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December 8, 2006

Webzine on Digimart for Silence, on court!

A webzine on Digimart 2006 by Yannick B. Gélinas for Silence, on court! features lively interviews with pioneering filmmakers and captures the revolutionnary spirit of Digimart 2006.

Posted by digimart in Blog 2006 at 2:07

December 7, 2006

The Future of Web Video

At Digimart 2006, we featured several sessions highlighting the new opportunities arising from web video distribution. Scott Kirsner, creator and editor behind the blog CinemaTech and who moderated two roundtable discussions at Digimart 2006 has just come out with a fascinating 100 page eBook that provides extremely valuable up to date information about the evolving Internet video ecosystem. Check it out, you'll find all the interviews, case-studies and stats necessary to get your web video activities off the ground! http://cinematech.blogspot.com/2006/11/future-of-web-video.html

Posted by digimart in Blog 2006 at 1:25

October 23, 2006


As we rounded the corner and headed into Day Three of Digimart, we are promised and delivered a deeper understanding of the nuts and bolts, nets and zolts of digital cinema distribution. The eye-opener is a solo piece de irresistible argument from Peter Buckingham of the UK Film Council, who brought a proper dash of British savoir faire to the stage. In so many ways, the Brits have advanced far along the Watchtower, much more than most. A strong public purpose, good State support, money to fund research and private caps and pounds to roll-out - many in their next media, film and broadcast industries seem to have their collective act together. Peter Buckingham is the Head of Distribution and Exhibition at the Council which encourages cinema-going audiences, films and infrastructures, through such proactive measures as its P&A Fund and the well-known Digital Screen Network. Peter has worked with FilmFour, Virgin and Oasis Cinemas and was responsible for the release of some great films, including, if you will allow me for a second, The Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles. Peter’s session proposed these questions: What catalysts are driving the revolution? What are the significant changes over the last year? What hurdles are the industry facing in the short and long term? Who is seizing the opportunities and leading the way?

Peter began by echoing Screen International’s Mike Gubbin’s opine from Day Two that Digimart was the place to be in the industries’ socialnet calendars. He referred to last year’s now legendary brainstorm session which took things well into the belles heures and slips du l’aube, the wee hours of the morning, so to speak, at Digimart05. In that all-nighter a tissue paper on a table laid out the schemata for the tensions and issues around the future of digital in the cinema. The napkin should be located and saved for the Digimart archives of the Future. As Peter’s presentation software booted up, I half expected to see the original doodles and squiggles. Instead we were all pleased to be offered a conceptual grid of understanding for what is really going on here in the land of Digital cinema distribution. I hope they can get a grab frame up here, but if you can visualize the points and quadrants of a compass, you can quickly see the continuums of low equipment cost versus high image quality is on one axis, and a crossline ranging from open audience access models to closed shop pirate free secure models in on the other axis. Now, you can begin to see the picture. Hollywood, in this case was on the right, and at the bottom. Perhaps this is a harbinger of things to come, to misquote Orson Welles.

With a few quick flicks of his magic mouse, Buckingham talks about regeneration, social cultural entrepreneurs and old and new business modes. One startling fact in the old model: of the 430 films put out into the UK’s cinemas last year, the top 10 films took in 35 percent of all the grosses while all the rest had to share 65 percent. Any future has to be brighter. With online plans coming hard and fast from everywhere, with a US major signing torrid deals with bit-torrents, with piracy still a titantical affair, with consumer programming on the rise, the real digital divide is not about the over-developed world versus the developing world, but it is the rift between those who are in the know, and those who don’t know. So get wise! Which is the real message of conferences like Digimart, where that kind of thinking about thinking is facilitated.

