The Rotterdam Film Festival
By James Decker

The Rotterdam Film festival has provided a service of inestimable value. It
has looked straight into the twelve-thousand-eyed beast that is Online Digital
Cinema, Animation, and Narrative, and it has fallen in love with fewer than a
hundred of those long-lashed, singed, lopsided, and transfixing beauties.
It's amazing. The festival's Web site organizes selected works according to
nine categories based upon aesthetic criteria rather than by analogous genre.
The Dutch make it look easy to organize and identify quality in emergent
media. Don't be fooled. It is not easy to process and react to the range of
Online cinematic offerings. The sheer variety among selected works pulled
together at does make it possible not
to panic, and not to declare too many "design rules" for best practice in
digital cinema. The field is wonderfully wide open. It becomes interesting
to note how different works refer to, depend upon the vocabularies of, and
satirize different established media. When there is no obvious container for
their message; no primetime equals "mainstream", later equals "unmarried", and
no PBS equals "affluent" to work with. So, these digital works must create a
vocabulary or comment on one they expect their audience to be familiar with.

Four gems were selected by the film festival from the 31 sixty-second films at One for each day of the month. Unfortunately,
sixty-seconds does not shape up to be the binding/liberating sonnet form of
digital cinema. Most films exceed their sixty seconds and the constraint seems
a gimmick at any rate. When artists set themselves a limit, such as the
anonymous pop artists The Residents did with their "Commercial Album"
masterfully concluding each piece at fifty-nine seconds precisely, it is
possible to see the kind of mastery that form ought to elicit from content.
The Residents proceeded to purchase radio ad time and aired their strange
songs as advertisements as comment upon the commercialization of American
popular music. Stopforaminute films by comparison make weak critiques of
culture and it's sixty second forms. Michael Stipes preening one more time
before our eyes, for example, does not qualify as satire.

What works or "reads well" in online cinema is the sense that some
intelligence is in control of your screen. When the screen becomes a
well-worked canvass, you find yourself studying it's moves. This is aided by a
limited formal rhetoric that the viewer can hope to learn but never manage to
guess. Works like Stephanie Owens' Video Mixer let the viewer construct and
edit cinematic clips, educating us as viewers and inviting us to become
producers. If all goes well (and broadband exposes mainstream media as a
redundant experience) then digital cinema will help us tap in to concepts that
we didn't know could be shared with others. BrainGirl might surprise us with
the idea that our minds are as shamefully hidden as our genitalia. Jogchem
Niemandsverdriet's might revive sincerity as a
language and go nuts with ways to speak it. Amy Talkington could critique
intelligence itself in The New Arrival, or Darren Aronovski's could compose a
Requiem for a Dream. I say "could" because audiences will have to find
them first.

Mainstream broadcast media has worked tirelessly to establish itself as the
ubiquitous shared experience. Circular self-reference seems to have replaced
self expression-an accepted feature of "postmodern" culture; but, as
interactive, two-way, media break communication back down to the level of
tropes, the possibility of referring to common human sexual, intellectual,
anonymous, morbid, and political experiences re-emerges. In more languages
than just "American," these experiences may cross cultural boundaries. And I
expect they will be lucrative additions to (not as replacements for) current
materialism. Culture and entertainment are not synonyms for advertising. That
may be news to some, and you and I may have to pass on before such changes
come about. But that twelve-thousand eyed monster, it hasn't even blinked