The New Frontier Convergence Experiment Works

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Kamal Sinclair, Senior Manager, New Frontier

Over the past eight years, Sundance Institute’s New Frontier program has been building a community of brilliant creative minds from a broad range of artistic, scientific, and technology backgrounds, who are “geeked” about playing together in the story innovation sandbox. 

Last month, the New Frontier Story Lab brought a fraction of that community to the ancient mountains of Utah to share what they’ve learned from their experiments and to help develop the visionary projects of our 2013 Fellows. 

Before the Lab, my Sundance colleagues and I felt like we were constructing some kind of convergence experiment, asking ourselves questions like 

“What if the Academy Award-nominated writer who conceived the ingenious twist to Cape Fear that iconic talents Scorsese, Nolte and DeNiro used to rivet audiences; was in the room with a former Disney Imagineer, whose transmedia campaigns brought millions of fanboy/fangirl fantasies to life? And, we added the digital artist who (from a lighthouse in Iceland) studied the inner workings of Bjork’s mind to created fluid iPad interfaces that allowed millions of her adherents to explore and interact with her imagination?” 

What would happen?

“What if the Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker who used rare footage to depict the power of rhetoric, from its darkest manifestations (i.e. Jim Jones) to its most enlightened (i.e. Martin Luther King); convened with an artist who is literally inventing the New Frontier of storytelling, from immersive theater experiences that use biometric devices to track empathy to a cuddly robot that school children remotely move around the terrestrial landscape and into space? And had them converse with the writer whose life as a youth in Chicago record shops inspired his witty treatment of the High Fidelity characters that further endear America to John Cusack and launched Jack Black’s career?”

What would they discover?

“How about inviting a LARPing, swing dancing game designer (whose Diner Dash is one of the top-selling downloadable games of all-time) to have a brainstorm session with a prolific self-taught opera composer, who began as a cantor and once played in a rock band? And include the interactive producer who broke the NatGeo documentary paradigm by usurping surveillance cameras in Canadian bear country and building a platform for audiences to pierce the veil of our true proximity and connectedness to wildlife? 

What would they remix and mash up?

Profile: Bear 71 Co-Creator and Creative Director Jeremy Mendes from Submarine Channel on Vimeo.

“What if we brought the interactive installation artist who got planetariums around the world to allow her to submerge audiences in the ocean on the Transit of Venus and hold living coral in their hands through augmented reality; and got her together with a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright who spent four years researching her master work, by visiting the women in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo? What if they shared impact strategies with the man who spent six years in closed-door rooms around the U.S. and Israel, where he earned the trust of LBGTQ individuals within the Orthodox Jewish community to tell their story of Trembling Before G-d?

How would they change the world?

“What happens if the writer/director who used Uma Thurman and Paul Rudd’s comic timing to bring the complications of motherhood and ‘coming of age’ to life; hangs out with the ‘rock star’ data visualization artist who manipulated Google Earth to bring Arcade Fire to our neighborhoods and Google Chrome to allow millions of Johnny Cash fans to co-create a tribute to the man in black? What if they’re joined by a music/tech convergence genius who figured out parallel remixing for a haptic technology  game that allows users to orchestrate as if they were Mickey Mouse in Fantasia

What would they innovate?

After the Lab, we can attest that the answer to each of these questions is, “It would be awesome!”

It was inspiring to get an in-depth look at how these storytellers minds work, how their hearts find inspiration, and their hands execute the development of such paradigm shifting projects. It was satisfying to see them expand their own creative practices and increase their awareness of possibility by being in conversation with each other. It was exciting to see them find collaborators from completely different fields of knowledge to work on new projects that will no doubt define the future of storytelling.

Sundance Institute wants to say “thank you” to these amazing artists who served as Creative Advisors at the 2013 New Frontier Story Lab, who were game to play in the sandbox together and be subjects in our convergence experiment. Scott Snibbe (Artist – Bjork’s Biophila), D.V. DeVincentis (Screenwriter – High Fidelity), Chris Holmes  (Musician and DJ – Beck, Paul McCartney), Sandi DuBowski (Director – Trembling Before G-d), Wesley Strick (Screenwriter – Cape Fear), Nick Fortugno (Co-Founder, Playmatics), Katherine Dieckmann (Screenwriter and Director — Motherhood), Lance Weiler (Artist – Pandemic 1.0, Collapsus), Lynn Nottage (Playwright – Ruined), Noland Walker (Director – A Day in the Life of Jeremiah Burke High School), Susan Bonds (CEO, 42 Entertainment), Lynette Wallworth (Artist – CORAL Rekindling Venus), Stewart Wallace (Composer – The Bonesetter’s Daughter), Jeremy Mendes (National Film Board of Canada, Interactive Producer – Bear 71) and Aaron Koblin (Leads the Data Arts Team at Google’s Creative Lab).

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