Category Archives: #AFIFEST

The AFI FEST Interview: FISH STORY Director Charlie Lyne

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Charlie Lyne is an AFI FEST alumnus with his feature film FEAR ITSELF (AFI FEST 2016). AFI spoke to Lyne about his new short film, FISH STORY, which was  just released online and won the Short Film Audience Award at AFI DOCS. The film investigates a mysterious gathering rumored to have taken place in 1980s Wales, at which an unlikely group of people with one thing in common came together.

AFI: You work in both short and feature-length formats. Is the short format more freeing compared to feature-length? Is it harder to tell a story in a much shorter length? 

CL: I think stories can lend themselves to all kinds of runtimes, and one of the great sadnesses of contemporary film culture is the rigid distinction we draw between short and feature-length filmmaking. I’m lucky to have told a lot of stories that wound up being around 90 minutes long, or under 15 minutes long, because there are so many opportunities to show films of those lengths. People whose stories naturally end up 50 minutes long are f—-d!

That said, there are definitely unique charms and challenges to telling a story over a short runtime. For one thing, you can maintain a level of energy or visual dynamism that might be exhausting at feature-length, and you’re free to flout traditional narrative conventions without worrying that an audience will feel stranded. I think viewers are generally more patient and open-minded when it comes to shorts. 

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AFI: At what point in hearing this story did you decide you wanted to film it? Did you face any challenges as you tried to trace the people involved?

CL: I’ve known Caspar Salmon for a long time, but it was only a few years ago that he made the mistake of telling me the story of his grandmother’s attendance at a gathering for the preeminent fish-surnamed people of North Wales. After that, I couldn’t introduce him to anyone without immediately forcing him to retell the story, and each new telling (which seemed to be stranger and more labyrinthine than the last) would make me die laughing all over again. Finally, I talked him into committing the story to film.

The process of making FISH STORY was a genuine voyage of discovery, as I honestly never imagined my investigation would lead anywhere. I thought the film would wind up being about the futility of trying to prove what was, more than likely, a family myth. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way, which was as thrilling to me as it hopefully now is to viewers.

AFI: You also work as a journalist. How does that experience lend itself to the style of documentary you work in?

CL: I’ve always identified more as a critic than a journalist, partly because I’m far from rigorous when it comes to journalistic practice. Weirdly, this film is by far the closest I’ve come to actual investigative journalism, which seems odd given that it’s about fish surnames, and that my investigative methods — which consisted mainly of looking people up in the phone book — were so rudimentary.

Still, now that the film has been picked up by The Guardian, I fully expect to see it honored at next year’s Pulitzers.

AFI: Your films have screened at festivals all over the world. As a filmmaker how important do you find it to travel with your films to festivals? Do you have any advice for other filmmakers who are trying to figure out how to navigate the film festival landscape?

CL: I can track a huge number of filmmaking opportunities I’ve had in recent years back to specific moments at festivals. There are so few other places where you’re surrounded by likeminded individuals from all over the world, and in a context of heightened artistic engagement — both with the films screening and the ideas being expressed all around you. I couldn’t put a price on it.

That said, the literal price of it can render festivals an impractical luxury for filmmakers just getting started in the industry, especially short filmmakers whose travel and accommodation is rarely paid for by the festivals themselves. Schemes like the British Council’s Shorts Support Scheme, which funds the travel of UK filmmakers like me to international festivals, are therefore invaluable. It’s just a shame so few countries have them.

Ultimately, as the line between short and feature filmmaking becomes more and more blurred — as it inevitably will — I hope and expect that festivals will begin to offer equal provisions to visiting filmmakers, whether their films run 10, 50 or 200 minutes long.

Watch the full FISH STORY here:

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AFI FEST 2017 Final call for Submissions

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Send AFI your films! The final deadline for submitting feature, documentary, experimental and short films to AFI FEST 2017 presented by Audi is July 14, 2017.

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AFI FEST 2017 is open for submissions via Withoutabox. Please be advised of the  deadlines below.

Early Deadline: March 31, 2017
Short Films (under 30 minutes) – $35
Feature Films (over 30 minutes) – $55

Official Deadline: May 5, 2017
Short Films – $45
Feature Films – $65

Final Deadline: July 14, 2017
Short Films – $55
Feature Films – $75

 

Submit your films here via Withoutabox

 

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AFI FEST 2017 FILM SUBMISSIONS

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI FEST 2017 is now open for submissions via Withoutabox. Please be advised of deadlines below.

