SXSW 2012 Panel: ‘Alternative Film Events’

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Attendees enjoy a special HST 3D IMAX Screening at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, MD on May 4, 2010.

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Attendees enjoy a special HST 3D IMAX Screening at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, MD on May …

The 2012 SXSW Film panel "Alternative Film Events" almost rehashed 2011's panel, "Beyond 3D: How Interactive Screenings Will Save Cinema," but thankfully broadened the discussion for filmmakers and exhibitors. Henri Mazza, chief creative officer at Alamo Drafthouse, returned, making him a sort of Maharishi of experiential movie magic.

The panel was moderated by the incisive Mike Plante, a programmer at Sundance Film Festival and founder of Cinemad. Also aboard were Delicia Harvey and Mary Magsamen from the Aurora Picture Show from Houston, Texas, as well as Mark Rosenberg, founder of Rooftop Films, in Brooklyn, New York.

What's are Alternative Film Events? In a sense they are interactive screenings, but also "site specific and beyond," as the panel concluded. For instance, Plante gave an example of a screening of Bill Daniel's "Who Is Bozo Texino?," about hobo graffiti writers and the sub-cultural history of tagging boxcars with secret messages and warnings. Showing the film outdoors makes it an event, but screening 16mm footage from the film on passing trains makes it an experience.

Magsamen and Harvey called their screenings "Pop-up cinema," where they can nomadically set up film events at eclectic locations. They described an event at their Media Archeology Festival with artist Luke Savisky where the body movements of four individuals were projected onto four giant industrial silos. They've propped up screens on a barge and had floating cinema that can be interacted with at a variety of levels, again creating a filmic experience.

There was a similar thematic draw for Mazza, who programmed a screening of "Jaws" where his audience floated on inner tubes on a lake. Pop a few beers in their hands and you elevate classic cinema to new levels. With festivals like Fantastic Fest and The Rolling Roadshow, Mazza ups the ante on what gets butts in the seats.

As he said, "Our goal is to make awesome experiences happen as often as possible."

How's this for awesome: A fire-breathing Robosaurus -- by inventor Doug Malewicki -- noshing trucks in the parking lot of the Alamo Lamar at a "Transformers" screening? Or a fully functioning jet pack guy blasting over crowds at a screening of "Iron Man"? Gimmicky perhaps, but doing something like screening "The Descent" in an actual cave at Longhorn Caverns State Park creates visceral cinema.

Rosenberg as been programming Rooftop Films throughout New York for 16 years now, and every summer they draw some 30,000 people to 50 different events. He cited his mission statement as "Building communities through cinema." Rooftop films ushered in the first events in the now burgeoning art scene on Governors Island, New York. As one would imagine, producing outdoor events is a constant battle against the elements and, as Rosenberg said, "It's made me an amateur meteorologist -- no wait, I make a living off this, so I'm a professional meteorologist."

Plante explained, "To create these experiences, it's got to be P.T. Barnum, Black Flag, and Andy Warhol combined." He also noted, "In the Art world it's called situationalism, but with films it's called gimmicks." Is there a difference, or is it just a matter of taste?

This can also play into how an exhibitor plans and markets Alternative Film Events. Is it something funded by grants, or is it sponsored by a beer company? Does the exhibitor have a core audience who will attend anything programmed, or is it target-specific to a certain group?

One of the more innovative resources to emerge this year is tugg.com, which is crowd sourcing for film exhibition, like a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo for events. Tugg is worth checking out if you've got some ideas brewing inspired by these trailblazers in exhibition.

Check out the "The Hunger Games" live red carpet premiere on March 12 only on Yahoo! Movies.

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