From the Archives: Looking Back at When Sundance Launched the New Frontier Lab

’18 Days in Egypt’ by Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat

Joseph Beyer

Ed. note: This story was originally published in October 2011 when Sundance Institute held its first-ever New Frontier Story Lab.

It’s been said that all the important ideas and projects in Sundance Institute’s storied 30-year history have started at picnic tables. The picnic tables in question stand next to the river at the Sundance Resort in the north fork of Provo Canyon in Utah. Before artists and innovators could gather around them, founder and president Robert Redford had to create this place, which began in 1969.

Tonight, for the first time ever, the Institute will welcome an international gathering of artists working on the literal cutting edges of film and technology. As they arrive, they’ll be greeted by the dramatic colors of fall bursting all around them. This is the inaugural New Frontier Story Lab, a new project designed to provide creative storytelling support to artists working in the emerging fields of multi-layered narratives.

Filmmakers, creatives and technologists continue to debate even exactly what to call this new medium: “Transmedia” is the most-often-used term, but “immersive media,” “interactive media,” and even “megamedia” might all apply (and if you’ve got yet another term to nominate, let us know). calls this field a “format of formats”—a new type of storytelling that combines multiple layers and social integration online together in order to produce a meta-narrative structure bigger in sum than the components of its parts.

In truth, only the artists themselves can give us more insight into what #Transmedia is all about, as it is through their active experiments that we have our only sources to study and learn from. In creating this new lab, Sundance Institute is proud to welcome the project creators and advisors to the mountain to focus on what has always mattered the most in our support for artists­: the story otself.

Building on the famous Institute labs model, as well as the New Frontier program of the Sundance Film Festival (which launched in 2007), the projects arriving in Utah today include:

18 Days in Egypt is an interactive documentary project that tells the story of the first 18 days of the Egyptian revolution through the media (videos, photos, Tweets, Social-Posts, etc.) generated by those that were actually there. Project Creators: Jigar Mehta & Yasmin Elayat (USA & EGYPT)

Follow Back is a fictional interactive experience culminating in a feature film that explores the modern dilemma of having your past be ever present. When a daughter stumbles upon her estranged father’s Facebook page she and her boyfriend decide to embark on a road trip to anonymously catch a glimpse of him and his new family life. Project Creators: Brigitte Dale & Robbie Wilkins (USA)

Based on the comic series of the same name, Kill Shakespeare is being developed as a feature film, a game, and a theatre experience where Shakespeare’s characters struggle for freedom, and Hamlet struggles to rally a group of the Bard’s greatest heroes to battle the evil forces of Shakespeare’s most frightening villains. Project Creators: Anthony Del Col & Conor McCreery (CANADA) Kill Shakespeare on Facebook.

The Last Hijack takes place in the failed nation-state of Somalia, which has become one of the poorest and most dangerous countries on earth; the breeding ground for hijacking and extortion by a new band of sea rovers. This feature documentary and interactive online experience uses film and animation to tell the story of these men that took matters into their own hands, landing million dollar bounties with each heist. Project Creators: Tommy Pallotta & Femke Wolting (NETHERLANDS)

Question Bridge: Black Males is an art project that seeks to represent and redefine Black male identity in America. Through video mediated question and answer exchanges, diverse members of this “demographic” bridge economic, political, geographic, and generational divisions. Project Creators: Chris Johnson & Hank Willis Thomas (USA)

Rome was originally a concept album for a film that does not (yet) exist, but will become a multiplatform interactive narrative experience inspired by the music produced by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi (featuring Jack White, Norah Jones, and Ennio Morricone’s original 40 piece orchestra from Italy). The project will culminate in a feature film adapted from the novel “The Reapers are the Angels” which will tie all the creative threads together in one cohesive narrative. Project Creator: Chris Milk (USA)

The work begins here tonight as it always has, by introducing these Artists to the Creative Advisors that will be at their disposal as they explore and dissect their own work. Among them:

Susan Bonds (42 Entertainment)

Nick Fortugno (Playmatics)

David Gale (MTVX)

Michael Goldenberg (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Contact),

Aaron Koblin (Google Data Arts Team)

Richard LaGravenese (Water for Elephants, The Fisher King)

Marti Noxon (Fright Night, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”)

Takaaki Okada (Condition ONE)

Laura Poitras (The Oath, Flag Wars)

Wesley Strick (True Believer, Cape Fear)

Noland Walker (Citizen King)

Lance Weiler (Pandemic, The WorkBook Project)

Later tonight, guru and creative advisor Susan Bonds will lead the group in a keynote conversation around Alternative Reality Games she’s designed to start and stimulate the collaborations to follow. So over the next week, we’ll be sharing and posting highlights and exclusive content from the daily keynotes, case studies, group sessions, and more—and by the end of it, maybe we’ll all even agree on what to call this stimulating and exciting new work. We hope you’ll be a part of a dialogue: #Sundance #NewFrontier.

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