for National Geographic News
When the digital film festival Resfest launched in 1997, skeptics predicted it wouldn't last. Few filmmakers had adopted digital technology. In their first year, Resfest organizers received a mere 85 submissions.
Since then, digital filmmaking has exploded. Big-name directors like Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee have embraced the new technology, and Resfest has mushroomed into a preeminent festival event traveling the world. This year, organizers received some 1,500 submissions.
So has Resfest gone mainstream?
Not exactly. Its mission may have been tweakedthe festival now accepts "non-digital" filmsbut the focus on breaking new ground remains.
"Our goal is to showcase films that do things we've never seen before," said Jonathan Wells, the festival director.
That translates to an eclectic mix of offerings, from animated documentaries to abstract design films. In this year's festival, there's a new segment called "Off the Map," a collection of short stories presented by the National Geographic Society, which aims to promote geographic literacy, Resfest-style.
"Some of the films in this program have beautiful cinematography," Wells said. "But some of the films also have motion graphics and design elements that you don't immediately associate with National Geographic."
This week, Resfest travels from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. In all, it will play in 18 cities around the world.
The opening film of "Off the Map" is a 55-second public service announcement called Geographic Illiteracy. It refers to a recent National Geographic survey, which found that only 15 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 knew where to find Iraq on a map.
"[All] participants in the survey were of legal age to vote," said Christian Marc Schmidt, a graduate arts student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who made the film as the United States prepared for war in Iraq. "Yet could they be expected to make informed political decisions without even a basic knowledge of international geography?"
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