Theater / Film

A.I. Is Top Topic At 10th Anniversary FilmGate Miami Festival

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
November 27, 2023 at 5:53 PM

“Folding Harmonies” from Taiwan is one of the immersive audiovisual experiences that are part of this year’s FilmGate Interactive Media Festival held in various locations in Miami from Wednesday, Nov. 29 through Sunday, Dec. 3. (Photo courtesy of FilmGate Miami)

The conversations and programming at the FilmGate Interactive Media Festival evolve quickly. In fact, you could say that the landscape changes so fast that just as one trend is the hottest topic, another takes its place.

“FilmGate came out of curiosity,” says Diliana Alexander, executive director of FilmGate Miami, whose FilmGate Interactive Media Festival is in its 10th year and takes place this year at various locations from Wednesday, Nov. 29, through Sunday, Dec. 3.

It will be no surprise to anyone familiar with what’s happening in the world of immersive technologies that this year’s FilmGate will be at the forefront of the latest conversation point – artificial intelligence or A.I.

Diliana Alexander, co-founder, executive director of FilmGate Miami (Photo courtesy of Filmgate Miami)

For perspective, just three years ago, Alexander says FilmGate was helping the masses make sense of the confusion over NFTs, an art, music, game, video or another digital asset that exists solely online. “And NFTs are still in it,” she says. “All of these technologies that are pushing in different directions are really pushing in the same direction. But A.I. is a major shift.”

Alexander adds, “(A.I.) is the closest to magic we’ve ever been, and it will be exciting to see what that means for the creative process. What it means for audiences. What it means for us.”

The theme for this year’s festival is Regenerate X, which includes talks, workshops, and, as has come to be expected of the festival, 35 immersive and experiential installations open to the public.

This year, FilmGate has partnered with the University of Miami where much of the festival, including immersive experiences, will take place at its Lakeside Village Expo Center. Other locations for VR/XR and interactive experiences are the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Downtown Media Center, Perez Art Museum, Bayside Marina, and a variety of outdoor locations in downtown Miami.

“Body of Mine,” a virtual reality experience, explores what it’s like to be transgender at the FilmGate Interactive Media Festival. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Kostopoulos)

A virtual reality project that made its world premiere in June at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film and TV Festival in Austin, Texas, comes to the FilmGate festival at Lakeside Village as part of the expo offerings. In “Body of Mine,” users put on a headset and body-tracking sensors for a full-body immersive experience that will allow them to inhabit the body of a different gender. Cameron Kostopoulos, the creator of the VR, describes “Body of Mine” as an exploration of the transgender body in virtual reality, adding that the inspiration for the project came from the political and homophobic atmosphere in the United States.

Alexander felt that its placement at FilmGate was essential. “It is an important topic to cover, and in Florida, because there’s not a lot of empathy at the moment around this issue.” The interactive demo prompts the user to touch their virtual body and audio clips from trans people can be heard describing parts of their bodies.

Time capsule messages meant for Miamians of the “far future” is at the center of South Florida artist Fereshteh Toosi’s audio interactive experience, “Voice Memos for the Future.”

The piece invites people to connect to nature in locations chosen by the interviewees: Katherine Jones in Legion Park, Blanche Spiner in Biscayne National Park, Yaneisy Reyes in Morningside Park, Ashley Kow in Hollywood Beach, Isabella Marie Garcia in Enchanted Forest Park, and Kasia Williams in Crandon Park. The recordings, which can be heard for free on mobile devices through the audio AR platform echoes.xyz are only accessible when the listener visits the exact places that are being discussed.

South Florida artist Fereshteh Toosi created the audio interactive experience, “Voice Memos for the Future,” part of this year’s FilmGate Interactive Media Festival. (Photo courtesy of FilmGate Miami)

The project started when Toosi created a workshop for people in their 20s. “I wanted to hear what they had to say about what it’s like to live in Miami. A lot of people applied, and from that set of applications, I narrowed down the list,” says Toosi, whose pronouns are they and them.

They wanted to have a conversation about climate change and how living in South Florida is a place that continues to be impacted both financially and in the physical environment by ecological changes. “So, what do they want to communicate with the future? And there is a fear, and there’s already a lot of grief around what’s happening,” says Toosi.

For one example, Reyes in Morningside Park, addressing those in Toosi’s far future, says she can see “Miami Beach across the pond,” that “we’re finding ways to stay sane over here in the past,” and apologizes for “anything that we as a collective are failing to do now that may have landed you in a s—– situation in your present.”