Early Deadline: March 31, 2017
Short Films (under 30 minutes) – $35
Feature Films (over 30 minutes) – $55

Official Deadline: May 5, 2017
Short Films – $45
Feature Films – $65

Final Deadline: July 14, 2017
Short Films – $55
Feature Films – $75

Click here to submit your film via Without A Box

For further information regarding submissions, please consult the AFI FAQ page.

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(source: afi.com)

Drafthouse Films acquires “R100”

Posted by Larry Gleeson

R100 one was a midnight favorite at the American Film Institute’s AFIFEST 2013. I ventured out with a Japanese exchange student/cohort. We were in stitches and the audience was rollicking. I went on to review the film initially at the Santa Barbara City College SBCC Film and Media Studies site before posting it here earlier this year. In addition, at a recent Art Cinema Seminar/Class led by Santa Barbara International Film Festival Program Director Michael Albright, R1oo, received noteworthy mention. This is a film I highly recommend from a nationally renowned and esteemed Japanese director, Hitosi Matsumoto. Please enjoy the excerpt from Austin360.com!

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published September 26, 2013.

Drafthouse Films, the film distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, has acquired of North American rights to Japanese director Hitoshi Matsumoto’s “R100,” a lunatic tale of male self-destruction. R100 premiered at Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness section and made its US premiere at Fantastic Fest last weekend. A VOD/Digital and theatrical release is planned for 2014.

It is not suprising that Drafthouse is picking this one up. Drafthouse and Fest founder Tim League introduced the completely gaga “R100” himself, nothing that it was the last film booked but that League, a huge Matsumoto fan, wasn’t going to let it get away. “If you don’t like this movie, you are (expletive) stupid,” League said…

fl20131006cub“R100” (The title is itself a play on the Japanese movie ratings R-15 and R-18) is an almost early-Woody Allen-esque comedy (think “Without Feathers” era or “What’s Up, Tigher Lilly?”) about Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ohmori, the star of “Ichi The Killer” fame) whose life has gone a bit pear-shaped. His department store job is mindless, his father-in-law is helping Katayama raise his young son while his wife is in a coma in the hospital and things are just looking kind of rough for the guy (the color palette for much of the film is all browns, tans and neutrals, washed out and quite 70’s looking in spots).

No wonder the guy feels the need to contact a dominatrix service and gets more than he bargained for. To wit: he never knows exactly when the doms (called “Queens,” each with a special, uh, talent) are going to show up to beat or humiliate him. At first, things seem to go fine. Then the wheels start to come off and things start to get very, very strange.

Matsumoto masterfully switches tones, almost from scene to scene. There are quiet, tender scenes that could hail from an earnest indie movie. There is old school silent movie boffo comedy. There are a couple of solid runs at the fourth wall. As League noted in his introduction, Matsumoto takes his time to set up a joke, but the payoffs are tremendous. And it features the best use of the “Ode to Joy” since “Raising Arizona.”

(Source: Excerpted from austin360.com)

AFI FEST 2016’s Cultural Supporters in Pictures

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The 2016 AFI FEST presented by Audi showcased movies from 46 countries around the world, and many cultural supporters came to the festival to celebrate the filmmakers and their films. These guests included consul generals, cultural agency representatives and filmmakers representing 17 countries, proving that the love of world cinema can speak one language. Organizations and consulates from Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey all contributed to the success of AFI FEST.

AFI FEST celebrated more than 25 Francophone films and co-productions with our Francophone Reception. Partners included the Consulate General of Belgium in Los Angeles, ELMA (European Languages Movies America), the Consulate General of France in Los Angeles, Lacoste, Québec Government Office in Los Angeles, Consulate of Switzerland in Los Angeles, Telefilm Canada, TV5MONDE, UniFrance and Wallonie Bruxelles Images.

(L to R) Paul Verhoeven; Isabelle Huppert; Consul General of France, Christophe Lemoine at the ELLE after-party (Getty Images for AFI/Gabriel Olson)

AFI FEST hosted a Tribute to Isabelle Huppert for her decades of work, accompanied by a conversation with the world-class actress and a showing of her film ELLE. The conversation discussed Huppert’s career and approach.