The next panel was a chance for others to respond, emote and promote different versions and visions for the digital cinema future. It was chaired by Cinematech’s Scott Kirsner, who’s written for Wired and many other pubs. It was his second time moderating at this Digimart, and as someone who helps organize conferences and panels around the world, I would say he was the perfect referee for the baseball match of a session which was to come. But in this particular case, the goal of the game was to hit digital pixels off a satellite hovering up there somewhere then to move through some lazercable onto a state of the digital arts projector back into our themepark onto the large display screen in a thing we once called a cinema, a drive-in or a theatre. Not so much as a game but a way of cinematic thinking so that many people can have a live, albeit illusionary collective experience. In other words digital cinemas.

In this friendly, competitive yet collegial game, Ira Deutchman, the CEO of Emerging Pictures was the first to step up to the plate. He responded by situating his innovative company right in the middle of Buckingham’s theoretical grid. The middle ground is the high ground in this new world. Ira is a vet, from Cinecom to Fine Line Features, this CEO who is also Chairman of the Independent Feature Project has long been a supporter of indie vision with more than a hundred films under his belt. Deutchman is also an Associate Prof at Columbia’s Grad Film School so was able to use the fine art of rebuttal, and his own Powerful points to illuminate some of Buckingham’s earlier visions. There is no black and white in this new world, he offered, but there are all kinds of solutions. His vision of digital cinema offers genuine flexibility of programming and a track record of success. He cites the recent rollout of Scorsese’s Dylan doc, No Direction Home. On Tuesday it was on a Screen, on Wednesday it went to DVD and on Friday it was broadcast on the U.S.’s Public Broadcasting Service and everyone still, made money. With the advent of digital distribution there is simply no excuse for distributors to justify the current economic model, he said. He sees hope for a new breed of distribs and programmers, where the role of the “curator” will be significant.

Next up to bat was the wonderful and affable Kees Ryninks, who works with CinemaNet Europe in Amsterdam, who stepped up see if he could get Ira from First to Second. Four years ago, the prolific feature doc producer started DocuZone, equipping ten Dutch cinemas with the best digi equipment Euros could buy, in order to show theatrical documentaries. Gotta love that. I caught some of those screenings. They were way ahead on the new doc wave. In 2004, the concept expanded under CinemaNet Europe, the digi distribution network for European artfilms. Kees is also the Head of Documentaries at The Netherlands Film Fund, which, if it is like Doc funds in other places I know, never have enough money, despite the fact that docs are the hottest film form in the world right now.

Sitting in the audience for the first two days, Kees mused, had made him feel for a moment that even the newest initiatives like digital cinema theatres were a bit like digital dinosaurs, when compared to the idealistic, superfresh, guerrilla innovations that the young filmmakers on earlier panels had visibly embodied. I really liked what he brought to the session with his case study of CinemaNet Europe and specifically, the Dutch examples. I get to experience them first-hand living in Amsterdam several months a year working for the greatest docfest in the world at IDFA. We’re going to launch a mini version of a digimart-like day there November 30th, strictly for new forms, new platforms and new ways of funding digital documentary. We’re calling it DocAgora.

CinemaNet Europe has five autonomous national organizations, which all bring ideas and coordination together under the support of MEDIA in Brussels. Each organization has their own business model. They can do pan euro releases of many docs every year, or release domestic fiction films in each country. The sky’s the limit. He outlined the various ways they are adding extra value at the exhibitor, distributor, producer and audience levels. The notion has reached its critical mass, to the point, Kees says, that we living it and have stopped talking about it. The figures, which I won’t cite here, seem to prove it. And we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that they’ve only had a technical problem in 2 out of thousands of screenings, which is less than I can say for my short-lived life as a projectionist. The real savings in all of the models cited during the day were those of the digital print fees as opposed to average print fees in the old dull order.

There’s lots of room for alternative content in this system, which is what I love, and you can get interactive even to the point of going live online with question and answer sessions with available filmmakers. You can even programme live opera for those who still love that ancient artform. Even films out of the back catalogue of opera films are popular enough to fill the room with mozart lovers – and make money. It’s about make cinemas back into centres for culture, where you can bring a date, watch a movie, have a coffee or a meal, all in one place. And then bike home along a canal.

