Reflections on LA WEB FEST 2011
By Ed Heede
LOS ANGELES — The untamed world of alternate indie cinema doesn’t get more independent or grass roots resourceful than what was at the Los Angeles Web Fest 2011 (www.lawebfest.com). A show I happened to attend at the tail end of March:
Back in the day, some might say a ‘70s and ‘80s Sundance Film Festival was the original antidote to the old studio entertainment machine. These days others would point to shows like LA Web Fest as more of an upstart challenge to the establishment “indie” sector that has been looking more Hollywood than “indie” for some time.
If true indie film means unfettered by anything more than the absolute will and imagination of true guerrilla filmmakers, then LA Web Fest surely qualified. Well over 100 films were shown from America, Europe and as far away as India and Australia. The event was kick-started in year 2010 by playwright and network TV writer Michael Ajakwe Jr., whose mantra remains, “You can find greatness in anyone — anywhere.”
Ajakwe is a believer in Web as a cinema platform and is passionate in defense of it. In his own words:
“I've worked as a writer and/or producer in Hollywood for 22 years, and some of the best, most engaging work I've ever seen is being created online. Most writers will admit that it is much more difficult to set up a story with a satisfying ending in three, six or 12 minutes rather than the 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-minute formats we've all grown up on. Many traditional content writers aren't hip to this super-short form of storytelling and can't do it well. Most are afraid to climb into the Octagon and take a stab at it and even dismiss it as inferior storytelling when this type of storytelling actually requires tremendous craft to do well. Sometimes, we marginalize things we don't understand."
To Ajakwe’s point, what I saw was a refreshing contrast in intimacy and quality for shortform projects across the board. Many works were original with a raw edge often absent from mainstream and more traditional venues.
As to the tech capture and post side: Virtually all projects were lensed on Canon 5D or 7D cameras and posted on Final Cut Studio. This, for the simple fact that the Canon/Apple combo offered ease of use into post with that all-important cinema look that filmmakers crave. With so many of 2011 Sundance projects shot on Canon hardware, and theater chains, like AMC, open to do business with indie filmmakers, LA Web Fest seems another clear sign of a trend that bodes large for all players at the cinema sector. (On that score, the upcoming NAB Show is often where such market lessons are either publicly learned or fumbled by the brands we have all come to know and respect. But more on that in the days ahead.)
Whatever happens on the tech side, the object of cinema is channeling good stories to an audience. With fresh voices finding a path to do that through the Web and shows like LA Web Fest, it’s no stretch to say Michael Ajakwe and others like him are on to something. What it all becomes seems a large question in search of larger answers.