The Filmmaker Brunch, hosted by Christophe Lemoine, Consul General of France in Los Angeles, took place at the Résidence de France. This celebratory event was attended by Isabelle Huppert, several AFI FEST 2016 filmmakers, multiple cultural supporters, diplomats, industry representatives and press.

The festival welcomed Japan House Los Angeles, Japan Foundation Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles in their support of the films HARMONIUM, MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI and THE RED TURTLE. MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI honors legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, who also posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

AFI FEST hosted a Screen Education program, where over 500 students from 12 schools attended a Special Screening of Disney’s MOANA. Jared Bush, the screenwriter of MOANA and Leo Matsuda, the director of INNER WORKINGS, engaged with the students in a visual presentation and Q&A. This experience was supported by the Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project, The Brotman Foundation of California and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

(L to R) Rafael Agustin (Executive Director, Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project); Jared Bush (screenwriter, MOANA); Leo Matsuda (director, INNER WORKINGS); Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST); Garth Burkhard (Walt Disney Animation Studios)
(L to R) Rafael Agustin (Executive Director, Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project); Jared Bush (screenwriter, MOANA); Leo Matsuda (director, INNER WORKINGS); Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST); Garth Burkhard (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

This year, the festival also celebrated new Iranian cinema in conjunction with the Farhang Foundation, with a reception following A DRAGON ARRIVES!, directed by Mani Haghighi. Dignitaries and filmmakers alike attended the private event to honor this world cinema artistry.

(L to R) Alireza Ardekani (Executive Director, Farhang Foundation) and with Ali C. Razi (Chairman of the Board, Farhang Foundation) attend their reception celebrating Iranian Cinema.
(L to R) Alireza Ardekani (Executive Director, Farhang Foundation) and with Ali C. Razi (Chairman of the Board, Farhang Foundation) attend their reception celebrating Iranian Cinema.

AFI FEST partnered with Luce Cinecittà, ITA (Italian Trade Agency), the Italian Consulate in Los Angeles and IIC (Istituto Italiano di Cultura Los Angeles) in presenting the World Cinema Masters in Conversation event at the Egyptian Theatre on the last night of the festival with Gianfranco Rosi, director of Italy’s official Academy Award® entry for Best Foreign Language Film, FIRE AT SEA.  As part of the inaugural World Cinema Masters in Conversation section at AFI FEST, renowned documentarian Rosi sat with Alberto Barbera, Director of the Venice Film Festival, for an in-depth conversation about one of the year’s most lauded documentaries.

L to R) Courtney Love and Francesco Carrozzini (Director, FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION) attend the screening of his documentary. Cultural Support provided by Luce Cinecittà; Italian Trade Agency; Consulate General of Italy; Istituto Italiano di Cultura
L to R) Courtney Love and Francesco Carrozzini (Director, FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION) attend the screening of his documentary. Cultural Support provided by Luce Cinecittà; Italian Trade Agency; Consulate General of Italy; Istituto Italiano di Cultura

The partners also joined in the curation of a selection of Italian films playing at the festival, including the World Premiere screening of the 4k restoration of IL SORPASSO (DIR Dino Risi) in the Cinema’s Legacy section. The restoration work was supported by Luce Cinecittà, Cineteca di Bologna, Surf Film and Janus Films, the U.S. rights-holder. Additionally, FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION, an incisive documentary by director Francesco Carrozzini in which he creates an intimate portrait of his mother — Franca Sozzani, the legendary editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue — screened at AFI FEST.

See more photos below.

