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You Can Bring Your Laptop to the White River Indie Films Fest: This Year’s Focus on ‘Transmedia’ Examines New Forms of Storytelling

A scene from The House I Live In, which will be screened at the White River Indie Films Festival.

A scene from The House I Live In, which will be screened at the White River Indie Films Festival.

Time was, print was print and film was film and the only way they intersected was as a screenplay or when they commented on one another. Think Citizen Kane, the classic movie about a newspaper baron, or the film criticism of Pauline Kael.

But the growth of computing power and the Internet have changed all that, creating a more supple interface for reading, viewing and listening, all at once. Newspapers, magazines and new-media outlets are spinning narratives that incorporate text, video and sound.

The shorthand term for this, “transmedia,” is the focus of this year’s White River Indie Films festival, scheduled for April 26-28. While the festival retains a concentration on local filmmakers, its organizers have planned what they’re calling “iWRIF,” a series of panel discussions, presentations and other events that examine “the future of storytelling across platforms.”

“We’ve had a lot of conversations over the years about how film and writing are merging,” said Liz Canner, WRIF’s director and chairwoman of the festival’s board. “I feel like we are in this crossroads and there is this convergence of forms,” she added, a convergence that yields a whole new way to tell stories.

Some of these stories are appearing now, in the form of e-books or articles with videos that advance the story, and text that links videos. Practitioners of this new art are descending on White River Junction for the festival, making WRIF more wide-ranging in its outlook. Last year, an appearance by director John Sayles brought in a wider audience, and this year festival organizers are trying to bring documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki to White River Junction for a Q&A after a screening of The House I Live In, his film about the war on drugs.

“He would like to be there in person,” Canner said. If Jarecki can’t make it, he will participate in a Q&A via Skype, a web video-conferencing application.

The emphasis on transmedia storytelling was born in part from the Hopkins Center Film Program’s presentation this year of film festivals from around the world, Canner said. “We sort of went, well, how many of these film festivals can our area support,” she said.

The festival, which will take place in Tupelo Music Hall and the Main Street Museum, will start on Friday evening, April 26, when WRIF holds its annual fundraising gala with a screening of Cartoon College, a documentary about White River Junction’s Center for Cartoon Studies by Barnard filmmakers Josh Melrod and Tara Wray.

Even before the festival proper gets under way, the public access cable station CATV will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25 at its office in the Tip Top Media Arts Building, to kick off a 48-hour film slam. A first for WRIF but a regular thing for CATV, the slam challenges teams of filmmakers to write, cast, shoot and edit a short film, in this case four to six minutes, in 48 hours. The theme of the slam is a secret until the meeting, but Signe Taylor, the Norwich filmmaker and media educator who’s organizing the slam, said that “it’s in keeping with the festival’s theme” — transmedia.

The slam films will screen and be judged at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 28. There are a couple of $500 prizes available.

The iWRIF presentations start on Saturday morning, April 27 with “The Nuts and Bolts of Transmedia,” a series of presentations by Canner, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Melanie Crean, a professor of media design at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, and Jane Applegate, a longtime producer of television, film and online video. As with the other iWRIF events, participants are told to “please bring your laptop.” The festival will use Google Hangout to turn the session into an interactive experience.

Those presentations will be followed by a two-hour workshop with Crean, in which participants will communicate with Iraqi citizens in an ongoing conversation about the idea of home. Again, “participants should bring laptops,” the description of the workshop reads.

A panel/workshop on “transmedia documentary” features Patrica R. Zimmerman, a professor of screen studies at Ithaca College, writer, director, producer Helen De Michiel and documentary filmmaker Laura Kissel. Dartmouth film and media studies professor Mark Williams will moderate.

As the list of presenters suggests, this year WRIF has chosen to bring in expertise from outside the region and is seeking a wider audience as well, Canner said. To focus on writers and filmmakers who are working across media, WRIF had to go beyond the Upper Valley and the Twin States.

“I think it would be great if it became a bigger festival in terms of drawing a wider audience,” Canner said.

That doesn’t mean that local stories don’t have a place at the table. The festival will hold a free local filmmakers brunch on Sunday morning, April 28, at which filmmakers will screen their work and participate in a Q&A.

And a workshop on DIY transmedia e-book production later that afternoon will feature Lyme architect and author Don Metz, who has just finished a manuscript about his role in a record-setting bicycle relay across the country. Metz will appear with Olivia Koski of Atavist, a web-based publishing house that has developed a storytelling platform that allows Metz to incorporate Google maps, photos and videos of his race experience into his e-book.

Immediately after, writer and publisher Phil Pochoda will lead a panel discussion on “Books and Transmedia Storytelling” with Koski, author and mobile app creator Kevin Moffett and New York Times columnist and author Pagan Kennedy.

Among the handful of films that will screen at this year’s WRIF is one with a local connection. For Ellen, a film released last year about a struggling rock singer’s search for a relationship with his 6-year-old daughter, was photographed under the direction of Reed Morano, an Upper Valley native and one of the few women working as cinematographers. She shot the widely acclaimed independent film Frozen River, and was named one of “10 Cinematographers to Watch” by Variety in 2011.

The screening of movies is, in a way, an old-school technology as far as this year’s festival is concerned.

“I think that more and more media’s going to become integrated into our daily lives,” Canner said. “It already is like that,” she added, noting the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, storytelling devices that are portable as any book and more versatile and capacious.

To an extent, the aim of iWRIF is to explain how to live and move in this new environment. It isn’t as though people don’t already spend time reading or watching TV, Canner said. The future of storytelling is just less passive and more interactive.

Ticket prices and schedule information for WRIF are available at www.wrif.org.