Saturday, June 2, 2007

Last Round of Screenings and Conversations

So, today was the third and final day of MEDIA: Overseas Conversations (IV): An International Conference on Media Literacy-Ecology-Studies-Education (see my last two posts, Screenings and Conversations and More Conversations). Today, like yesterday, the conference was held at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus. And there was more unexpected traffic getting in today, this time on the Westside Highway, but not as bad as yesterday.

Anyway, today we started at 10 AM with a screening. Here's the write-up from the program:

10:00AM-11:00AM: SCREENING –
Curator: The Reel Teens Festival

The Reel Teens Festival is an annual three day event held in early June that celebrates the creative genius of young people by screening films and videos made by teenagers from across the United States and around the world. Prizes are awarded in 9 categories, Fiction, Short Fiction (under 10 minutes), Documentary, Short Documentary (under 10 minutes), Animation, Claymation, Visual Arts, Music Video, and PSA (Public Service Announcements). An open dialogue with the young filmmakers are held during each screening. This year the finalists will be chosen from over 600 entries received. The winners are announced at the festival.

I Look Good
Mitchell White, Jordan Estes -Ages 17
A parody of a European pop song.
Music Video
New Orleans, Louisiana

The Tear
Jack Durnin - Age 19
What happens to a stray bullet or missed shot?
Grafton, New York

No Cinderella Story
Michael Keenan- Age 17
Study of sex among teens on Staten Island.
Short Documentary
Staten Island, New York

Wonderful World
Aaron Hall -Age18
A look at the world through a Louis Armstrong song.
Visual Arts
Olive Bridge, New York

Green Thumb
Peter Pa - Age 17
A teen examines his relationship with his mother.
Short Documentary
Lynn, Massachusetts

Marty Cain - Age 15
A PSA for skateboarders.
Marlboro, Vermont

Runaway Ball
Dan Cayea - Age 17
The adventures of a wayward ball.
Visual Arts
Boiceville, New York

Ian Dalesky, Patrick Dawn - Ages17
How far can an act of kindness go?
Short Fiction
Bend, Oregon

The Spirit Within Us
La Shae Brooks - Age 11
A celebration of nature and life on the Boise Forte Reservation.
Visual Arts
Nett Lake Village, Minnesota

Jennifer Peters - Age 17
Golden Valley, Minnesota

A Day in the Life of a Russian in the US of A
Alex Yeremenko - Age 18
The typical every day occurrences of a Russian teen in America.
Short Fiction
Columbus, Ohio

Listen To Yourself
Michael Pantzer - Age 17
When you know you shouldn’t do something listen to yourself.
Loudonville, New York

Kari Jo Skogquest - Age17
A multimedia stop-motion animation reflecting journeys of the self.
Golden Valley, Minnesota

Prom Night
Henry Street Settlement - Ages 16 -18
A gay teen seeks acceptance from his friends as prom night approaches.
New York, New York

Erica Eng - Age 17
Breaking the hum drum boredom of a dull class.
Visual Arts
Oakland, California

This Reel Teens group is headquartered upstate, and it was an interesting coincidence that they work out of Saugerties, NY, which is not only the site of the original Woodstock festival, but also the town where Neil Postman and his colleagues at New York University held the annual Media Ecology Conference for his graduate students, at Sacks Lodge (now converted into a tennis camp)--many good memories from there. Anyway, they're having a film festival on June 8th to 11th, the information is on their website, As for the screening, the short films were all very impressive in their production values, very professional looking. I wasn't all that thrilled with their content, however, as they were largely imitative, for example of familiar types of music videos, public service announcements, and the like, one even was an attempt to do a kind of Borat. And they were full of clichés, in form as well as content, using visual and musical clichés. I think I was in the minority in holding this opinion, I should add, but on the whole I liked Thursday's screenings from the European Observatory of Children’s Television, and especially from Listen Up! much better, thank you.

The second set of screenings were of Machinima, the term being a contraction of Machine and Cinema, and it consisted of videos made from videogames visuals. Here's what it says in the program:

SCREENING – Curators: Carl Goodman - deputy director of Digital Media at The Museum of the Moving Image and Lars Fuchs – Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences.

The Machinima Phenomenon is a new form of film making that uses computer games technology to shoot films in the virtual reality of a game engine. Rather than picking up expensive camera equipment, or spending months tweaking more expensive 3D packages, Machinima creators act out their movies within a computer game.