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(L to R) Isabelle Huppert; Paul Verhoeven; Consul General of Switzerland, Emil Wyss; Pascal Ladreyt (Executive Director, ELMA); Elena Alexandra; Patrice Courtaban (COO, TV5MONDE USA); Arie Wyss; Aneta Campbell at ELLE after-party
(L to R) Guest; Daouda Coulibaly (Director, WÙLU); Severine Madinier (Executive Director, French Film &TV Office) at ELLE after-party
(L to R) Guest; Daouda Coulibaly (Director, WÙLU); Severine Madinier (Executive Director, French Film &TV Office) at ELLE after-party
(L to R) Sebastien Cauchon (UniFrance); Nicolas Schaller (Le Nouveau Obs); Romain Blondeau (Vanity Fair, France); Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST); Aude Hesbert (UniFrance) at ELLE after-party
(L to R) Sebastien Cauchon (UniFrance); Nicolas Schaller (Le Nouveau Obs); Romain Blondeau (Vanity Fair, France); Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST); Aude Hesbert (UniFrance) at ELLE after-party
(L to R) Xavier Dolan (Director, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Nancy Grant (Producer, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Gaspard Ulliel (Actor, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Xavier Dolan (Director, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Nancy Grant (Producer, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Gaspard Ulliel (Actor, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Gaspard Ulliel (Actor, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Jacqueline Bisset (Actress); Xavier Dolan (Director, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Houda Benyamina (Director, DIVINES) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Gaspard Ulliel (Actor, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Jacqueline Bisset (Actress); Xavier Dolan (Director, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD); Houda Benyamina (Director, DIVINES) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Deputy Consul General General of Belgium, Veronique Siklosi; Jacqueline Lyanga (AFI FEST); Consul General of Belgium, Henri Vantieghem at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Deputy Consul General General of Belgium, Veronique Siklosi; Jacqueline Lyanga (Director, AFI FEST); Consul General of Belgium, Henri Vantieghem at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) John Laing; Jacqueline Bisset; Martine Laing; Elena Alexandra; Patrice Courtaban (COO, TV5MONDE USA) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) John Laing; Jacqueline Bisset; Martine Laing; Elena Alexandra; Patrice Courtaban (COO, TV5MONDE USA) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Elizabeth MacKay (Québec Government Representative) and Pierre Leloup at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Elizabeth MacKay (Québec Government Representative) and Pierre Leloup at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Consul General of Switzerland, Emil Wyss; Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST); Consul General of France, Christophe Lemoine at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Consul General of Switzerland, Emil Wyss; Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST); Consul General of France, Christophe Lemoine at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) MJ Peckos (Dada Films) and Brigitte Hubmann (Telefilm Canada) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) MJ Peckos (Dada Films) and Brigitte Hubmann (Telefilm Canada) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) John Laing; Nancy Harris (COO, AFI); Jacqueline Bisset at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) John Laing; Nancy Harris (COO, AFI); Jacqueline Bisset at the Francophone Reception
Houda Benyamina (Director, DIVINES) at the Francophone Reception
Houda Benyamina (Director, DIVINES) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Daouda Coulibaly (Director, WÙLU) and Eric Neveux (Composer, WÙLU) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Daouda Coulibaly (Director, WÙLU) and Eric Neveux (Composer, WÙLU) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST) and Maria Elena Cabezut (Director of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Mexico in Los Angeles) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Jasmine Jaisinghani (AFI FEST) and Maria Elena Cabezut (Director of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Mexico in Los Angeles) at the Francophone Reception
(L to R) Michael Barker (Sony Pictures Classics); Ingrid Bisu (actress, TONI ERDMANN); Sandra Hüller (actress, TONI ERDMANN); Peter Simonischek (actor, TONI ERDMANN); Janine Jackowski (producer, TONI ERDMANN). Cultural Support provided by German Films.
(L to R) Michael Barker (Sony Pictures Classics); Ingrid Bisu (actress, TONI ERDMANN); Sandra Hüller (actress, TONI ERDMANN); Peter Simonischek (actor, TONI ERDMANN); Janine Jackowski (producer, TONI ERDMANN). Cultural Support provided by German Films.
(L to R) Raoul Peck (Director, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO) and Cameron Bailey (Artistic Director, Toronto International Film Festival) arrive for World Cinema Masters in Conversation. Cultural Support provided by Telefilm Canada.
(L to R) Raoul Peck (Director, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO) and Cameron Bailey (Artistic Director, Toronto International Film Festival) arrive for World Cinema Masters in Conversation. Cultural Support provided by Telefilm Canada.
L to R) Yang Chao (Director, CROSSCURRENT) and Robert Chi (Programmer, China Onscreen Biennial). AFI FEST presented CROSSCURRENT in partnership with the China Onscreen Biennial, a curated showcase of Chinese film and media arts presented by a consortium of distinguished film and educational institutions.
AFI FEST’s Screen Education screening of Disney’s MOANA supported by Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project, The Brotman Foundation of California and the Department of Cultural Affairs. Over 500 students were in attendance from over 12 schools.
AFI FEST’s Screen Education screening of Disney’s MOANA supported by Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project, The Brotman Foundation of California and the Department of Cultural Affairs. Over 500 students were in attendance from over 12 schools.
Students in attendance, coordinated by the Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project with Jared Bush (screenwriter, MOANA); Leo Matsuda (director, INNER WORKINGS).
Students in attendance, coordinated by the Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project with Jared Bush (screenwriter, MOANA); Leo Matsuda (director, INNER WORKINGS).
(L to R) Rikiya Mifune, Shiro Mifune and family; Steven Okazaki (Director, MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI) attend Toshiro Mifune’s posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
(L to R) Rikiya Mifune, Shiro Mifune and family; Steven Okazaki (Director, MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI) attend Toshiro Mifune’s posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
(L to R) Sakiko Okada (Japan House Los Angeles); Yuko Kaifu (President, Japan House Los Angeles), Koji Fukada (Director, HARMONIUM); Mariko Ban (Japan House Los Angeles); Tomoko Beadle (Japan House Los Angeles); Lisa Nakanouchi (Japan House Los Angeles)
(L to R) Sakiko Okada (Japan House Los Angeles); Yuko Kaifu (President, Japan House Los Angeles), Koji Fukada (Director, HARMONIUM); Mariko Ban (Japan House Los Angeles); Tomoko Beadle (Japan House Los Angeles); Lisa Nakanouchi (Japan House Los Angeles)
(L to R) Camilla Cormanni (Luce Cinecittà) and Eleonora Pratelli attend FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION
(L to R) Camilla Cormanni (Luce Cinecittà) and Eleonora Pratelli attend FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION
(L to R) Angela Missoni and Francesco Carrozzini (Director, FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION)
(L to R) Angela Missoni and Francesco Carrozzini (Director, FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION)
(L to R) Mani Haghighi (Director, A DRAGON ARRIVES!) with festival guests
(L to R) Mani Haghighi (Director, A DRAGON ARRIVES!) with festival guests
(L to R) Roxane Mesquida (Actress, MALGRÉ LA NUIT) and Philippe Grandrieux (Director, MALGRÉ LA NUIT). Cultural Support provided by CalArts, UniFrance, TV5MONDE and the French Consulate.
(L to R) Tiia-Maria Taponen (Consulate of Finland) and Heidi Luukkonen Creative Industries & Communications Coordinator, Consulate General of Finland) attend the Filmmaker Welcome Party and Tech Showcase Preview.
(L to R) Tiia-Maria Taponen (Consulate of Finland) and Heidi Luukkonen Creative Industries & Communications Coordinator, Consulate General of Finland) attend the Filmmaker Welcome Party and Tech Showcase Preview.

