Friday, March 18, 2011

THE DISPOSABLE & THE DISCONTINUOUS: 2011 DFF—The Evening Class Interview With Carlton Evans

"The only real important filmmakers at the moment are the thousand and thousand YouTube providers."Heddy Honigmann, in a Facebook entry dated Wednesday, March 12, 2011.

With my preview entry of the 2011 Disposable Film Festival (DFF), I've launched a series of entries that will explore what is "disposable" and "discontinuous" in Bay Area cine-events, exploring the proposition that these new forms of exhibition are changing the face of film culture not only locally but, arguably, globally. Continuing my coverage of DFF, I had an opportunity to catch up with DFF's Co-Founder and Festival Director Carlton Evans to tease out some of his thoughts.

Carlton Evans studied art history and film theory at Stanford University and earned his Ph.D exploring New York's cultural environment during the sixties. He then went on to do TV work at KQED and became involved in film production and, in fact, produced two films that were at Sundance this year, including Tiffany Shlain's Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence (2011). Along with helming DFF, since Sundance he has started producing a new feature film, collaborating as co-writer with Matthew Lessner (
The Woods), who will direct.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Thank you for taking the time today, Carlton. I'm intrigued by your festival and I'm sorry I haven't been on board before now; but, it sounds like you're really amping it up this year with your premiere at the Castro Theatre.

Carlton Evans: Yeah, it's really exciting. It's our first year at the Castro, which is bigger than any of the places we've premiered before. We started out at ATA in January 2008 and have been opening at the Roxie the last couple of years.

Guillén: Has the shift to the Castro been necessitated because your audience has grown?

Evans: Yeah. The past two years we sold out double screenings at the Roxie so we felt we were ready for the Castro. So far things are great. It looks like we're going to be selling out the Castro as well for opening night.

Guillén: It's my understanding you co-founded this festival with Eric Slatkin?

Evans: That's right.

Guillén: The term "disposable film" is an interesting one for me. I Googled it and came up with little and it isn't even on Wikipedia yet, so there you go. Where did the term "disposable film" come from?

Evans: The term came up for Eric and me at our first meeting. He was showing me a camera that he had just discovered that was a $20 one-time-use digital video camera. Basically, you shoot 20 minutes of footage, take it back to the drug store and they process it onto a DVD for you. Essentially it's a disposable camera that shoots digital footage. It seemed to us that this was going to completely change the way people had access to video making. Sure enough, over the next year or so, digital video cameras started showing up in every cell phone, and they became more and more ubiquitous, to the point where a lot of cell phones now—like iPhone 4—shoot absolutely gorgeous footage and rival the DSLRs. So we wanted to create a forum where we could push the boundaries of this kind of work. We figured that—if people were making films on these kinds of things—that there should be some kind of venue that would celebrate and help raise the standard of the work being made. 2008 was our first public event and we're going into our fourth season.

Guillén: I'm intrigued by how you have reclaimed and recontextualized the term "disposable" and that—like recent discussions on "discontinuous film viewing"—you've taken the term and flipped it around to give it a positive connotation.

Evans: The way we think about it, there's some amount of irony in the term because, obviously, the work that's being made on these inexpensive devices is far from disposable; it's enduring film work. It's having a major impact on—not only online video platforms—but also the film industry. I'm not sure if you've heard of this film Life In A Day (2011)?

Guillén: I have not.

Evans: It's a film that
YouTube made with Ridley Scott directed by Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland). They solicited footage from the YouTube community. They asked people to shoot their lives for one day last Summer and then the footage was cut into a feature-length film. This was a film whose story would never have been told without the use of these inexpensive cameras, which are now literally everywhere.

Guillén: Fascinating. I'll have to check that out. Let's take a look at DFF's program lineup this year. Along with the Castro opening night premiere, you're doing a tribute to filmmaker Christopher P. McManus. Can you talk about his work and why you've included it in your festival this year?

Evans: Absolutely. Christopher McManus is an artist based in Philadelphia and he has been using these inexpensive cameras to make films and has created an amazing following for himself. He's shown his video works at the Tate London and all over the United States and basically has been able to do that simply because of the accessibility of the equipment he uses.

We first saw his work when he submitted a film last year in the shorts program and it was a big, popular film with our audiences so we decided this year to show the body of his work and have him come and be in conversation with
Vimeo's Andrea Allen, who will be hosting the program.

Guillén: I'm likewise intrigued by this interactive media event you've arranged with Pomplamoose.

Evans: We're very excited about that too. Pomplamoose, as you probably know, is this band that made a name for themselves by editing their own music videos. They've had so much attention now; something like 52,000,000 views on
YouTube. They've become complete YouTube superstars! They very rarely perform live. We're very lucky to have them join us. They're going to lead a music video workshop, then we'll show some of their work, and then they'll do a live performance, which people will be able to shoot and afterwards—using the techniques they've learned from the workshop—cut into a music video that they can then post online so we can find it later.

Guillén: That sounds like nothing but fun! I imagine tickets for that are going fast?

Evans: Yeah, we're expecting that to sell out.

