A tongue that destroys a city. People who lose their heads. A desert shootout on a futuristic planet.
A bad acid trip? No, it's the fourth annual ResFest, the oldest digital film festival, which annually tours the world with shorts, long shorts and feature-length digital films, animation and music videos ranging from the poignant to the surreal stream-of-consciousness to the truly whimsical.
This is not your parents' film festival. A celebration of celluloid and cyberspace, it transforms cinema lobbies into a sea of goatees and horn-rimmed glasses, black leather coats (think "The Matrix" with berets) and an expectation of the never-before-seen.
ResFest pushes the edge of the visual envelope to the point where you find yourself staring at the screen thinking, "How did they do that?"
"We're interested in anything that changes the way we see things," says John Scalise, who co-founded ResFest with Jonathan Wells and John Turk, collectively known as The Three Johns.
"So ResFest is not just about digital film but anything that's finished on a non-linear, effects-driven system. And now these tools have come down to the desktop, consumer level, so now anyone shooting on digital film or video can get it into a computer, edit it and have something on a professional level using fairly inexpensive tools," Turk said.
"These are not your traditional filmmakers or people shooting films for Sundance. These are people going out on their own and telling stories."
Many of the filmmakers go on to commercial and feature film deals. Some of the ResFest films are distributed theatrically and on DVD through Palm Pictures or showcased at Sputnik7.com, both festival sponsors, along with IBM, Real Networks and Adobe, among others. The festival is part of the Res Media Group, which also publishes Res Magazine for digital filmmakers.
BORN IN A BASEMENT
The festival began five years ago in Wells' basement as LowRes, showcasing the best of 78 entrees. The next year the Three Johns pooled their computer and filmmaking backgrounds with publishers David Latimer and Karol Markesko and graphic designer Colin Metcalf to found ResFest, which encompassed more than just digital film.
Today it is a 10-city, five-country (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Korea and Japan) event that tours from September through December. This year, it is showcasing 83 out of 1,200 entries over four days and five nights in each city using digital film projectors in state-of the-art venues.
Participants range from undiscovered to celebrities such as band REM's Michael Stipe and the Police's Stewart Copeland. Tickets run from $10 for a single event to $70 for the entire Festival of screenings, panels, product demonstrations and networking sessions. A complete description of festival programming can be found at http://www.resfest.com.
Themes range from laugh-out-loud funny to moralistic to downright bizarre. In one, a man accidentally bites off his tongue, which grows into a city-eating creature after falling into a vat of toxic waste. Another spoofs an old-fashioned black & white Communist war movie shot with pasta soldiers.
Two Samurai Pokemons fight to the death in one, and a news satire superimposes mouths talking silliness in the faces of famous anchors. A more poignant one depicts a man who loses his head and replaces it with a balloon. His head grows back after he gives the balloon to a crying girl.
Next up is a possible festival competition and ResTV show, which the founders are shopping to various broadcast and cable networks. The program would showcase films and interview the filmmakers for tips on how they accomplished their projects.
"This is the first time that film has changed really dramatically, not just with new kinds of formats but with the advent of the Internet," Scalise said.
"Now young people can both create and distribute their stories with tools that are affordable. That's what's fantastic about this. The traditional narrative as we know it is going down a different avenue and becoming a different form of expression," he added.
"It's no longer the old white guy in Hollywood. Now anyone can attempt being a filmmaker. From that, you get different kinds of stories. Then the old white guys see that stuff and are blown away, and it really ripples the establishment."