For more than a decade, I’ve been involved with the Digital Content Lab at the American Film Institute, as both an advisor and supporter. The DCL, as it came to be known, was where Apple‘s Quicktime technology was launched, among other technologically important milestones. A recent winner of the Technical Achievement Award at the Machinima festival, the DCL was responsible for the deployment of such groundbreaking tech as the mobile interactive apps for WARPED, the Planet Illogica digital artist support network, and the development of the Federally supported ITVS initiative (funding a wide swath of indie films), among others.

This has been a relatively discreet enterprise, known and loved by all of us in the digital media and entertainment industries, but not much of a self-promoting organization, at least when compared to many other non-profits in the entertainment and media industries. This seems, ultimately, to have been to the organization’s disadvantage, as the AFI DCL will apparently be closing its doors shortly, to ostensibly go in to “hiatus” – a direct result of funding shortfalls.

I won’t digress too much into the whys and wherefores of this situation, only to suggest that – like many non-profits today – I suspect that the AFI Board kept focusing too much on large sponsors, and too little on grassroots individual donor channels. The game of fundraising has changed, but for some reason many of the players are still way behind the ball…Social network fundraising demands a commitment, and I wonder whether that commitment was made in support of staff efforts to adopt new models for revenue generation…

When I think of the extraordinary influence that the DCL has had over our industry’s technological advancements, I wonder whether such undeniably admirable enterprises as the ETC or IPG Emerging Media Lab will be able to step in to the breach left by the DCL. These other organizations, impressive as they are in their respect, carry with them their own agenda that inevitably color the value of their offerings. Even though the DCL presented one or two projects of less than astonishing creative, business, or technical merit, the lab’s overall output was nothing short of groundbreaking, game changing, paradigm shifting, and ultimately socially impactful. Under the guidance of Nick De Martino, Anna Marie Piersimoni, Marcia Zellers and, most recently, Suzanne Stefanac, the AFI DCL has left an indelible mark on multiplatform landscapes of entertainment and media production and content delivery.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of attending DigiFest, The Digital Content Festival, the Enhanced TV Workshop, or other DCL gatherings, retain fond memories of all that has been accomplished there (If you would like to share some of your memories, feel free to leave your thoughts on their Facebook Page, at “The AFI Digital Content Lab”).

For a fully interactive roster of the AFI Digital Content Lab’s projects over the years, click here

Sources say that there still remain efforts to keep the Institute’s annual DigiFest event afloat. In the meantime, expect an official announcement about the Lab in the next few weeks. Who knows, perhaps this article and others will encourage people to step in and save the day..? Stranger things are happening.

—UPDATE—2:00pm, Friday, March 11—

Here is a partial list of AFI DCL projects, since 1999:

1999…………………………………………………………………………………
• ACADEMY AWARDS (Telecast)
• EDDIE FILES (PBS)
• EXPEDITION 360 (Discovery Europe)
• FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM: THE HISTORY OF IRISH ROCK (A&E)
• LIQUID STAGE: THE LURE OF SURFING (PBS)
• News Center 4 NIGHTBEAT (KRON-TV)
• SPACE STATION ODYSSEY (Discovery Networks)
• TALK SOUP (E! Entertainment)

2000…………………………………………………………………………………
• AMERICAN FAMILY (PBS)
• BLIND DATE (Universal Worldwide Television)
• DAY ONE (Granada Television, Granada Entertainment)
• EXTREME RIDES (Discovery Channel, Discovery Channel)
• MUSIC FROM THE INSIDE OUT (PBS)
• PERFECT CRIME (Wegelius Television [Denmark])
• ROMAN EMPIRE (PBS)
• THIS FAR BY FAITH (PBS)

2001…………………………………………………………………………………
• ACCORDION DREAMS (PBS)
• ARLI$$ (HBO)
• CALLAWAY GOLF, RULE 35 (Syndicated)
• CNN HEADLINE NEWS (Turner Broadcasting System Inc)
• THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART (Comedy Central)
• THE EUKANUBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS (Animal Planet)
• THE NEW AMERICANS (PBS)
• PEOPLE LIKE US: SOCIAL CLASS IN AMERICA (PBS)

2002…………………………………………………………………………………
• AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (USA Network)
• ARTHUR (PBS)
• I LOVE LUCY (TV Land)
• MATTERS OF RACE (PBS)
• P.O.V. (PBS)
• SESAME STREET (PBS & Noggin)
• THE BEST OF (The Food Network)
• TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES (Turner Broadcasting System)

2003…………………………………………………………………………………
• BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (SciFi Channel/Vivendi Universal Games)
• BLOOMBERG TELEVISION (syndicated)
• CELEBRITY MOLE II (ABC Television Network)
• IMX – INTERACTIVE MUSIC EXCHANGE (FUSE Networks)
• INDEPENDENT LENS (PBS)
• KCET/KQED ON-AIR FUNDRAISING (PBS)
• KIM POSSIBLE (Disney Channel)
• WASHINGTON REDSKINS GAME DAY (FOX 5 [WTTG]

2004…………………………………………………………………………………
• AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: CASTRO’S CUBA (WGBH/PBS)
• DINOSAUR HIGHWAY (The Science Channel)
• DORA THE EXPLORER (Nickelodeon)
• LIVING FOR THE WEEKEND (Scripps Networks)
• THE L WORD (Showtime)
• HIJACK (MTV Networks)
• QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY (Bravo)
• TV411 (The Adult Literacy Media Alliance/PBS)

2005…………………………………………………………………………………
• DoD PERSONALS (Simmons Lathan Media Group)
• CONSIDER THIS… (LACMA)
• HISTORY DETECTIVES ROAD TRIP (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
• MOMENT IN TIME: WWII (A&E/History Channel)
• MTV NEWS ON OVERDRIVE (MTV)
• MYSTERY ONLINE THEATRE (Telemundo)
• NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL 2 (National Geographic)
• REUTERS ONE (Reuters)
• TOYO (Zodiac Gaming)
• WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT (WWE)

2006…………………………………………………………………………………
• AIM SHOW PRODUCER (AOL)
• LAW & ORDER: MOTIVE. MEANS. OPPORTUNITY (NBC Universal)
• BEN 10 MEGASERIES (Cartoon Network)
• E2: GREEN MAP FOR LIVING (kontentreal)
• BUZZ (Cynergy Films)
• MC EVERYWHERE (Music Choice)
• SíTV Pure (SíTV)
• UNLOCKING MOVIE ASSETS (CASABLANCA) (AFI/Georgia Tech)
• XXXL (Hit Start)

2007…………………………………………………………………………………
• BRAVO DVR AD PLAY (Bravo)
• CITIZEN NOW (NOW on PBS)
• LEAVING THE GAME (Method, Inc.)
• FILMOCRACY (ITVS)
• PLAYERS (MTV, EA, Mekanism)

2008…………………………………………………………………………………
• VIEWING PARTY (ABC)
• WARPED ROADIE (EarthEcho International)
• HOOKING UP (HBO)
• PLANET ILLOGICA ARTIST IN RESIDENCE PROGRAM (Planet Illogica)

2009…………………………………………………………………………………
• ENVISOR (One Economy)
• FUTUREFEED (ITVS)
• INTERVIEW PROJECT (DavidLynch.com)
• LEONARDO DICAPRIO FOUNDATION CAMPAIGN (Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation)