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'Sarkozy or YouTube 3.0?' in Bologna

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Better processors, improved data management possibilities integrated into consoles. Report from the 'Future Film Festival' in Italy

Tripods and cameras are left aside at the Future Film Festival, in compliance with curators’ Giulietta Fara and Oscar Cosulich’s indications. Keyboards, mice, elaborate design programmes and low-tech devices are the protagonists of tomorrow’s film industry. A 'digital' future, that is. But what will tomorrow’s silver screen be like? We meet Vicki Dobbs Beck, Marketing director for Industrial Light & Magic, Matt Aitken, digital animation supervisor for the New Zealand-based company Weta Digital and science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, our expert futurologist.

More technology, more control

'It has only been ten years since I began working on Gollum for the Lord of the Rings trilogy by director Peter Jackson. It seems like a lifetime ago,' says Matt Aitken. In 1997, the box-office heavyweights were Titanic, Jurassic Park and Men in Black, all making extensive use of special effects. In those days, the biggest challenges were designing and compositing characters. 'It was a question of getting the skin, water and light effects to look natural,' continues Aitken. 'But the improvements in computer processors and data management possibilities have been giant leaps forward.'

The new trend for the coming years will be virtual cinematography, the next step after motion capture. With this new technique, the actor’s performance will be transferred in real time to a monitor via a digital device. The director will be able to see the final product directly on a screen, thus greatly increasing his or her control over the creative process.

Aitken and Vicki Beck have no doubts as to the ingredients making up tomorrow’s cinema industry: more technological devices at the director's fingertips, reduced production costs and intact creative possibilities. Sterling has no hesitations in describing this scenario as '2018, after Orwell’s 1984.' Multinationals will spy on us through every single technological device, including mobile phones, computers, consoles, and many will end up in prison for hacking.

'We will go from silver screen to console'

The two special effects gurus are not impressed. Quite the reverse. 'People will be able to go home after a film and watch it again on their consoles. This is what they want,' continues Aitken. They will watch the film and then download the videogame to go over the scenes again, but this time, as protagonists.

Vicky Beck explains that the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM, the postproduction company that worked on Pirates of the Caribbean, ndr) already has a videogame division and that it is working to bring both media closer together all the time.

Videogames will always have more elaborate story lines, a bigger and better version of the film. We are already seeing many young artists go seamlessly from creating these videogame versions to creating the real thing on the silver screen. Makoto Shinkai, award winner at the festival with Byousoku 5 Centimeters, started his career in a videogames company. High-tech films will undergo what Sterling defines as the 'Pokemon effect': a product integrated into a complex marketing strategy where the consumer will go from the coffee cup to the film, from the videogame to the ring tone.

You Tube 3.0 and the 'Sarkozy Renaissance'

'We are a services company and we do what we are told to do,' highlights Vicki Beck when she is asked where creativity comes in. 'Then,' she adds, 'every technological solution that we offer is at the service of the director, to increase control over the creative process.' The aim is for digital perfection to be integrated into real life. 'When we were working on Pirates of the Caribbean, we were already in the ILM’s digital world.' At the time, 'we said nothing and the critics didn’t realise, but only one pirate was the fruit of good old-fashioned make-up.'

So is the future all marked out? Sterling laughs. 'Why should we rule out a Bollywood-style cinema, a kind of anarchy without technology? Already today,' he warns, 'it is the biggest cinema industry in the world.' What about European cinema? He calls it 'the Sarkozy Rensaissance': state subsidies with hardly any technology. 'We will be invaded by civilising French films,' he adds.

Finally, there will be internet involvement: technology will give rise to an interconnected network. 'The world will become a huge film school, filled with people who are unprofessional, but who have access to all kinds of technological means,' he hazards. The era of YouTube 3.0 is here. 'There will be no more films, just bits and pieces. Everyone will wonder when the business which fuelled major distribution companies ever came to an end,' adds Sterling.

Should the famous cyber punk writer be believed? 'It won’t be so black and white, there will be a mixture of all these scenarios. And it also depends on the people. As to us futurologists, if it were for our forecasts, Japan would have been dominating the world for the last 20 years,' he concludes, amused. Vicki Beck and Aitken breathe a sigh of relief.

Japan: Bologna superstar

186 works were presented between 15 and 20 January 2008. Over 30, 000 people flocked to the Bologna Future Film Festival, founded ten years ago to explore the innovative and unknown cinematographic territories of digital animation. In the feature film category, Byousoku 5 Centimeters by Makoto Shinkai took the Lancia Platinum Grand Prize.

This subtle animation film, which had its European première at the festival, tells of the friendship between Takaki and Akari who see their lives slowly take different directions. Special mention goes to Tekkonkinreet, by Michael Arias, also from Japan, where love, brotherhood and kindness seem to be banned from a corrupt modern society. 'The films offer a new take on classic themes, without the rhetoric,' states Enzo D’Alò, a member of the jury

In-text/ homepage photos: (Emanuele Grifoni)

Translated from «Sarkozy o YouTube 3.0?», il futuro del cinema in scena a Bologna