Four days before the glitz and glamour that is the 72nd Annual Academy Awards, the inaugural two-day Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival promises to showcase, offline, the fusion of technology and art. Open to the public, the festival will be held at the Los Angeles-based Director's Guild of America beginning this Wednesday.
Officials expect about 1,800 attendees and exhibitors, including filmmakers and representatives from new media, Internet-based entertainment companies, digital technology firms and movie studios.
Prominent movie dot.coms scheduled to attend include Sightsound, Yahoo! Broadcast, Reelshort, Ifilm, Shortbuzz, Media Trip and AtomFilms.
Scheduled speakers include former Sony Pictures CEO Peter Guber, film critic Roger Ebert and Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis, whose latest release, TimeCode 2000, will premier on the film fest's opening night.
"[The festival is] all about celebrating the advances in digital technology and how it is taking on Hollywood and changing it," said Jesse Jacobs, festival director.
While championing the Internet as both a complement and alternative vehicle for watching films, Jacobs doesn't see the Web as a replacement to the big screen any time soon, regardless of advances in bandwidth.
"Watching a film in a theater has a communal experience that you can never duplicate on a PC," said Jacobs. "I think it's important to maintain that theatrical element."
The feature films chosen for the festival, while earmarked for theatrical release, all incorporated elements of cyberspace in either production, distribution, marketing, promotion or financing.
"We selected films that exist under The Blair Witch Project paradigm," Jacobs said.
The blockbuster success of last year's horror celebre was largely based on the buzz, promotion and word of mouth generated by the film's Web site, a phenomenon YIL publisher Andrew Kramer believes will be difficult to duplicate.
"Because the bar has been set by Blair, the next [great promotion] needs to be an advance or alternative way of capturing the public's attention," said Kramer. "Timing is everything in this space."
After launching an online music awards show two years ago, Jacobs realized the medium could be extended to film. With most major studio releases now accompanied by a promotional Web site, Kramer said it is the activity levels of Internet users, or early adopters, that has marketers drooling.
"[Internet users have] more of the lean-forward versus lean-back mindset," he said.
In a preview of the festival, Ebert wrote, "The time is coming when top Hollywood executives will spend most of their productive day online. Their assistants will be fielding not phone calls but e-mails."
This week's festival believes that time is now.