Saturday, February 18, 2012

FESTIVAL REPORT: Martin Sheen at BIFF 2012

Master of Cinema Award winner Martin Sheen. [Photo by Beth Kovacs]
By Sandi Butchkiss

BIFF DigiComm Commando

The adoration of Martin Sheen wasobvious from the minute he set foot on the stage at the Boulder Theater Saturday afternoon. The entire sold-out premises rose as one to welcome him and theirenthusiastic and joyful applause visibly moved the actor, who asked “Why aren’tyou all outdoors in the sun doing something athletic?” He said he couldunderstand a massive crowd like this if there was a foot of snow outside andthe temperature was below freezing.

He accepted his Master of Cinema Award graciously, but called it the "You’re not Dead Yet" award . . . andsaid he was off to Irelandnext week to get another.

When talking about his role in the TV series "The WestWing," he said it was true that people still think of him as the president eventhough he made 16 features while in the series and his been in other TV seriesand feature films for over 50 years. And just recently when he was boarding a planeat JFK, someone said “Good morning, Mr President.What’s a matter, Air Force One in the shop?”

He spoke of "The Way," an independentfeature which he starred in and which was written and directed by his son Emilio, who wasalso in the film.

They used all their own money tofund the film he said, their time was very limited, they were shooting in aforeign country and stress was high. (They had run out of money and son Charliecame to the rescue.) But by the end of the filming he had come to look uponEmilio as his hero.

As an alcoholic himself (who hasn’thad a drink since l989) he commiserated with Charlie who he said is athoughtful, caring person who has his problems.

Now a very handsome and healthy-looking 71, he has received over 70 major awards and honors and been arrested67 times due to his non-violent but anti-government behavior as an activist.

[photo by Peter Wayne]

He spoke lovingly of his mother andfather, both immigrants (Irish and Hispanic, respectively) who met atimmigration in New York City.

He was not anxious to speak ofFrancis Ford Coppola or of his experience during the making of "Apocalypse Now" (being drunk andlater having a heart attack on screen, both incidents kept in the film by thedirector). He said it was not an instant hitbut when Vietnamveterans started going to see it and said it was totally true to life, itbegan to be popular.

His philosophy of life was inspiredat 14 when a caddy at an exclusive (in other words no Jews or blacks) golf clubin Dayton, Ohio. He tried to start a union, the attempt which got him fired, and he realizedhe would never join any group that was restricted or “exclusive.”

Mr. Sheen was so ebullient that hecontinued talking long after his time was really up and the Q & A from theaudience continued until it was time for the next event at the theater.

Sheen accepts his Master of Cinema Award as Ron Bostwick looks on. [Photo by Peter Wayne]

And so he finally departed, leavingeveryone in attendance with the feeling that they had just had a wonderful andvery personal conversation with an old friend.

FESTIVAL REPORT: "Patriocracy"

"Patriocracy" director Brian Malone (left) and Congressman Jared Polis prior to the screening. [Photo by Randy Malone]
By Kristen Daly
BIFF DigiComm Commando 

Introduced briefly by our very own Congressman Jared Polis, "Patriocracy" screened to a large crowd that was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to face issues at 10 a.m. at the Boulder High School.  The opening was a cacophony of voices from Congress expressing frustration and refusal to compromise.  With a nostalgic visit to the 2008 inauguration, the movie then delves into the central issue, that Congress has not been this divided and partisan in over 100 years and that the large majority of Americans are unhappy with the dysfunctional government. 

"Patriocracy" gives us a brief history of how we got so divided, as well as a blow-by-blow of the last few years of hyper-partisanship -- including the debt-ceiling debacle, Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting, the  ratings agency’s downgrade and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.  Denver filmmaker Brian Malone does this through a wide-ranging slew of interviews with media personalities, academics, advisors and former and current Congresspeople, many of whom provide some priceless quotes.   

Just when we are about to lose all hope, Malone brings us some glimmers.  He starts with the 250,000-person Restore Sanity event in which John Stewart and Stephen Colbert gave people a forum to express displeasure with the current political environment and ideas for more reasonable approaches.  He also provided some concrete, pragmatic changes being suggested by former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards and current Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper, many of which were met with applause from the audience. 

Starting from his ending quote from Thomas Jefferson, “"We in America do not have government by the majority.  We have government by the majority who participate," Malone in the ensuing question and answer period stressed that active citizen involvement is the way to make a functioning government.  This conversation continued in the packed classroom of the Call2Action where a group of active, informed citizens deftly moderated by Boulder Council Member Macon Cowles came together to go into greater depth with Malone accompanied by his wife and two daughters.  
The Call 2 Action talkback at the Boulder High School after the screening of "Patriocracy." [Photo by Bonnie Chaim]

Books like Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer and Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone were mentioned.  Some of the organizations mentioned in the film like Americans Elect were questioned as to whom their backers are. Local actions like the idea of pushing for open primaries in CO (there was debate here), and joining organizations like the League of Women Voters (they take men too) were discussed.  

