The 2006 Machinima Film Festival kicked off on the weekend of November 4th & 5th at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York. A hundred or so people crowded into the first and third floors of this beautifully designed building (and inside a virtual theater in Second Life where the Festival events were simulcast) for screenings, seminars, awards, displays and discussion of this newest of hybrid digital media forms - Machinima. And all of the events took place not in the generic conference room of a mid-level hotel, but inside a museum dedicated to preserving and promoting new media, film, and television art.
Saturday, the first day of the Festival, began with a bang when the "Intellectual Properties" roundtable sent everyone into a deep freeze with a grim assessment of who owns a Machinima film and what specific rights a Machinima filmmaker might have (little or none, it seems). Fred von Lohman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation spoke eloquently about how filmmakers have a "window of opportunity" to create an agreement with game studios that would spell out ownership issues between game companies and filmmakers.
Immediately following was an outstanding seminar on "Machinima with Issues", where political filmmakers discussed their works and ideas. Each speaker made the case for a more politically aware Machinima. I wish every filmmaker there had heard Alex Chan (The French Democracy) movingly express his desire for Machinima to tell stories about the larger social problems cultures are facing in the present day.
Later that evening, the Machinima awards ceremony proved to be a lot of fun with the help of an unusually funny emcee/stand-up comedian Todd Levin. Clips of each nominee were shown and the winner announced ala the Academy Awards. The tech was smooth and the show went very quickly.
There were many surprises during the ceremony, with roars of applause going up for Todd Stallkamp (The Fixer) winning best series, Jason Choi (Edge of Remorse) winning best director, Phil Rice (Male Restroom Etiquette) taking the award for best writing, Nathan Moller (Just a Game) winning for best off the shelf machinima, and Phillip Johnston (Stolen Life) for best original music. All of these films won in categories which had heavy favorites; that they ended up winning is a testament to the excellent judging for the festival.
Of course, there was little suspense when it came to everyone's favorite, The Adventures of Bill and John: Danger Attacks at Dawn, a highly polished and funny film from France. The three delightful Frenchmen who created the film made it up to the podium four times, taking away awards for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Independent Machinima. There was universal recognition in the house and during the festival that this production was indeed the best of the year. The Frenchmen were so droll that it looked like a comedy routine every time they came to the stage, and they were as delightful offstage as well. I had many rewarding (if hard to understand) conversations with them over the weekend.
Sunday's events consisted of all of the previous night's award-winning Machinima being screened in the large mainstage theatre, while production seminars took place in the smaller room upstairs. Audio, Acting, Pre-production, Producing Professional Machinima and coverage of Strange Companies' Bloodspell Machinima series were so well attended it was standing room only for every session. There were many questions from people who seemed to be just starting out with Machinima production. Every session was a passionate presentation of subjects that are vital for the future of Machinima. It was cheering to see so many people (especially younger, high-school age people) interested in learning how to make their films better.
Closing out the festival in the main theatre later in the day, were three live performances of live Machinima. Friedrich Kirshner demonstrated his new Machinima software (Moviesandbox) by creating a story and characters on the spot with help from the audience, and then performing the script live. Jon Lippincott followed with a live performance of an abstract Machinima (a relative rarity) which consisted of Star-like undersea creatures writhing and swaying across the screen as the camera zoomed across the horizon to the accompaniment of low key Electronica music. The final event of the day was a live performance of an improvised episode of the Ill Clan's Trash Talk by several badly hung-over Machinima filmmakers. I'd heard of how great the shows were, but I was unprepared for the fun and excitement of seeing live Machinima like the Ill Clan's. It was a fitting end to an almost perfect festival.
I predict that this Machinima festival will prove to be a watershed event. With the movement of major media producers to the internet for user created content, Machinima is perfectly poised to be the means by which people can create their own unique films quickly and cheaply. Almost everyone I talked to agreed that it felt like something big was coming for Machinima and that when it did there was going to be quite a shake up.
"Owning your own films" was a phrase I heard repeatedly. I was so glad that Reallusion (IClone) and Second Life both had tables in the lobby of the festival since they both allow the Machinima filmmaker to own their films and to sell them commercially; thus providing an important option for filmmakers who are interested in owning their works. Both companies had excellent presentations and manned their tables with informed and interesting people. The lack of significant major game company attendance at the festival was ominous and commented on by everyone. To my knowledge only Blizzard and Bioware were in attendance, but neither company staffed a table.
Even with all of the great events and screenings, it was the myriad conversations between Machinima filmmakers that made the festival so special. Many of us had never met each other except on the internet and the festival was an opportunity to strengthen bonds of friendship and to solidify a sometimes fractious community. Movie ideas were considered, collaborations planned, tech tricks were shared, and over all an overwhelming sense of possibility.
The coming year will prove to be a break-through year for Machinima, of this I am certain, and the 2006 Festival will have played no small part in making it happen. Paul Marino and the staff of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences along with the Museum of the Moving Image should be congratulated for putting on such a entertaining and efficient festival and for providing filmmakers the opportunity to interact and discover the great variety of talent that is making Machinima one of the most interesting film forms of this early century. Bravo!
Be sure to check out Ricky's short documentary of the event below:
Also, check out the following Machinima-related links:
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Ricky Grove [gToon] is a regular contributing Guest Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News.