Tribeca Film Festival & 21st Century Storytelling
Film Festival Explores the Science & Technology of Entertainment
I spent a Sunday afternoon at Spring Studios in Tribeca, attending the Tribeca Film Festival. The festival was founded by Robert de Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in 2002, in part to bring people back to the Tribeca neighborhood in the wake of the 911 tragedy in the Fall of 2001.
Through the years the Tribeca Film Festival has grown in size and stature, and over the past few years, has begun to introduce, if not fully embrace, the new, rapidly-evolving technologies being used to advance storytelling.
Spring Studios - Hub of Tribeca Film Fest
The hub of the Tribeca Film Festival continues to be at Spring Studios in Tribeca. Spring Studios is a sparkling new, spanking clean facility that was completed in the summer of 2013, and first put into use in the Fall of that year. Spring Studios is home to five studios, a rooftop patio, a gallery, a mezzanine and a cinema theater. Spring Studios overlooks the Holland Tunnel, and has entrances on Varick Street and exits on St. John’s Lane.
The Tribeca Film Festival was hosted at eight venues throughout New York City, including one in Queens at PS1 MoMa in Long Island City and the hub at Spring Studios in Tribeca. The film viewing venues and addresses include: 1) Regal Cinemas Battery Park Stadium 11 at 102 North End Ave [btwn Vesey & Murray St], 2) BMCC Tribeca PAC at 199 Chambers Street [btwn Greenwich & West St], 3) SpringStudios at 50 Varick St, 4) New York Academy of Art at 111 Franklin St [btwn West Broadway & Church St], 5) Tribeca Film Center at 375 Greenwich St on 2nd Flr [btwn N. Moore & Franklin St], 6) Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 9 at 260 West 23rd Street [btwn 7th & 8th Aves], 7) SVA Theatre at 333 West 23rd Street [btwn 8th & 9th Aves], and 8) MoMA PS1 at 22-25 Jackson Avenue in Queens.
Click here to read the rest of our report on the Tribeca Film Festival.
Tribeca Film Festival & 21st Century Storytelling
Film Festival Explores the Science & Technology of Entertainment
I visited the Press section to pick up my credentials, and then took the elevator to the 6th Floor. There were a number of exhibits, including some in the foyer which showcased various aspects of IBM’s artificial intelligence genius, Watson. Watson was the first computer [artificial intelligence aka AI] to defeat a chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in 1996. However Kasparov managed to hold the Watson AI to a draw in two of the following matches, and defeat Watson AI in three of them [there were six matches total].
Simplistic Artificial Intelligence Exhibits by IBM
One of the first encounters I had with IBM’s Watson was through an exhibit which matched people’s online profiles on Twitter and Facebook to those of famous movie stars and other celebrities. Given my profiles aren’t personal, but rather business-related, I passed on challenging Watson to find a match for the Manhattan Buzz web magazine.
The next artificial intelligence exhibit allowed one to make a statement from a famous movie or speech and have the computer determine whether it was a positive or negative statement. I decided to use a phrase from Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which he gave at the largest civil rights rally [up until that time] in August of 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Watson told me it was a positive statement and rewarded me with a cup of M&M’s.
Looking into the Future at the Tribeca Film Festival
There was also a brain waves demonstration going on nearby. I listened and watched as the demonstrator gave instructions to a man to think hard about something. A concrete thought. We were told that the thought was depicted by a set of brainwaves, which the device covering the left temporal lode on the man’s head recorded.
Once the thought was recorded, the man was asked to think that thought again in order to move a small robot around a table that resembled a foosball table without the goals and the men on handles. The man was somewhat successful in moving the robot, but pretty much unable to guide it in a given direction. The instructor told us that most folks’ brainwaves are unique [I’m guessing here but probably like fingerprints] and they hadn’t yet figured out how to decipher them into the English language, but that instead they were working to translate thoughts, which have a definite imprint, into specific commands by the individual.
Not far away I saw a man being rolled into what looked like a cadaver box at the morgue. After they rolled him in I asked one of the women working the exhibit, what was going on. She said he was in a sensory box, where he would experience sounds and smells.
Tribeca FF & the Technology of Storytelling
I left the area contemplating these new technologies and their relevance to storytelling. I suppose you could reverse engineer stories to appeal to people matching a certain [celebrity or other] profile, use the positive / negative measuring machine to more finely craft story segments to elicit positive or negative reactions, and use sound and smell to further enhance the storytelling experience. As for the brainwaves … well that could be a whole new frontier as it’s increasingly looking like some measure of person-to-person thought transmission is possible, and perhaps in our lifetimes, will no longer continue to be a science fiction fantasy.
An October 2, 2014 story in Smithsonian Magazine they wrote,
“In a recent experiment, a person in India said “hola” and “ciao” to three other people in France … The greetings were not spoken, typed or texted. The communication in question happened between the brains of a set of study subjects, marking one of the first instances of brain-to-brain communication on record … The team, whose members come from Barcelona-based research institute Starlab, French firm Axilum Robotics and Harvard Medical School, published its findings earlier this month in the journal PLOS One.”
In that same story they noted that a similar experiment had been conducted by the University of Washington a year earlier.
It was a lot to think about, I thought. And then I wondered whether they might be recording my brainwaves ... ?
