The only criteria for participants is that they have to create something that is interactive and appeals to an audience. Here an attendee of the Holon Hackathon interacts with one of the projects. (Photo: Print Screen Festival) The only criteria for participants is that they have to create something that is interactive and appeals to an audience. Here an attendee of the Holon Hackathon interacts with one of the projects. (Photo: Print Screen Festival) The only criteria for participants is that they have to create something that is interactive and appeals to an audience. Here an attendee of the Holon Hackathon in Israel interacts with one of the projects. (Photo: Print Screen Festival) (Photo: Print Screen Festival)

Tribeca Hacks its way around the world

The renowned New York City film institute has created a program that nurtures visual artists of all stripes.

The Tribeca Film Institute was founded in 2002 to empower filmmakers through a generous mix of financial support and educational programming.

The Institute's flagship event is its film festival, which takes place in New York City every spring, and that today attracts hundreds of thousands of people, including some of the premier filmmakers in the world.

Other programs have been added in recent years to further enhance the institute's impact. One of these programs is Tribeca Hacks, a series of three-day projects that take a theme and then pair selected participants into groups to create a project based on it. Since its debut in 2012, 17 events have been held across the U.S. and in countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany and Israel.

The idea for the program came out of the realization that many filmmakers were afraid to take risks with their work, and that an environment that encouraged – even nurtured – experimentation was much needed.

"We saw that a lot of storytellers, particularly documentarians, were apprehensive about doing any sort of interactive project at all because they were afraid that their project, if it failed, would impact the longevity of their film career," Opeyemi Olukemi, Director of Interactive at the Tribeca Film Institute, told From The Grapevine.

Applicants are considered based on their ideas and experience and aren't discriminated against because of their geographical location.

The project doesn't just attract filmmakers, however. As Olukemi explained it, Tribeca Hacks draws from a diverse pool of people with one interest in common: visual storytelling.

"Technologists, visual artists, filmmakers, photographers – anybody who wants to tell a story visually. The abundance of artists in each field often depends on the location of the event," she said. "The only criteria is that they have to create something that is interactive and appeals to an audience. An audience member needs to be able to interact with the project and that's about the only criteria we have."

The most recent Tribeca Hacks event took place near Tel Aviv, Israel, at the end of May in the coastal town of Holon. The event itself was part of Print Screen, an annual digital culture festival in the city, that together with CoPro, an Israeli documentary film market, produced the hackathon. Taking as its theme "Hypersensitivity," the event split 35 artists into five different groups.

Lior Zalmanson, founder and artistic director of the Print Screen Festival, was the one who came up with the theme.

"All the projects were supposed to touch on the idea of sensitivity, how we can use technology to become more sensitive to one another," Zalmanson told From The Grapevine. The inspiration for the theme came from a burgeoning belief that digital technologies and computer-mediated communication can alienate people and make them indifferent to one another's feelings.

A perfect example of a project at the Holon hackathon that tapped into Zalmanson's theme was "Inside Out Karaoke," a twist on the popular interactive vocal video game.

The theme of the Holon Hackathon was "Hypersensitivity." Here, an individual participates in "Inside Out Karaoke."The theme of the Holon Hackathon was "Hypersensitivity." Here, an individual participates in "Inside Out Karaoke." (Photo: Print Screen Festival)

Described as a "passive-active dialogue between the user and the actor," a viewer is placed in front of a screen with a prerecorded video of an actor and asked to read aloud the text that appears as subtitles (karaoke-style).

The user enters into the dialogue without any idea as to what kind of situation will unfold. Gradually, however, it becomes clear that they are reading out text of someone who is in the midst of a breakup.

The actor in the video responds to the harsh words being read out and reacts with a strong dialogue full of emotions, at the end of which the user leaves the relationship for good, leaving the actor heartbroken.

"Because you were able to put yourself in the place of this person going through this breakup, the interactive project really allowed you to experience empathy – to experience being in this very vulnerable state that will make you feel more sensitive," explained Zalmanson.

Adam Weber, a filmmaker who co-directed the documentary "Tomorrow We Disappear," took part in the Storytelling Innovation Lab hackathon in New York in May 2013. He said it was enriching and exposed him to a new creative process.

"It was one of those rare opportunities you have as a documentary filmmaker to quickly realize a creative vision over the course of a few days," he told From The Grapevine. "The caliber of talent they paired us with was incredible. For example, one of the members on my team also worked on visual effects on huge Hollywood films. It wasn't always easy work, but by the end of it, we had something that we were really proud of."

It should come as no surprise that the hackathon was a major hit at the festival. In fact, since the beginning, Tribeca Hacks has achieved exactly what it set out to do: create an open forum where a disparate group of artists could run wild with their imaginations.

Said Olukemi: "We started the program as an open theater space – to come, to play, to manifest a vision without any consequence. And from there it has really exploded."

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