Sundance Film Institute

Also taking place at New Frontier will be a daily casting of "soapisode," jointly scripted and shot by mobile phone users at the festival. And in another area at the New Frontier center, makers of Chasing Ghosts, a documentary tracking the arcade superstars of the 1980s, are bringing in old-school games like Tron and Pac-Man.

Meanwhile, the festival continues to expand its online options, which allow viewers to enjoy content without having to fight crowds and the cold. Not only will a sampling of the 71 short films selected for screening be streamed free of charge on the festival Web site, 32 will also be available for download at Apple's iTunes Store for $1.99 a pop. Last year, Sundance became the first major film festival to premiere films on the Internet in conjunction with their live premieres.

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