Panel Discussions about Virtual Reality by Producers & Directors
I hiked up a flight of stairs to listen in on a discussion about the impact of virtual reality on storytelling. Virtual Reality has been around a long while with the 3D headsets, but lately the cost of it has come down considerably and availability of it has become widespread.
In the discussion, one of the panelists noted that in November of 2015 the New York Times distributed cardboard or 3D Virtual Reality [VR] headsets that one can use in combination with their smartphones to give them something of a virtual reality experience with certain videos posted on the web. Essentially the cardboard blocks your 3D vision and the inexpensive plastic lens add what seems like dimension to your flat smart phone screen.
The headsets cost about $2.50 apiece on a volume scale, but can also be purchased for about $5 online plus shipping.
The gist of the discussion left me with the impression that the panelists weren’t quite sure of how Virtual Reality [VR] would evolve, only that it would increasingly become a part of the media mix. And that storytellers would continue to find ways to incorporate it into the storytelling experience.
Virtual Reality Interactive Exhibits
Nearby there was an exhibit hall with a number of Virtual Reality experiences. All but one of the exhibits involved putting on 3D headsets and watching / interacting with the movie, which in some measure becomes the ‘movie in your mind’. By moving your head, you can alter what you’re seeing and from what angle you’re seeing it, and in some measure, thereby interact with the program.
The folks experiencing the Virtual Reality wore the iconic Virtual Reality headsets. They had to wait in line, as there weren’t nearly as many headsets as interested parties. But while waiting the attendees could see in 2D what the folks experiencing the 3D were seeing. A lot of the video shown while I was there, seemed to be space oriented.
There was another IBM Watson exhibit in the Virtual Reality room. This one took genres of music and created its own scores of Artificial Intelligence music in various genres. This is probably unfair, but the one I listened to sounded like Muzak, which is the background music played in retail establishments designed to create a certain mood. I forgot to ask the exhibitor whether and / or how Watson Artificial Intelligence does vocals.
Interactive Art Exhibit Takes on Issue of Race
There was also an exhibit, which stood out because it didn’t involve a headset, but rather the social issue of skin tone and race. They photographed the back of your hand, as if they were stamping it for an outdoor concert, and then uploaded the skin color swatch up onto a screen that fit the swatch into the portfolio of swatches they’d collected since whenever.
You then can see where you fit in the skin color gradient, before you sit down and listen to the 23 Texans who participated in the film. The Texans included a range of skin colors from pure white to several shades of the rainbow, but not pure black. Each talked about how their skin color affected some aspects of daily life, including passing for a white person or being tagged as a person of [some] color. The point was to engage white people on the subject of skin color and race, as whites appear to be the least involved / interested in the dialogue.
They loaded this installation onto the internet and may possibly add the ability to enable do-it-yourself photo swatches online – but at present this is the only aspect of the installation not yet available online at www.whitenessproject.org.
Mini Def Con Workshops – Nerd out in Nerd City
One of the last exhibits I visited was a Tribeca Film Festival hat tip to Def Con. Def Con is one of the nerdiest conferences in the world, but also one of great interest, as it pushes the proverbial technology envelope, as exhibitioners frequently think outside of the proverbial box.
DEF CON is a hackers convention which started in 1993 in Las Vegas. DEF CON is a play on a United States Military alert called DEFCON, which stands for Defense Readiness Condition, which stratifies military threats to the country. The 23rd DEF CON is slated for this summer in Las Vegas.
While I was there, there were a series of interactive workshops where folks could take a seat at a table and build a robot or learn how to pick a lock. While the audience was more male than female, there were plenty of women who participated in the workshops.
What About Films at the Tribeca Film Festival?
There were plenty of films at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 to 400, plus talks by actors, actresses, directors, producers and writers. So many in fact, that the festival has grown to become far too much to cover in its entirety, even for the New York Times, let alone by me at the Manhattan Buzz. So I didn’t even try and decided to pace myself, by focusing on some of the aspects I found most interesting this year.
But that said, I did try to get into the screening of Broad City, a television series about the misadventures of two twenty-something women living in NYC that began in 2014 on the Comedy Channel. One poses as an immigrant.
Broad City – Show / Film Screening and Directors / Actors / Writers Talk
While I didn’t get to see the screening of ‘Broad City’ myself, I met a woman, on my way home, who had attended the show. She was thrilled with attending the screening, especially because following the screening, there was a writer / actresses discussion.
The women who act in Broad City also created it.
The woman told me that she enjoys watching Broad City because it’s set in New York City and focuses on the lives of two women. One of the women in the show lives in Queens, where the woman I was speaking with also currently lives. She noted that Broad City had recently done a scene on Steinway Street and went onto note that many of the episodes seem to capture events which have real life parallels.
Tribeca Film Festival 2016
The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival is an interesting and engaging two week event that takes place at various venues throughout the city, including and centered around Spring Studios in Tribeca. While some of the exhibits mentioned in this story lasted only days, others replaced them to fill in the breach.
There are so many films, exhibits, events and panels to choose from that you have to prioritize what you plan to see and you still won't get through it all. The good news is that it looks like the Tribeca Film Festival will continue indefinitely into the future, so over the years you can keep adding to your experiences.
The Tribeca Film Festival has also expanded its geographic reach to encompass more than venues for artists & writers, and the TFF also keeps adding to encompass new technology platforms where stories are conveyed in new dimensions reaching gamers, geeks & technologists.
Generally tickets go on sale sometime in March for the April festival.
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