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Conference to explore new digital cinema

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The Comparative Media Studies Program (CMS) and the Communications Forum will host a two-day conference celebrating and exploring the emerging world of Internet-based digital cinema on November 3-5 in Wong Auditorium.

The Digital Cinema Conference, which is free and open to the public, will offer screenings of short films as well as panel discussions among filmmakers, critics and media industry leaders.

"Historically, amateurs produced home movies. Now, amateur cinema has gone public. Digital cinema enables amateur filmmakers, using low-cost equipment, to make movies and distribute them to a much broader public. Anyone can find their work on the web," said Professor of Literature Henry Jenkins, director of CMS and an organizer of the conference.

"African-American, gay and lesbian and other minority filmmakers are gaining access to the media market without going through the gate-keeping structure of the commercial media industry; they are creating a more diverse, more egalitarian entertainment culture. This conference will explore the political and cultural consequences of getting more grassroots media production into public circulation," he added.

Digital and mainstream filmmakers have a complex relationship. Broadcast television and Hollywood studios are seeking inspiration from web-based filmmakers, while digital filmmakers are parodying or paying tribute to commercial blockbusters.

South Park, for example, started on the web as a 'Jesus vs. Santa Claus' digital Christmas card," Professor Jenkins noted. "Now Undercover Brother, a digital animated film produced by Urbanentertainment, has been optioned for a commercial film release by a major studio. The web is increasingly functioning as an incubator for commercial properties," he said.

Digital cinema may transform the distribution of films as dramatically as Napster has impacted the flow of music, Professor Jenkins predicted, noting that both technologies can help unknown artists get broader access to the media market. The legal and cultural responses to the two have been very different, he said, primarily because Napster has become associated with the pirating of intellectual property while digital cinema has primarily been used to get amateur films into circulation.


The conference will offer examples of new digital work in experimental, avant-garde and animated genres selected by CMS graduate students. Screenings of significant works in digital cinema -- including Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars, Family, TROOPS and Everything Put Together -- will begin on the first evening.

As part of the conference, sponsor will launch the month-long Throwback Film Festival, featuring independent films from the 1970s, '80s and '90s that have been digitized for web broadcast. The festival, which will take place online, will premiere on Friday, Nov. 3 at 7:30pm in Wong Auditorium.

Panels will address the political consequences of broadening media access, the shifting status of amateur filmmaking, the aesthetics of this emerging media form, the economics of digital film production and distribution, the historical antecedents of contemporary digital cinema, and the ways digital cinema may shape future developments in our media environment.

Conference speakers from the MIT community will include Professor Jenkins; Alex Chisholm, communications and development officer for CMS and co-founder of Can-Do-Home Productions, an independent transmedia storytelling company; CMS graduate student Cynthia Conti, co-author of Building a Home Movie Studio and Getting Your Films Online (Billboard Books, 2001); Kurt Lancaster, lecturer in the literature section and author of Warlocks and Warpdrive: Contemporary Fantasy Entertainments with Interactive and Virtual Environments; and Can-Do-Home Productions co-founders Carlos Cantu and Christa Starr, a CMS graduate student.

Boston-based producer Richard Rowley, co-founder of Big Noise Films, a media collective devoted to political documentary, will speak on Saturday, Nov. 4. His latest film, This Is What Democracy Looks Like, is an account from the WTO protests in Seattle.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 1, 2000.

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