One of the genius things I also like about it, is that is co-owned by theatres. distributor, investors and management, so everyone’s got a stake in it, as well as a stock in it. So there’s still room in a real room for the collective experience of watching moving pictures on big screens with lots of other people who you can hear laughing, crying or sniffling, enjoying those real sticky floors, big seats and popcorn.

At the wrap of the session Babe Ruth then came out of the dugout, but this time he’s not with the New York Yankees. He’s now from Brazil, a place so enlightened and wired that the great musician Gilberto Gil, is the Minister of Culture. In this new era, the next grand slam hitter, the new Babe Ruth of Digimart is channeled by Don Ranvaud, a sweet man whom I’ve know for years in his incarnation as a topnotch international producer and proselytizer in the feature world. The man is a walking library, speaking about seven languages, which has helped him survive the festival and market wars at Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and South America where I’ve watched him work. Since 2005, Ranvaud has headed International Relations with Rain Networks in Brazil. But in earlier lives, Don taught film in England, founded indie filmmag Framework, and freelanced for illustrious journals like Sight and Sound, the Cahiers du Cinema, and American Film. I could only wish. With Renee Goddard, he began the European SCRIPT Fund. As producer, Ranvaud has worked in several countries before they became the flavour du jour, like China (Farewell my Concubine) and Latin America (City of God, nominated for four Oscars in 2004). Recently, he was Fernando Meirelles’ Executive Producer on The Constant Gardener. As Buena Onda’s Chief Vision Officer, Ranvaud is devoted to empowering filmmakers. I would vote for him as a saintly ambassador for the newest Latin American cinema. If I believed in Saints, or voting.

A few years ago Ranvauld just about had it up to hear with the old ways of doing things, the lies and deceit-cheats, the general amoral disorder of business as usual and usual and usual. But instead of settling back in Italy or wherever, he wrote a challenging manifesto, which will, in time, come to be seen as the idea that tipped and tamed the wild ways of the distribution world. In much the same ways that Lars von Zentropa’s provocative Dogme 95 did for production. Don is now involved in the Rain Network. In his session, and in an hour long interview I had with him over lunch, and through their literature on the Rain web, there’s not many holes I can poke into this model, which is always a good sign from a romantic skeptic like me.

Like all great things in the technological world, its not about technology, but about the network, about building trust and audiences. It’s really about developing a true system of satellite delivered, safely encrypted films into the remotest corners of such vast countries as Brazil which is almost the size of Canada, but with far less penguins. It’s also about giving an advantage to locally produced film, and other media, made by a movement of makers who are emerging into a new world at home and abroad. They are reconverting long lost spaces back into cinemas, for heaven’s sake! When was the last time you heard about that happening? The cinemas are open for business, but also for niche, even educational screen uses all day. Local economies are thriving. Mayors love it. The key to it all is transparency. Everyone seems to benefit, Distributors book their own rates, exhibitors are given more choices, producers and investors get paid immediately. In a way, all the traditional old walls of the old silos where all the roles of all the varous players, and all the conventional definitions are being broken down. In the old world order the roles were fixed in stone.

Now, in a way, the new houses of ‘worship’ are the cinemas, true places for congregations to congregate. The idea is catching on other continents too. I think it would be perfect for Canada. My own long-neglected Maple Leaf Manifesto from the 1980’s, which sought to preserve Quebec and Canadian screen culture, now could be embodied in such a project. But for the moment, Don leaves us with an image for the future where cinema is ubiquitous, and in real space. Somewhere in California there is an Iranian American entrepreneur, who knows nothing about the lofty goals of lofty cinema, who is now showing big screen projections of specialized films in his California furniture showroom. People come into buy chairs and end up watching films. The longer they’re in the store, the more likely it is that they’ll buy the furniture, Maybe I show my next film from a lazybody chair in this guy’s store and sell people the dvdoc and the dowload key.

