Arts: Gods and monsters

Pioneering computer film festival OneDotZero isn't interested in showcasing the usual film-school suspects. If you own a mid-range PC you could be their next star.
Last year Shane Walters and Matt Hanson screened a special compilation programme of digital films for the James Bond production crew. It was an edited summary of their annual OneDotZero film festival, the highlights of the latest innovations in digital moving image. Exciting, ground-breaking, even revolutionary stuff, they thought. But the Hollywood regulars, old hands to a man, were unimpressed. They couldn't see why the films were special, or even different. What's the big deal, they puzzled. They could achieve better effects in their studios.

With enough readies, access to a multi-million-dollar production suite and about 20 years' experience in the film industry, anyone could achieve similar results. However, it's the means to that end that make ground- breaking the digital films that Walters and Hanson clearly love. Push- button creativity and digital editing are now an affordable reality for any mid-range PC owner. Within reason, if you're willing to forgo some of life's little luxuries, you can assemble a full production and editing suite in your own bedsit. You do not necessarily require expensive actors, stage sets or even cameras, and the finished film is of broadcast quality.

This accessibility of technology is attracting people from "non-traditional" film backgrounds. People with very different skills, and ideas about story telling; people who could be - and arguably already are - changing the way mainstream film-makers approach the moving image. And that could be revolutionary.

"These film-makers are the most spectacular geeks," says Stevan Keane, commissioning editor for Channel 4 Later, who has just started screening the six part anthology series OneDotTV. "They stare at the floor when they're talking about the art itself; they're not bullshitting, hard-selling producer types by any stretch of the imagination. Nor are they seasoned directors hopping from festival to festival; they're just about experimentation and ideas - and that's invigorating.

"They produce such a range of exciting visuals," he adds. "Half pop video, half avant-garde art, with a bit of social commentary tucked in for good measure. They're important because in the classic experimental sense they're pushing back the boundaries, of both imagination and technology."

"Industrial, Light and Magic," adds Walters, "will take a car, put go- faster stripes down the side, pump up the wheels and transform it into a dragster. The film-makers we feature are at the other end of the spectrum. They get a bit of tin and some wheels and build their own cars, which are totally different from what went before, not simply enhanced."

The kind of producers Walters and Hanson like to commission for their festival and feature on their new television show are likely to be graphic designers, computer programmers, record producers, even graffiti artists. They produce films that fuse live action with documentary, lo-fi illustration and Amiga-style computer graphics, such as Richard Kenworthy's work for James Lavelle's UNKLE. These films may intertwine pulsating abstract colours and shapes with cityscapes, like Andy Martin's Throwing Down a Shape with Fila Brazilia.

Some, like Abe's Exoddus from Oddworld Inhabitants, are non-linear cinematic computer-animated sequences that were originally produced for computer console games (fmv's). Many are digitally manipulated pop videos, such as Chris Cunningham's hysterical r&b pastiche, Window Licker, starring the gyrating, bikini-clad, ugly Aphex Twins or Jonathon Glazer's disturbing Rabbit in Your Headlights, featuring a madman who refuses to stay down, despite a multitude of head-on hit-and-run car accidents. "They're maverick works that defy convention," nods Walters.

This is a new underground, one far removed from the scratchy, black-and- white avant garde. Its producers are informed by, and reference, psychedelic club visuals, advertisements, cartoons, MTV fast edits, kung fu and sci fi movies, photography, green space invaders... Their makers are having adventures in moving image because they can, not because they spent three years at film school learning how to. "These films are not about communicating to a small art set in some dingy little gallery," affirms Hanson.

Such producers are taking a whole new direction in moving image, Hanson maintains. They're not actively trying to break the feature model; they just don't feel in the slightest bit confined by it. The results can be immature. The first OneDotZero film festival was dominated by experimental singular images and graphics-based work that was little removed from the kind of rave videos and visuals that anyone under the age of 30 had already seen far too much of. In three short years, however, the same film-makers had moved on to implied narratives and conceptual works. Simultaneously, not only has the audience grown exponentially, but its tastes have significantly matured.

"There's only so much docusoap that people can stomach," grins Hanson.

The work that OneDotZero screens is not generally seen, but, more and more, it is informing and exciting mainstream programming. Its makers are increasingly finding a commercial outlet for their creativity, from spinning, twirling, imploding computer graphic idents to cut-and-paste TV ads, in title work and pop promos as well as graphic design and computer programming.

That the genre is steadily growing is testimony to Walters and Hanson's original vision that OneDotZero should be a production festival, rather than a simple showcase. Other, more established film festivals are beginning to set aside rooms to screen the same films, but OneDotZero remains unique in that it is an enabling factor for digital film-makers.

Walters and Hanson see themselves as a "facilitator", a "conduit", a "catalyst" even. More than 25 films have already been made that wouldn't otherwise have existed, commissioned directly for the festival. It's an ethos they automatically extended to the new television series; of the four films featured in each half-hour anthology at least one was commissioned specifically for the series. "We had only a tiny budget," explains Hanson, "but we thought that was very important."

Walters and Hanson like nothing better than to introduce new faces to digital film, both as viewers and as producers. They love encouraging painters, sculptors, designers, even architects to think about moving image. They show them how easy it is, with the aid of a mouse, to transfer their skills to a new medium. They receive a welcome ear among, especially, twentysomethings, for whom multi-skilling is not simply management shorthand for creating redundancies.

OneDotZero also sheds a little light on computer programmers. Generally regarded as a geeky obsession, the computer games industry has, the duo maintain, nurtured and developed a "tremendous" amount of talent. "Programmers come not only with a very different skills base, but from a very different cultural background," says Walters. "They squirrel themselves away in darkrooms and produce some fantastic pieces of film art that only hard- core gamers see. By putting that up on a cinema screen we're simply opening it up it to a wider audience."

The OneDotZero film festival is at the ICA from 30 April to 9 May. `OneDotTV' is on Tuesdays on Channel 4