At the Frost Science Museum, FilmGate gives viewers the chance to immerse themselves in three dome experiences, which include two from Taiwan: “Folding Harmonies,” an immersive audiovisual presentation that also includes a live performance which is meant to challenge conventional perceptions of time by creating a space where time is a flexible entity, and “Limbotopia,” which also takes up the issue of time and its place between utopia and dystopia. From Canada, “Biliminal” oscillates between meditative serenity and explosive chaos, according to its creators.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) shows up here and there in this year’s FilmGate including a workshop presented by Snapchat to show attendees how to use its software Lens Studio on a mobile device to create AI agents, basically intelligent virtual assistants.

And a virtual encyclopedia of AI knowledge, South Florida’s Rony Abovitz, who founded Magic Leap in 2011 and the co-founder of surgical robotics creator Mako Surgical Corp., will show his short film “Yellow Dove Aftermath: The World of Hour Blue,” which will introduce a synthetic being, Jako Vega, also known as Yellow Dove. “We’ve been incubating this world, ‘Hour Blue,’ for a number of years.  Jako Vega can parse between the current world and the Hour Blue world.”

The film is from Abovitz’s new company called Sun and Thunder whose focus is on AI characters and interactive storytelling.

During a talk he is scheduled to give on Thursday, Nov. 30, after the showing of his film at 5 p.m., Abovitz says he’ll speak about SynthBee, Inc., a sister company to his film production company.

“It is developing a human-friendly collaborative A.I. architecture that allows ambitious projects to get done,” he says. Citing films like “The Lord of the Rings,” Abovitz says a movie trilogy like “Rings” that would have taken decades to make with 10,000-plus people, can now use “synthies” (or synthetic beings) which would allow mammoth projects to be done by maybe a dozen people and a cadre of “synthies.” Abovitz says it is a way of democratizing computational intelligence.

He has a larger interest, he says, than capital and resources. There’s a fight for the soul of A.I. as the New York Times recently put it. Artificial intelligence has progressed so rapidly in recent months that leading researchers have signed an open letter urging an immediate pause in its development, plus stronger regulation, due to their fears that the technology could pose “profound risks to society and humanity.”

Jako Vega, a synthetic being or “synthie,” stars in Rony Abovitz’s Sun and Thunder company’s first animated short film, “Yellow Dove Aftermath,” which will be screened at the FilmGate Interactive Media Festival. (Photo courtesy of Sun and Thunder)

“I think A.I. itself, the underlying computational intelligence, could be harnessed in many ways for social good,” says Abovitz. “Think about the filmmakers that come to FilmGate, they may never get $500 million like a Steven Spielberg or a James Cameron and have (access) to that huge amount of capital and resources to make these sorts of grand movies. You’re a small team of five or six, so what if you were empowered to make a grand film? They’re not taking away anyone’s job because no one was going to give them that money or chance, most likely anyway. This is a way of creating empowerment to do something that never would have happened.”

This is the age of computing where you can make this a reality, says Abovitz, adding that AI characters will not replace people but instead will work in harmony with them, doing things that were impossible before, and pushing the envelope. “Jako Vega is the first tiny step that we’re showing the public within this much bigger idea that we’re going after.”

WHAT: FilmGate Interactive Media Festival “Regenerate X”

WHERE: University of Miami Lakeside Village, 12800 Stanford Drive, Coral Gables, Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, 1101 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, University of Miami’s Bill Cosford Cinema, 5030 Brunson Drive, Coral Gables, Perez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., and other downtown Miami locations.

WHEN: 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 29, VIP reception; 7 to 10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 1, Dome experiences; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30 through Saturday, Dec. 2, immersive experiences and interactive installations; 3 p.m., Friday, Dec. 1, 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, and 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 3.  Olympia Arts Bicycle Theater Adventure, “Tales of the Magic City,” 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, awards ceremony and boat sunset cruise. Download the complete schedule here.

COST: $220 ($5.39 fee), VIP access to all festival events, $85 ($2.69 fee), VIP student with current ID; $50 ($1.99 fee), Frost Dome experience, Thursday, Nov. 30; $30, Bicycle Theater adventure; free one-day passes available for FGI Virtual Portal Room at UM for Thursday, Nov. 30, Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2. Tech talks free. 

INFORMATION:  305-916-6973 and  filmgate.miami/fgix

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com. 

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