Carl Goodman is deputy director of Digital Media at The Museum of the Moving Image, where he oversees the museum’s use and study of digital media and technology. He has served as the Museum’s Curator of Digital Media, organizing exhibitions including Digital Media, a gallery of software-based art, Digital Play, presenting historical arcade and contemporary home video games, and co-produced Behind the Screen, in the museum’s core exhibition. Goodman serves on the Board of Directors of Creative Time and Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center.

A selection of recent short video works made within video game environments and online virtual worlds will be shown.

As was explained in the introduction, machinima has the advantage of being accessible, relatively easy to create, and based on established relationships, meaning that they are made by game players for other game players. The 3 major turning points are 1996 when the first movies based on Quake were produced, 1998 when the term machinima was coined, and 2002, when the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences (obviously tongue in cheek, but they do have awards) was founded, and the first festival and awards presentation was held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. We saw a number of different examples, some just clips, some complete. Some were like music videos, some artsy, some truly hilarious, like when videogame soldiers are standing around questioning the reality they find themselves in, or in one instance, conducting a talk show interview (shades of Space Ghost Coast to Coast). Here's one of the most famous one's, Red vs Blue Episode 1:

Another one we viewed was from This Spartan Life Episode 1 Module 3, which presented an interview with Bob Stein, founder of Voyager (the company that put out books and experimental programs on CD-ROM published in the 90s):

Another good one was a machinima recreation of a movie scene, A Few Good G-Men:

And this one, The 1k Project II was surreal and way cool:

And finally, here's one about Second Life that reminds me of the brilliant short film, La Jetée (see my earlier post, The Jetty Stream), entitled My Second Life (Episode 1):

I got a great kick out of this stuff, and it reminds me of how, back in the 80s, I used to record videogames on my VCR and add a music soundtrack, just to try to get a weird result. I didn't save any of them, but I do have a VHS from a comedy group I was in, with a few skits, and one of the skits, which I came up with, involves a sportscaster doing a play-by-play of a Pong match, where the ball moves back and forth between two stationary paddles. One of these days, I should digitize that video and get it on YouTube.

Anyway, I had a delightful lunch with Renee Hobbes from Temple University, who's one of the leading media literacy scholars in the United States, and she was on the panel discussion that followed later in the afternoon, which was on media literacy, natch. We had points of view from the Philippines, Venezuela, and Australia, as well as the U. S., and the session was moderated by my good friend, Thom Gencarelli. Here's the program information:

Media Literacy as a Core Educational Element across Pedagogical Systems

The role of media literacy as a central component in education will be examined and discussed from an international perspective. How do teachers promote effective media literacy education and critical thinking skills within their school system?

Feny de los Angeles Bautista is co-founder and now executive director of two non-governmental organizations committed to children: Community of Learners Foundation (COLF) and the Philippine Children’s Television Foundation, Inc. (PCTVF). She was executive director of the Philippine Children’s Television. PCTVF produced the multi-awarded program for young children, BATIBOT, Radyo Batibot, PINPIN and a pioneering TV magazine for parents entitled PG (Parent’s Guide). She started her work in children’s television as research and curriculum director of the Philippine Sesame Street Project. She also served as the first chairperson of the National Council for Children’s Television of the Philippines. She holds an MS degree in Educational Leadership from Bank Street College of Education in New York and a degree in Family Life and Child Development from the University of the Philippines.

Patricia Edgar is best known as the founding director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) and was the chair of the Children’s Program Committee of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal where she was instrumental in the establishment of program standards for children’s television.. In March 1995, she conceived and hosted the first World Summit on Television and Children. The Summit, held in Melbourne, began a worldwide movement under the auspices of The World Summit on Media for Children Foundation which she chairs. Summits have been held in London (1998), Thessalonica, Greece (2001), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2004), and South Africa (March 2007). A Sixth Summit is to take place in Sweden in 2010. She was awarded the Australian College of Education Medal in 1998 and an Achiever Award in 2001from the Committee for Melbourne in recognition of her outstanding contribution to education through the medium of television. In 2002 she was presented with the AFI Longford Life Achievement Award, the highest accolade the Australian Film Institute can bestow on an individual. She is the author of eight books and numerous articles and reports and holds a PhD from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

Victor Fuenmayor, is a professor of the Doctoral Program at the Department of Humanities, Zulia University, Maracaibo, Venezuela. He received a PhD in Spanish Literature at Sorbonne University, Paris and a second PhD in Semiology at the University of Paris VII. He also studied with Ronald Barthes at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris. His distinguished career includes in-depth practices and investigation in music, dance and movement. He has published extensively on semiotics, communication, literature and art, as well as several novels and poetry books. He received the poetry award at the IX Biennial Jose Antonia Ramos Sucre. He has participated on several Latin American and Caribbean arts and education UNESCO projects.