At any rate, the session’s match had ended. Everyone - the audience here, there and everywhere is now, it seems, a winner. Care for a chair?

Now, I must admit dear blogging readers, that I missed most of the panel after lunch, I had a soup with Dabble’s Lisa Rein and others, then ran down the street to pick up my accreditation for the Digimart’s “sister’ event, the Montreal Festival of New Cinema, which is pound for pound, year after year, the best fest in North America. Over my 30 years I have been to over 200 festivals, so my glowing assessment also includes great places like Sundance, Toronto and Vancouver. This year the Festival du Nouveau Cinema is in its 35th year, Its a jeweled gem jam mix mash of the feeling and content of the Rotterdam Festival, South by South West, and Berlin’s Forum. After lunch I had one of those horrible long distance conference calls where everyone at the other end of the call forgets you are there. It was with our Board of the Documentary Organization of Canada, a group I’ve seen grow from 7 filmmakers 20 years ago to 700 doc makers across the country. DOC initiated Hot Docs, another festival I love, and POV magazine for which I am the International editor.

Self serving messages aside, my next Digimart experience encapsulated ironically what was happening with some new media. Sitting outside in the lovely courtyard at Digimart’s host complex, the Ex-Centris, which in itself it a monument to all things independent, and half way through the remote confernce call, on my expensive by the minute mobile, my battery died. How techno of it. I couldn’t get to a landline, so I missed the rest of the board meeting. I would have been better off using the newest of the newest com tools,and now my fave – Skype. But missing the call was an all for the good object lesson because I was able to catch last part of the New Producer Business Models panel.

This featured Jason Kliot of HDNet who is a prominent producer based in New York film. Jason, Joana Vicente and Donny Deutsch, of Deutsch/Open City Films, develop quality independent features. With Vicente, Jason is also co-President of HDNet Films, Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s new high-def prodco, which produces HD features and docs. For HDNet, Jason produced Alex Gibney’s highly successful moral tale, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, and Steven Soderbergh innovative, Bubble which burst all the norms with its instant crossmedia release strategies. South African producer Jeremy Nathan, who runs DV8 Films with Joel Chikapa Phiri, was the second part of the panel. Jeremy has produced an array of media, features, docs and dramas. His latest, SMS Sugar Man by Aryan Kaganof is a feature shot on cell phones. I myself have done a bit of work suporting young docmakers in South Africa, but never yet for cell phones, There’s always a firstime, though, even for old digidogs like me, and I know Africa is a hotbed of innovation just waiting to happen. In that effort, Jeremy is also working with SCRAWL (South African Scriptwriters Laboratory) to produce promise for the future.

We ended the formal part of our day with Asia. and more particularly China. What are the trends and are they really leading to sustainable business models for the rest of the world to emulate?

Eric Priest let us into a whole new world of with a massive consumer base of 400 million mobile users, where mobilentertainment is big big BIG. A Resident Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, Eric is a Mandarin-speaking Asia expert on digital media, the Internet, and intellectual property issues. He also oversees the center’s digital media initiatives in China and such initiatives as Noank Media. In his extra-legal pre-law life he worked as a musician and music producer and as a creative consultant to Rock Records in Beijing. There are many ways mobile media is monetized, to use that horrible word. Mobile is seen as an extension of personality, with ring back tones, hold tones and mastertones all ringing in the yuan.

This is a world with 60 million, or was it billion? blogs. Once site he cited, moviv.com is the youtube of cell phone movies. Millions served. There are even government sponsored cell phone movie film festivals. The Back Dorm boys are a lipsynching, lipsmacking download dream, and hot, or at least for the weekend. The Song of Pig, an innocent online vid-ditty from a village girl which I actually knew about, was as you guessed it, an Ode to her favorite swine. It goes like this: “Pig you have two big ears, Pig you have a curly tail you cannot run without...” la la la la. Almost one billion people downloaded that. Dowload me. Monetize me.

