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New Frontier at Sundance: Innovating Story

MIT PanelEach year at the Sundance Film Festival I try to answer a question: why should filmmakers pay attention to the experimental media showcased at the New Frontier exhibition? I got some insights this year as Kamal Sinclair, Senior Manager of the New Frontier Story Lab, hosted a panel with guests from MIT to talk about innovations in storytelling.

Sarah Wolozin, Director of MIT"s Open Documentary Lab, said that this innovation translates to using new technology, data and code for telling stories that help us understand our world. Sarah is a pioneer in this area, she was developing interactive storytelling when most people were still trying to understand the logic behind having a web presence.


The Open Documentary Lab recently launched a site (also showcased at IDFA) that helps put the conversation into context. "Moments of Innovation" momentsofinnovation.mit.edu traces these moments back to their origin, and makes connections between technology and the natural human ability and innovation that is storytelling itself. "Immersion" is one of the categories of moments that provides illumination--you can see the burgeoning of immersive experience and storytelling in 1838 stereoscopy.


Dan Novy picked up where Sarah left off on the theme of immersion, defined as "A deep mental involvement." You can see it in the layers of images in cave paintings that created movement as fire light flickered in the dark. Novy, also known as NovySan http://novysan.tumblr.com/ is an Emmy award-winning technical supervisor and compositor who plays with 3D animation and modeling.

Novy really represented the technical innovation that's part of the new storytelling experimentation. He was followed by Sasha Costanza-Chock and a presentation on "Open Documentary and Transmedia Activistm." So we've gone from conceptual foundations, to technological experimentation, to practical application. Chock is a longtime social justice advocate through film with the Independent Media Center (indymedia.org).


The application of more recent innovation is embodied in Chock's Vozmob project. While at USC he got interested in how to work together with communities to tell their own stories. Vozmob provided community members with phones (not smart phones, but phones with cameras, short video, and text capacity. This data could be sent directly to the website for populating content--enabling direct community-based storytelling.

Community based storytelling is not a new concept - but vojo.co is. Vojo, in beta, enables organizations or individuals to download and create the technological infrastructure of open source Vozmob, to create all new varieties.

In a very timely and striking example, Sandy Storyline uses this model to encourage community stories, integrated with community organizing to maintain agency in the process of rebuilding.

The MIT Open Documentary Lab and many closely partnered programs (Civic Media Lab, Object-Based Media Group, and others), promises to bring us more on the theoretical foundations driving innovation in story, the new technologies and the practical application--we hope with increasingly a social justice mission. New Frontier carries the more experimental but spatially based interactive media that sparks our imaginations.