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Something New and Something Old
by Becky Tan

Digital filmmaking
On the first day of the Filmfest, there was a discussion about digital film-making in English at the Metropolis cinema by the organizers of the Bitfilm festival (November 1-4), Thirty-five, mostly young, people were in the audience.

The first speaker, Alléne Hébert, was originally an actress and lived in San Francisco. Now she works out of Barcelona as an expert on digital film and has made a study for the European Union on this subject. She peppered her talk with Re-Time, Flash films, 3D-space, E- and D-cinema, etc. She said that a European Digital Cinema forum has been working for world standards since 2001. This is difficult, considering that there are no world standards for temperatures, electricity, or television sets. She suggests that you go to or or write to her at for information.

Professor Steffi Beckhaus from Hamburg University is an expert on interactive media and virtual environments and discussed the history of what that means since the 1950s, beginning with the original 3-D films. She traced the history of Disney films, where the butterfly seems to land on your nose and when one wore cumbersome headphones for a virtual reality experience. Audiences can be stimulated by means of scents wafting through the cinema while watching Perfume, for example. Scratch and sniff cards could take on new importance. The problem here is getting rid of the scents in time for the next showing. Seats can be made to move when watching a film about a ship tossing at sea or someone sitting in a roller coaster. Electric fans simulate a breeze. The cinema of the future is multi-sensory stimulation of the audience.

The most interesting speaker to someone like me with no background was Volker Helzle from the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. He showed the results of a project called Künstliche Darsteller (The Artificial Actors Project). He and his team have written a program, which 1100 filmmakers have already subscribed to, for the realistic animation of people's faces. He mentioned Toolset for Maya, Adaptable facial setup, Matcher/Skin Weights, Corrective Blend shapes, for example. What this all boils down to is that anyone can draw a face, add the computer program and the face will cry, laugh, scream, sleep, etc., at the touch of a computer key. They have thousands of different, very subtle settings and the prototypes were drawn from outrageous participants in talk shows such as, "My mother married my boyfriend" or "Who is the real father?" or "Who says I'm fat?" He encourages anyone wanting to learn more, or even to write a thesis on this topic, to contact him at

Silent Movie
Talk about a roller coaster. The exact opposite of the newest digital bits was the 1919 silent movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dr. Caligari visits carnivals with his partner Cesare, a kind of Mr. Hyde figure. Cesare is in a state of permanent sleep-walking or hypnosis. During the day he tells fortunes and at night he commits murders. Francis decides to solve the series of mysterious murders and deliver the culprit. He traces Caligari and Co. back to an insane asylum where, lo and behold, Dr. C. is the head of the institution and Francis is a patient, as is girlfriend Jane. Who is the crazy one here?

The sets are the real stars of the film, fantastic in art-deco style, as mentioned by the representative from the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung which sponsors these silent movies. The lighting and mixture of shadows adds to the suspense. I loved the actors' long cloaks. My overall impression was that this could have been an inspiration for Robert Wilson's Black Rider or Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. This year, Raphael Marionneau composed the musical accompaniment and performed it on a synthesizer during the film. Before the showing, posters saying Du Mußt Caligari Werden (You must become Caligari) were taped up on the walls of Grindel cinema, just as they had been taped on trees around the cities in 1919 when the film first appeared. Nobody knew what the reference was then nor did we in Grindel now.