"Patriocracy" director Brian Malone and Festival Director Robin Beeck.
Malone and his family are taking the show on the road to New York City in early March.  They are self-funding a week of screenings at the Quad Cinema starting March 2nd.  The films theatrical future depends on these screenings so if you saw the film and liked it or if this sounds important to you then do encourage your NYC friends to attend. 

FESTIVAL REPORT: Digital Media Symposium, Part 2

Dr. Alvy Ray Smith explains it all to you. [Photo by Peter Wayne]
By Kristen Daly
BIFF DigiComm Commando

The Digital Media Symposium opened with Harris Morris of Harris Broadcasting Communications expounding on a vision to enhance the sports arena experience with digital technologies. This arena experience has been lagging behind the technological capabilities of the “living room experience”. The new technology will allow sports arenas to compete on a new level with living rooms. One of the most interesting aspects of this technology is the effort to synthesize the virtual and the real or “live”. Buying certain sports packages could allow fans of all things ‘virtual’ to combine a real-life venue experience with a digital identity equipped with discounts and other benefits.

Andres Espineira, founder and CEO of Pixorial, aims to “liberate the world’s video.” He suggests that all those videos languishing in closets need to come alive and enter the cloud so that, instead of one storyteller who decides what’s important and meaningful, there would be multiple storytellers. This would be accomplished by sharing video content at a raw level and granting access to the public through the digital “cloud”. He goes on to say that this collective storytelling applies not just to content from the past but to current content as well. He used the example of a school play where all the raw content video would be put in a single place where people would be able to piece together clips that recreate their own story or memory of the event. Pixorial wants to change the passive consumption of content and make everyone an active storyteller.

Rob Shuham of Fearless Revolution shared the organization’s plan to reignite the passion behind the climate change issue. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent to change the issue of climate change from a fact to a “conversation.” The goal of Fearless Revolution is to use a combination of digital technology, grassroots activism and gripping content to “win the conversation.” They have trained 3000 people around the world to present a detailed slide show (a sort of Inconvenient Truth 2.0) as the first tier in a multi-tiered approach to reenergizing this issue. He also mentioned a series of “tent pole” events they have planned, the first of which happened this past September called 24 Hours of Reality featuring Al Gore. This project explored the effect of climate change throughout the world, streaming video through 20 different time zones, and boasted 8 million viewers on UStream, their largest viewing event to date.

Local Internet entrepreneur Micha Baldwin of Graphically, spoke of how although he is new to content creation having been primarily on the marketing side that he feels we are "doing it wrong." Basically, we start with analog and try to put it on digital making it feel as much like analog as possible. As he points out, kids these days don't care if their book is on paper or digital, they just care if its good and don't want anything to stand in the way of the story. Turning the page, he says, stands in the way of the story. He spoke of how too many digital bells and whistles also gets in the way of the story.

At Graphically, they can now extract marketing data in a way that could never be done before and provide it to content creators. He gave the theoretical example of being able to tell a creator whose third novel didn't sell well that 98 percent of people stopped reading after she killed off the cat in novel 2. He noted research that shows that people read on average 8 pages at a time. Maybe, Micah suggests, creators should cater to eight-page sections. He suggested new tools for creators to use, like putting up pieces or titles on social media and paying to direct traffic to them to determine what people like and don't. He notes how Tim Ferriss did this with his book The 4-Hour Workweek bought Google adwords and based his title off what was the most popular. As he says content creators must think about the presentation layer in digital.

FESTIVAL REPORT: William H. Macy Tribute

[Photo by Randy Malone]

By Sandi Butchkiss

BIFF DigiComm Commando

From the applause, screams andwhistles from the packed house you would think Macy was a rock star. Not just an award winning TV, film and stageactor of high repute.

If you couldn’t get a ticket, youmissed him being given the BIFF Vanguard Award for his ground-breaking andinnovative work as an actor for his body of work in such films as “Fargo,”“Door to Door,” Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “A Civic Action” and many dozens more.

If you couldn’t make it, you alsoalso missed him keeping the conversation flowing with comments such as….

BIFF Special Event Producer and Host Ron Bostwick (left) interviews Macy. [Photo by Randy Malone]

About comedian Don Rickles “He ishysterically funny…until the camera rolls.”

And fellow actor, heart-throb BradPitt “I think he’s the bee’s knees.”

About his leading role in Fargo “I wanted that partso badly I told Ethan Cohen if I didn’t get it I would shoot his dog.”

About our state “I love Colorado, My wife Felicity grew up in Aspen.”

