New Frontiers bring joy and frustration to the Sundance Film Festival

What happens when the artwork can participate in the conversation?

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontiers presented two projects this year, “ENO” and “Being.” Unlike in past years, both of these projects are in a full theater format.

Career-spanning documentary of Brian ENO is the first generative feature film

The creation of this movie started with an email from Director and Producer Gary Hustwit to visionary musician and artist Brian Eno. ENO produced David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads among others. He had turned down offers to have a documentary of his life made before. He didn’t want to be a part of a standard documentary. This offer was different though. With the generative software used to create the movie, there are actually 52 x 1019 possibilities for this movie. No two screenings will be the same.

How the movie is planned out

For “ENO” they created some segments for the beginning of the film and some for the ending. While segments are randomly selected, they did plan an emotional arc. The film team used their own footage to train the AI on their experience from it.

Gary Hustwit says, “you don’t have one story. You keep reorganizing it. Some things become more important, some receive a lesser degree of randomness and unpredictability.”

ENO’s witty philosophical tidbits

The movie version I saw was filled with ENO making witty statements throughout his life such as:

“Feelings are the beginnings of thoughts. That’s the important thing, learning to trust yourself.”

“Brevity is the essence of wit.”

“The strongest drive in humans is to belong.”

ENO plays music, sings, works with groups in the studio, walks through gardens and just talks on countless videos spanning his life. For the premiere ENO joined in via live video.

Brian ENO live-streamed at the premiere of “ENO.” Photo: TownLift // Kirsten Kohlwey

‘Being,’ a participatory AI experience, brings out strong emotions

The audience participates in a decolonization project. It starts with a movie depicting the AI, called Being, as a non-gendered humanoid robot with the pronouns they/them. Being dances and leads the audience in meditation-style poetry. This leads to a trip through different spaces and an introduction to Bell Hooks.

The audience receives some questions and is encouraged to talk to the person next to them for about 10 minutes. After that, audience members are able to talk to Being about their answers and Being responds. During one of these conversations, shouting broke out and an audience member had to be ejected from the theater. Many others left at this point, but the New Frontiers programmer calmed down the atmosphere, at which point the question and answer section began.

Rashaad Newsome and the New Frontiers programmer. Photo: TownLift // Kirsten Kohlwey

Being 1.5 will help the black community with mental health issues

Multidisciplinary artist Rashaad Newsome has been developing Being (the Digital Griot) since 2019. The question is: What happens when the artwork can participate in the conversation? Many tools mirror slavery, created to make us work faster, for example. One way to make the tools look less like slavery is to let them misbehave. During the pandemic the effects of systemic racism became even more pronounced. There was not enough healthcare available. Being 1.5 is a phone-based app, which Newsome is developing to help the black community with mental health issues.

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