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August 17, 2022

First annual Undergraduate Film Conference looks to the future

By CHRISTINA KO | October 3, 2013

The inaugural Hopkins Film Conference, held last Saturday, highlighted the impact of new audio-visual technologies on the creation and perception of film.

Titled “Expanded Cinema: Film, Technology and Society,” the conference brought together practicing professionals, faculty and students from both Hopkins and the surrounding mid-Atlantic region.

“This conference was imagined as an opportunity for undergraduates to explore the most innovative and non-conforming ideas and works in the audio-visual art circles,” senior Nour El Safoury, the primary organizer of the event, said.

After an opening address from Linda DeLibero, the director of the undergraduate program in Film & Media Studies, the conference continued with a series of speakers and panel discussions. The keynote speaker was New York City-based interactive cinema artist Toni Dove, who is considered one of the pioneers of interactive cinema.

Interactive cinema makes a movie more of a presence with which the viewer is engaging. It is meant to create an “in-body experience,” the inverse of what people tend to feel in a movie theatre, Dove said.

In her works, performers utilize interface technologies like motion sensing and laser harp to control on-screen avatars. This way, although there is a set narrative structure, the performers shape how the narrative unfolds.

For example, Dove’s Articificial Changlings is a film about a 19th century woman named Arathusa who suffers from kleptomania, and a 21st century woman named Zilith, who is a hacker that appears in one of Arathusa’s dreams. Depending on his or her proximity to the screen, the viewer could interact with Arathusa on four levels: getting inside her head and listening to her inner thoughts, addressing her directly, being in a dream state and going back into the 21st century. A viewer could also interact with Zilith through certain arm movements.

“Her work makes the viewer think about their relation to their own bodies and to human body movement,” El Safoury said. “Body movement is something that I have recently become ‘mildly’ obsessed with. . .The technologized female body is integral to the understanding of cinema to me.”

Technologist Mark Harris, whose works have been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, also spoke about his work with Murmur, which is a hybrid studio/technology company that aims to create new kinds of immersive cinema, and his film The Lost Children.

The film centers around a woman’s experience with a cult, and the audience participates in cult-like rituals during the film to help them relate to the emotions of the protagonist.

“In this way, the audience is able to connect to a situation that they may otherwise be unable to immerse themselves in personally,” sophomore Sarah White, who helped organize the conference, said. “It seems to be what kids and adults alike are dreaming of: it’s kind of like being inside a video game, but more stimulating to the senses.”

White said her favorite element of interactivity was the scent that was specifically created for the show and spread on the audience’s seats.

“Due to smell’s strong connection to memory, audience members would leave the theater with the smell still on their clothing and, when they caught a whiff of it at home, would be reminded of any feelings that they experienced during their time in the rituals,” White said.

Nathan Jergenson, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, social media theorist and Contributing Editor to The New Inquiry, responded to Harris’s presentation. Jergenson believes the digital and the physical aspects of life are intertwined.

“I think one very valuable insight that he brought to the fore concerned the way interactivity toys around with what we often consider to be the ‘typical’ distribution of labor,” El Safoury said. “For instance, [singer] Hatsune Miku. . .sings the songs that her fans send to her. The company does not even need to pay writers or composers because the crowd provides the material. A set of important questions about interactivity thus emerges.”

Freshman Jack Cullinane, who filmed the event, said he enjoyed Jergenson’s discussion of how interactive media changes people’s perception of reality.

“What I liked a lot about him was that he didn’t talk about things like social media and the digitizing of our reality as negative things,” Cullinane said. “He does see merit in that and didn’t take the usual stand that most people take.”

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, chair of the Film/Video Department at Stevenson University, and Baltimore-based visual artists Margaret Rorison and Alan Resnick also spoke about how cinema is changing in an era of constant and fast-paced technological innovation.

In addition to professionals and university-level faculty, Crystal Stone, a student from Allegheny College in Meadeville, Pa., presented a paper focusing on the impact of economic forces on the film industry and human life in general.

El Soufrey said an open call for papers was posted on the Society for Media and Cinema Studies website last spring, and Stone’s paper was chosen because of the relevance of her paper.

“Money and capital are integral to any discussions about technological advancements,” El Soufrey said.

A resources fair also provided attendees with more information about relevant projects and organizations, El Safoury said. There were materials from print studios in Baltimore, the Digital Media Center on the Homewood Campus and The Single Carrot Theatre, a theater in Baltimore that supports the growth of young artists.

Sophomore Annie Rhee, who helped organize the conference, said what she learned Saturday about the evolution of cinema astonished her.

“It has become so much more than simply entertainment over the years, and with the growth of technology today, film is finding many ways to penetrate society in ways we might not have expected,” Rhee said.

El Soufrey said the conference would have been of value not just to film students, but to anyone interested in learning more about the future of the 21st century.

“This conference has shown to some extent that, as the 21st century proceeds, interactivity (more web apps, more interactive filmmaking, etc.) will become a philosophically defining notion, the same way as the conveyer belt and mass production was the ‘it’ for the 20th century,” El Soufrey said.

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