Renee Hobbs directs the Media Education Lab at Temple University and is a co-founder of the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA). She co-directed the PhD program in Mass Media and Communication at Temple University in 2004-2005 and currently hosts the Media Smart Seminars, a free professional development program for Philadelphia educators, media professionals and community leaders. She has published articles in scholarly and professional publications and has created videotapes, teacher guides, lesson plans and curriculum materials about integrating media literacy into K-12 instruction. Her video on media literacy Tuning in to Media, received a Parent’s Choice Award and her curriculum on analyzing the documentary genre, KNOW TV, received the golden Cable ACE Award in 1994. Ms. Hobbs received an Ed.D from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.,,

Moderator: Thom Gencarelli, was formerly associate professor and deputy chair of the Department of Broadcasting at Montclair State University in New Jersey. This June he will become chair of the Department of Communication at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York. Thom is vice president of the Media Ecology Association, and a past president of both the New York State Communication Association and the New Jersey Communication Association. His research includes work in popular cultural criticism with a particular emphasis on popular music, and in media literacy/media education, wherein he has sought to fuse media literacy efforts with media studies via the particular branch of media studies known as media ecology. He is currently working on a book about language acquisition and Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

Victor Fuenmayor had some interesting things to say, relating media literacy to the theory of multiple intelligences, and I was fascinated to hear that he spends a semester doing an analysis of the first 12 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (I spend a class going over some of the scenes myself when I teach Science Fiction). Renee mentioned that there was a bit of a conflict going on within the media literacy movement between those who insist on a critical orientation and those who take a professional approach to media literacy (I noted that this reproduces a conflict that exists in many communication departments). Renee also talked about many of the concerns revolving around copyrights, which is creating problems for school teachers and librarians afraid of violating our overly strong and overly ambiguous regulations.

The conference ended with a bang, not a whimper:

5-6:00PM – Closing Remarks

Douglas Rushkoff, New York UniversityWinner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values. He sees “media” as the landscape where this interaction takes place, and “literacy” as the ability to participate consciously in it.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, and Coercion, winner of the Marshall McLuhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He has just finished a book for Harper Business, applying renaissance principles to today’s complex economic landscape, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. He’s now writing a monthly comic book for Vertigo called Testament.

He has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries – The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, and The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance.

Rushkoff writes a monthly column for science magazine, Discover and another for the music and culture magazine, Arthur. His commentaries have aired on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from the New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for the New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as a column on wireless for The Feature. Rushkoff founded the Narrative Lab at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, and lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

He is Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and as foundling member of Technorealism. He has been awarded Senior Fellowships by the Markle Foundation, the Center for Global Communications, and the International University of Japan. He is finishing a dissertation on biases of media for Utrecht University

Rushkoff graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director’s Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Doug's a great speaker (he's a good friend too, but everyone agrees that he's a great speaker). I'll try to give you some sense of what he talked about. He said that what people were doing at this conference was pretty insignificant, when lined up against the powerful media industries, and noted that when it comes to media literacy, we always seem to be teaching about the previous medium--through writing, we created a civilization of listeners, through printing, we created a civilization of readers, and now with the internet we've created a civilization of writers (this blog being an example of that). He argued that as long as we remain one step behind we remain ignorant of the biases of the contemporary media, and as long as we remain ignorant of the biases of the contemporary media, "we're fucked" (I am simply reporting on what he said here). He then had a good line, "Do you think that Dick Cheney cares about all this? Let them eat blog!" I love that, "let them eat blog," that should be good for a blog post here at some point in the future. He then went on to say that it's no difference, as producers we're still consumers, paying for online access, for equipment, for programs, etc., and then maybe they won't sue you if you use a little piece of the culture you grew up with.