*Featured image: Pictured at top: (L to R) Roberto Cicutto (President, Luce Cinecittà); Gianfranco Rosi (Director, FIRE AT SEA); Jacqueline Lyanga (Director, AFI FEST); Alberto Barbera (Director, Venice Film Festival)(Source:blog.afi.com)

The 74th Golden Globe Nominations Motion Pictures and Television Series

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Bright and early this morning – maybe not bright but still early – Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) president Lorenzo Soria introduced Anna Kendrick, Don Cheadle and Laura Dern to announce the 2017 Golden Globe Nominees. La La Land captured seven nominations on the motion picture side including Best Motion Picture – Comedy Musical, Best Director for Damian Chazelle and Best Actor – Musical Comedy nominations for stars  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was nominated in six categories including Best Motion Picture, Best Director and Screenplay  and Supporting Actor noms for Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. Kenneth Lonergan’s critically acclaimed Manchester By The Sea also made a strong showing with nominations for Best Drama, Director  and acting noms for stars Casey Affleck (Best Actor) and Michelle Wiliams (Supporting Actress). Lion, Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water also made the list.

As expected Paul Verhoeven’s Elle starring Isabelle Huppert, received a nom in the Foreign Language category. The veteran French actress also received a nomination as one of the year’s best Drama Actresses, alongside Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane), Ruth Negga (Loving), Amy Adams (Arrival), and Natalie Portman (Jackie). Also receiving a nom for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language was one of my favorite films from the recent American Film Institute’s 2016 AFI FEST presented by Audi, Divines, from the self-taught director Houda Benyamina, starring budding actress, Oulaya Amamra. Other nominees in the Foreign Language category were Neruda from Chile’s Pablo Larrain, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, and Toni Erdmann from Maren Ade

Television nominations went to  InsecureAtlanta. Black-ish, Mozart in The Jungle, Veep and Transparent and  Black-ish which received three nominations. Game of Thrones picked up two nominations and The Crown, Westworld, Stranger Things and This Is Us also receiving noms.