Guillén: Can you speak to this trend that's being termed "discontinuous viewing" of the youthful preference for shorter pieces of footage? A preference that has developed, some say, from the practice of surfing on internet sites like YouTube?

Evans: There have been various formulas.
YouTube, for example, is not a very old phenomenon, as I'm sure you know. It's been around since 2005 when it originally launched, 2006 maybe, so we're really only talking about five years that we've had video content on line. It's hard to imagine now the internet without video.

A couple of years ago, the common belief was that 30 seconds to a minute was about the longest video you could have on line that people would pay attention to; but, what's happening now as the technology advances,
YouTube and Vimeo can show a video that's a lot longer than they used to be able to show in the past. People are getting used to watching longer videos on line because they've become used to downloading longer feature-length films, watching TV episodes on Hulu, so I think people have adapted to watching longer format video on line. That's not really the problem.

The problem is that—if you're a disposable film maker—how do you make something with your inexpensive camera that's going to keep people's attention for longer than a minute-and-a-half or so? In the past, most of the film's we've shown have had a 10-minute maximum, though most of the films we've shown have been in the range of 2-3 minutes. This year there are 2 or 3 films in the program that are well over 6-7 minutes and they're completely able to hold an audience's attention. So I think what's starting to happen is that we're moving out of an experimental phase where we thought, "Okay, I have an inexpensive camera. I can do whatever I want with it. I can put it up in an air balloon. I can tie it to my skateboard. I can tape it to the wheel of my car. I can do all these experiments to see what this shot looks like." Those were fascinating experiments; but, people are now using these devices to tell stories in a new way. A new vocabulary is emerging.

If you're using a webcam, it instantly speaks with an intimate, confessional tone. People are using that in strategic ways. Or if you have a cell phone, you can capture glorious footage for documentaries that couldn't have been captured otherwise. With the emergence of DSLRs in the last couple of years, you can get incredibly beautiful saturated footage and make a feature length film for the relatively inexpensive price of $1,000. The question then becomes how can you use all this equipment in ways that will tell a compelling story differently than the usual Hollywood formulas? This year we're really starting to see that shift. This has all been a long-winded answer to your question; but, the real trick is to engage and keep people's attention through innovative storytelling.

Guillén: I don't consider your answer long-winded at all; I think it's an exciting answer. What you're saying is that the Disposable Film Festival is advocating not only democratized access to these new technologies but a sophisticated application of them, plus a forum for the best to rise to the top.

Evans: Yes, absolutely.

Guillén: As a further commitment to that maturation, DFF is offering several free panels to the public to promote their mission statement. Can you talk a bit about those panels?

Evans: Yeah, sure. Friday evening we're having an industry panel of film professionals: "How to Become A Disposable DePalma". The idea is that we've had several local festival filmmakers go on to much bigger festivals like Sundance, Cannes and SXSW where they've received more attention for their films. What we're trying to do with DFF is help more filmmakers take that next step. You've posted your film online on
YouTube or Vimeo and you've received positive comments from those communities, now what do you do? If you have a good film on your hands, how can you take it to the next level so you can reach a broader audience, enter into the film industry in some sense, and potentially even develop revenue for yourself? Friday night's panel will be an information panel to help filmmakers who are striving to turn filmmaking into a career by giving them tips and tricks. It's a panel that essentially will be forwarding information that DFF has already been doing in some ways for filmmakers.

The next panel is on Sunday at Oddball and it's on using inexpensive cameras to promote social action: "Lights. Camera. Social Action!" We're hosting a panel with professional activists who use film media and can speak to the value of using film media for their causes. That panel will then move into a workshop where people who are interested in creating advocacy films will be taught how to do them. There's a certain perception that the way to get people interested in a cause is to provide a lot of information about the cause, to provide all the facts about why, say, greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming,
etc., etc.; but, in fact, that's not the case. What's proven to be the thing that draws people in the most is the personal story. So this panel will focus on teaching filmmakers how to tell that personal story to advance a social cause.

Guillén: Both panels sound great and I hope to attend them both. Of course, I admire DFF's focus on all the new media technologies and how you're physically interweaving them into the festival's social and interactive platform. The publicity for the festival on such social media as Facebook has been fantastic in how you've created separate pages for specific events. This might be a bit too obvious, but can you speak to the value of promoting and publicizing the festival through such social media as Facebook and Twitter?

Evans: It's all part of the same thing and it's one of the things that's wonderful about this moment in culture. People are making these videos with inexpensive equipment and then posting them on
Facebook and interacting that way. It's just part of their reality. The amazing thing we discovered in that first year that we got out there was that people come to one of our events and after they leave they're inspired to make their own videos. It's a wonderful thing that the people who are making these films and the people who are watching them at our festival are one and the same people. There's an amazing fluidity between the filmmakers and the audience. In some ways some of the marketing strategies that we're using are not so much marketing as it is just recognizing these communities that are out there and tapping into them through Facebook, Twitter and other online social media. We're doing that because these people are exactly the people who are making and watching these videos and they're doing it constantly. It just seems natural. The whole thing comes together in this beautiful way that speaks against a fractured culture.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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