Doug went on to note, as some other participants had previously, that we're immigrants as far as the new media environment is concerned, while children today are the digital natives, but all corporations are concerned with is how they can use this, exploit what the kids are doing. If the bias of the medium is to sell toys, then storytelling will adapt to this and alter the narrative to suit the commercial requirements. He also noted that that's why evolution has become a theme in youth programs, because that means you have to keep buying newer models of toys.

He said that when he was a kid, the powers that be didn't really understand computers, so they taught him and others how to program, which means building an environment, a world, and which teaches us to look critically at our own world because it too may be a social construction. But as computer use became more widespread, and the time people spent on the internet started to have an effect on TV ratings, they tried to make the internet more about content than contact (nice turn of phrase, there, content vs. contact).

As a metaphor for all this, he talked about a kid getting a videogame. First he plays it until he gets stuck, playing is the first level. Then he goes online and gets the cheat codes (my son does this all the time), which means he's still playing, but has stepped outside of the frame of the game to do so. Once he's completed or mastered the game, he goes back to the internet and learns how to program the game, or at least create modules for it, and in this way becomes a writer. But he typically doesn't get to the final level, of being an actual programmer. Doug's core argument is that we need to be programmers (as a metaphor for getting to the heart and code of things, taking control for ourselves). He called this a "deep literacy," and suggested that the war on the university is a war on deep literacy, and also pointed out that we have been farming out computer programming/coding to places like India and China, and this is a really stupid thing to do, because whoever controls the code controls the whole ballgame.

In the question and answer session, he used a relatively new term, crowdsourcing--here's the beginning of the Wikipedia entry:
Crowdsourcing is a neologism for a business model in which a company or institution takes a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsources it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call over the Internet. The work is compensated with little or no pay in most cases. However, in a few examples the labor is well-compensated. In almost every case crowdsourcing relies on amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time to create content, solve problems, or even do corporate R&D.

In a mild form, all of the blogs we create are crowdsourcing for Blogger, we generate content, bringing people here, and Blogger benefits from the advertising. MySpace would be an even better example. But of course there are more extreme versions, and the mysterious case of X-13D that I wrote about in a recent post would be an even better example. So, anyway, crowdsourcing is another way in which the corporations are using the good characteristics of the internet for their own not-so-good ends. Another nice insight that he had was that the reason conservatives are opposed to teaching evolution is not just for religious reasons, but because evolution means that change and progress is possible, and conservatives are against change.

I pointed out that if everyone was a programmer, and if the code was constantly being rewritten, we'd have a pretty chaotic and unstable society, kind of mob rule at best, using the example of the Constitution of the United States, which was framed by a select group of really bright guys, who designed it so it could be modified, but not on the spur of the moment,not without some effort. Doug conceded the point, and concluded that what's important is that the people who get to do the programming (he had been talking about them as 15% of the population) get to do it based on merit, and that everyone has the opportunity to understand exactly what they're doing. An excellent end to an excellent talk. And a fine conference as well.

Now, I am really tired, and I have much to do to get ready for the Media Ecology Association convention in Mexico City, which starts on Wednesday, so that's all for now.


Robert K. Blechman said...


Thanks for this recounting of the conference. It was almost, but not quite, like being there. I can see a number of valuable uses for such a daily recapping of a conference or seminar, including the possibilty for anyone who couldn't attend a day's session to become involved, and to perhaps participate. The next step is to record all conference proceedings on some technology like Mediasite for all the world to see.

I hope you will be blogging at the MEA Conference.


Lance Strate said...

Thanks, Bob. Of course, it's no substitute for being there (and why weren't you there, huh, huh?).

As for the MEA Convention, there's actually going to be streaming video according to our hosts, and I'll put a post up before I leave about it. Once I'm down there, I have no idea if there will be enough time or access to a computer for me to post much, we'll have to see.

But don't you think I deserve a vacation from all this bloginess as usual?

Anonymous said...

Saugerties eh?

jordi torrent said...

thank you, lance,
for blogging it and the rest.

i found douglas rushkoff's remarks on "deep literacy" very suggestive. that idea that the official school has always been teaching the old literacy to the people is a very powerful one. deep (and troubling) analysis of our culture could be developed from there.


Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Lance Strate said...

Well, thank you Luanne, Jordi, and especially Biby Cletus, happy to make the connection, and as I hear it, there is no other side of the moon, it's all other...