In regard to his many years inChicago acting, teaching and founding the St. Nicholas Theater with collegebuddies David Mamet and Steven Schacter “I had a great time in Chicago in thosedays….that was before sex killed you.”

About working on the long-runningTV series, ER “I was a special guest on ER but not really a member of the cast for4 seasons. Then I told them to either give me a contract or write me out. Theywrote me out.”

About working with award-winningdirectors Cohen brothers “They are like two hippies that someone gave a lot ofmoney to.”

Joking about being offered roles inmotion pictures “What I want to know before I accept any part is…how much do Iget paid and do I have to get wet.”

About making decisions over hiscareer “I said I would never play a loser again…and then I read the script forThe Cooler and said ok one more loser.”

About his long time close friend,collaborator and playwright David Mamet “Ilove David and think he is a bona fide genius….but he just became a Republican.I don’t understand that. Maybe just to annoy me.”

Bill Macy was never considered anattractive leading man, but in person his hair is long and lustrous (due to hisrole in the TV smash hit “Shamless”), his eyes are an incredible shade of blueand he’s disarmingly charming, funny and self-effacing ….and kinda sexy too…and,I must admit, that, in person, he is darn attractive.

And when someone in the audience atthe end of the Q & A asked about the rumor that he plays the ukulele, andit suddenly materialized from behind the curtain and he strummed along and sangus all a delightful ditty that he recently wrote in honor of his new next doorneighbor, this was the perfect ending to a great evening….and the standingovation was definitely in order.

Everyone filed out in a blissfulafter-glow, feeling that they were privy to a cozy, personal, real conversationwith a major celebrity who just couldn’t have been any nicer.

FESTIVAL REPORT: Digital Media Symposium, Part 1

Dr. Alvy Ray Smith holding his Lifetime Achievement Award at the DiME. [Photo by Leah Mayotte]
By Kristen Daly
BIFF DigiComm Commando

The DiMe has started out with a groundbreaking line up of new media pioneers.  Dr. Alvy Ray Smith, two-time Academy Award Winner and co-founder of Pixar received the first lifetime achievement award.  As he notes, “we’ve reached convergence and it’s amazing.”  He is originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico where, according to his mom, he could hear the first A-bomb being tested and where test rockets were fired into the hills above the town.  He translated Moore’s law into a more intuitive graph beginning at 1x and postulating that we are now at 1 billion x.

(Toy Story comes around 1 million x.  He traces his career which mirrors this computer graphics trajectory over the years.  His presentation begs the question “what will be possible in the next 10-15 years?” See an interview with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith here:

Paul Berberian, CEO of Orbotix, presented the future as taking place in the interspace between real toys and virtual toys and how their sphero balls (a smart-phone controlled robotic ball) are navigating this space.  This in between zone, the zone of innovation or as they call in in-house, “the zone of really hard shit”, takes place in an area including augmented reality and control of real objects by virtual controllers.  He traces the history of controllers up to the Wii and Kinect which have come a long way in the zone of innovation. Still, he points out, these controllers are limited.  They can only get input and execute; they have no life of their own.  It is only with the smartphones that we have a two-way information system backed by incredible processors.  On their site,  they offer an SDK (Software Development Kit) to download to write apps for the sphere in Android, Apple iOS. A Mac version was even hacked last night, which Berberian encourages, perhaps as a way to engage developers. “We want our balls to be hacked”. He concludes saying, “The machines are coming.  You will be assimilated and you’ll enjoy it.”  
[Photo by Leah Mayotte]
Ben Long spoke of “Music and Sound in Interactive Media.”  He traces the history from video game Pong which had only 3 beeps through the arcade era with the “wall of chaotic sound”, to the birth of the home interactive entertainment where people demanded better graphics and sound.  He mentioned how far behind mobile sound was in video games as compared to the rapid developments in graphics.  The smartphone has changed all that offering an extensive toolset that one would have as a film composer.

Carla Johnson’s company, EarthvisionZ, takes up where Google Earth leaves off.  As she said, “The planet is the most powerful platform.”   She notes how 3D is our natural way of seeing the world and processing information.  We have to train ourselves to understand a 2D map.  For this reason information and data in 3D speeds up cognition.  This is Web 3.0, interacting in a geospatial way.  She touched on mind-boggling, applications that layer vertically on Google Earth that can be personalized.

The Digitools of the Trade Roundtable was full of interesting discussion.  Melissa Harrigan of Pixorial noted that we are moving away from search and toward discovery.  We are trusting our social networks help us discover content.  As she’s learned from her kids, “the right content must always be available”.  Don Hahn asked how TV fits in and if we will be moving to a one-screen environment.  Harris Morris felt that we will have multiple devices and that we will have the right screens for the right project.  Some things will be best viewed on the big screen, others on the smartphone, others on a tablet.