This year’s Digifest, produced and presented by the American Film Institute, was a well-attended smorgasbord of the innovative, socially conscious, imaginative, and awkward. Now in its 11th year, the AFI’s Digital Content lab is a vital futurist incubator for the content industry (more than just film and TV, the DCL incubates projects and initiatives across a variety of content platforms, dedicated to ensuring that the storyteller has fullest leverage of their vision).

This year’s Digifest was opened to any and all, with free tickets made available for the main presentations, held at the Mann’s Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The location was appropriate, not only because its size  allowed for the larger attendance, nor simply due to its state-of-the-art playout equipment, but also because of its storied history as a film house (dating back to the 1920’s).

It was interesting (on a personal and professional note) that Digifest 2009 included a presentation by Technicolor’s Tom Burton. Tom and I worked together while I was CMO at Thomson (parent company to Technicolor), and his presentation here was a great education in how complex film-making really is, and how it is about so much more than just the business of making money from the fans:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/sowreI5LnWQ]

(self-promoting side note: that’s me he’s subtly albeit generously acknowledging at the 18:40 mark, when he refers to the “research division”, which was one of the areas at Thomson I was charged with integrating more closely in with the Technicolor business units).

From film restoration to another form of archiving, Digifest showcased the work of Public Radio station KUOW, as part of the MQ2 project. Part of this project has used crowdsourcing to capture the essence and history of neighborhoods across America:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/Vmsd9EmnxjI]

Digifest obviously showcased innovative new projects, as well. These included ScrollMotion’s fascinating, albeit not quite ready for primetime, “First Things Last”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/IH9G-misVi0]

The event also was site of the world premiere of Mass Animation’s first piece of work, “Live Music”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_2NcijwPWE]

Worth noting: Mass Animation just launched their newest project a couple of days ago:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4QGFaL0iQQ]

Digifest 2009’s innovation showcase included an interesting but somewhat messy presentation by Naked Sky Entertainment, demonstrating the unmistakable potential of AR (Augmented Reality):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/NvcCiqxatvQ]

Giving Naked Sky due credit, the team had very little time to put their presentation together, but I could not help wishing that they had thought through the variety of potential applications of this technology, and seen more clearly where the obstacles and opportunities lie. I believe that AR will be, along with real-time news sharing, one of the most talked about media evolutions of 2010, and so I am frustrated when it is not given the most compelling presentation possible. Another AR demonstrator at Digifest, Trigger, showed some of their work on “District 9“, and again I was disappointed by the lack of true innovation, given that such a compelling tech was part of the production.

Presentations from both days of Digifest opened my eyes to the nature of my frustration. on Day One, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave another somewhat stilted presentation (mitigated here *a little* by some good editing by AFI):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/eQhJUt4LC7I]

The presentation gave no sense of what it was or intended to be, and was somewhat saved by the impassioned, and far more clear-sighted, subsidiary presentations of Global Green USA, Treepeople, and IFAW.

On Day 2, The Manobi Development Foundation gave a thrilling and inspiring presentation (even though it was largely pre-packaged):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/7rpt0AXxjDI]

The difference was simple – in any case where the presenter was showcasing a project driven by a dominant focus on the technology, there existed a certain lack of direction. When the project was largely about a well-conceived creative, political, or social objective (as opposed to an attempt to tap in to the shiny attraction of emerging tech), the power of that project came across impressively.

My critiques notwithstanding, I must acknowledge that all the presenters demonstrated a shared conviction in the power of storytelling and digital platforms, as foundation stones for social growth and community building. It did not matter whether the goal was social change or pure entertainment. The common thread remained an acknowledgment of the need to continue experimenting with the nature of storytelling.

The AFI’s Digital Content Lab was originally the brainchild of Nick DeMartino, and for the last few years has been driven by the tireless efforts of the impressive and charming Suzanne Stefanac.

I sincerely hope that, as Digifest 2010 begins to build up steam, the projects that will be showcased will be borne of, and driven by, creative and social considerations. The technologies that facilitate and assist in the realization of those considerations are vital and compelling, but they should never dominate the vision of those who have chosen to put them to use.

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