HBO led the way again this year with 14 nominations for its series. The complete list: official_2017_golden_globe_nominations_press_release

The 74th  Golden Globes Awards, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, will air live on NBC on January 8, 2017 at 8 pm EST / 5 pm PST.

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AFI FEST 2016 State of the Art Technology Showcase

AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi has jumped on the virtual reality (VR) bandwagon in a big way on Saturday, November 12th, with its State of the Art Technology Showcase Presented by Google Spotlight Stories. Keynote Speaker, Anthony Blatt, Co-Founder of Wevr, kicked off the Showcase at 11:00 A.M inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s AFI FEST Cinema Lounge.

Blatt spoke extensively on where VR is today as behemoths Google and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars in an uncertain VR future. Nevertheless, VR filmmaking is presently bringing together filmmakers as they explore emerging VR technologies including 360 degree VR. It is Blatt’s hope these new technologies will continue to bring together filmmakers, introduce them to what is possible and that they will collaborate to present stories in years to come.

Some Hollywood directors have been outspoken and semi-critical of the new VR

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Hollywood Director Steven Spielberg at 2016 Cannes Film Festival (Photo: The Guardian)

filmmaking that attempts to arrange circumstances with bits of code that give the viewer agency. This differs from traditional filmmaking where one view is presented by the director. At the 2106 Cannes Film Festival, veteran Hollywood Director Steven Spielberg was quoted saying, “I think we’re moving into a dangerous medium with virtual reality,” he said. “The only reason I say it is dangerous is because it gives the viewer a lot of latitude not to take direction from the storytellers but make their own choices of where to look. ” (The Guardian)

While Spielberg may have a point, most legitimate VR filmmakers have techniques to gently guide the viewer in a linear or specifically designed narrative through either sound, color schematic or lighting. One intriguing aspect of VR viewing is its capacity to immerse a viewer in the presentation. Once a headset or goggle are in place, peripheral vision that occurs in a theatrical experience is removed. Blatt stipulates this will create a more “real” experience and, in addition, will stimulate lucid dreaming about the experience.

To illustrate and to help substantiate his claims on the VR experience, Blatt related a story of Jon Favreau‘s first VR viewing experience. Favreau was so overwhelmed after donning the VR goggles that upon their removal he stated he had to make a story and began sketching right away.

VR stories are similar to traditional film stories as both initially start in the writing process in script format, proceed to story-boarding and then to analysis. However, as noted earlier, the VR viewer has some agency. So, the VR experience is still a narrative story. However, VR also adds additional aspects of gamesmanship and puzzles. Another aspect under development in VR is the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI). The introduction of AI turns a viewing experience into an interactive experience potentially. Here again, is where production design aids the filmmaker in gently leading the viewer towards the pre-defined narrative. Blatt refers to the process as story to puzzle, puzzle to story. And, he strongly asserted that the focus for VR filmmaking needs to be on the story versus the technology or the medium.

In addition to storytelling and production design, Blatt discussed issues in editing VR and some of the challenges filmmakers are facing. He also mentioned the various uses of photogrammetry in storytelling. Ultimately, Mr. Blatt believes VR is a better experience. When asked why a viewer would want to choose VR rather than the traditional theatrical experience in the brief Q & A following the presentation, Blatt cited curiosity. Blatt culminated his remarks saying VR has the power to transform and change lives with its immersive storytelling techniques much like his 1977 Saturday afternoon matinee viewing of George Lucas’s first installment of the Star Wars saga.

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VR Viewing Room at the 2016 Venice International Film Festival (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Recently, I attended a 40-minute segment viewing of what is being marketed as the first feature-length VR film with human actors, Jesus VR, set for release on Christmas Day. The portion I viewed contained a scene where a parable was used to illustrate a teaching point. To me, I believe the application of VR for storytelling and teaching is astounding. The issue seems to be how to get there. Currently, the technology costs associated with VR filmmaking are prohibitively high.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, VR is here to stay. So lace up your boots and hop on. You’ll be glad you did. It’s going to be quite a ride!