Unusually, Eric skipped the usual contradictions and restrictions of doing business with such a closed net system, where US based new tech companies, transcorp search engines and others are so willingly complying with overly suspect government requirements. On the rosy side, the slightly wider opening of the gates of democratic, peaceful internet as a source of alternatives cannot be discounted. I’ve been to China several times, especially to meet the adventurous new visions and voices emerging in their documentary culture, and it is a place to be.

In the end Eric was reassuring, it’s not that they are that more innovative in Asia, He observed that many of the examples and case studies which had been brought forward at this year’s Digimart could meet the Asian initiatives interface to interface. In short it is already happening, every where, every ware, Digi this and digi that. Near and far, here and there. Hear and now, now and zen.

In the wrap-up, we got to recall instantaneously what wonderfilled wonders we’d all been through here in Montreal. A treat in the form of a video montage of everything we’d seen in three days bundled together in four minute made by young students from the University of Quebec at Montreal. Media is the new memory.

In closing remarks, Digimart’s Sheila de La Varende reminded us that the conference was able to uncover the evidence of a new kind of marketplace. One that is embraced and seized by indie filmmakers, producers, theorists, innovators and adventurous funders. The art of Discussion is at the heart of all change, she said, ideas are the seeds for the marketplace. She could hardly wait to see what effects would ripple out from our assembled group to the larger, real and virtual communities. She thanked the panelists and pioneers from all over the world for their inspiration and illuminating curiosity, and for creating a space with their generous socializing and networking where everyone felt welcome.

Of course, we all should thank her determined and dedicated team of permanent and voluntary workers who all helped Sheila keep it all working naturally. She and they deserve a round of drinks. What I do know she regretted not saying publicly in the emotional closing, though had said many times in her heart, was that a great round of appreciation was due to Digimart’s hardworking co-programmers Peter Broderick and Liz Rosenthal. Although they had been invited up to add a final word and modestly declined, I would not be out of order to say to them on behalf of everyone present, that a good part of Digimart’s success was also due to their absolutely stimulating programming, structuring of panels, choice of guests and months of detailed programming research.

Coupled with active interest from visionary founders like Daniel Langlois, the Digmart conversation will continue to flow and grow throughout the year.

Now, normally, after such an exhauting conference, I would’ve gone home, which is actually just a few blocks away, to sort out all those business cards. But instead, a group of Digimarters who I now call DigiSmarters all ended up having a nice meal in the Melies and then heading off to the opening film for the New Cinema Festival, Congorama. It’s a marvellous, moving and fantastic Quebecois film, co-produced with Belgium. It’s about art, family, memory, appropriation of ideas, the electric car all wrapped with a beautiful sense of cinemagic realism evoking the best of the new Mexican and Latin Cinemartists. Congorama had some success at Cannes and I wish it well everywhere. At the opening party for the festival which was the closing party for Digimart, I had a great filmfan moment when fest director Claude Chamberlan introduced me to experimental film master and pioneer Kenneth Anger, who is the subject of a new doc, Anger Me, at the festival. Meeting Kenneth Anger for me, for those who know film history, is like meeting a Chaplin, or a Welles, or Cocteau, in terms of his impact on the language of experimental visual form, which is what we are all talking about now. In a gush of fandom, I brushed Mr. Anger’s arm spilling my beer. Thinking I had just made a fool of myself, it was just the opposite. We had a nice conversation which ironically gave what we had all been talking about at Digimart some real perspective. Anger is angry that someone had taken his films, without his permisison, and put them up on YouTube, without attribution. The father of experimental film, who doesn’t own a cell phone, nor do e-mail, was almost speechless. I was too. One day artists will be respected, within and without the digital domain. One day self-sufficient artists will make a fair living, instead of having other people live off their work. But then again, some would argue, one day, giving away your art, or your software, or your search engines, or you music or your movies for free, may, in the end, lead to better, more egalitarian and living economies for everyone, in my digitopia.

Stay tuned in.

Posted by digimart in Blog 2006 at 9:51

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