Raindance – Chile

I had the great pleasure of chairing a morning of sessions at the fantastic Raindance Film Festival celebrating Chile as this years’ guest country and the emergence of a new wave of Chilean cinema – capped by the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for A Fantastic Woman. Some fascinating insights emerged over the course of the sessions.

2005 was identified as year zero in this process, and in fact a specific train journey to a film festival where the current cohort of writers, directors and producers bonded together. Fast forward a decade or so and this group acts as a collaborative and supportive group driving international success and awards (Oscars, Berlinale, Golden Globes, Emmys). To me it felt like an object lesson in the fact that sometimes a small environment can deliver the enabling access, availability and shared sense of opportunity (a certain freedom and motivation) which gets lost in the major economic capitals..

Constanza Arena from Cinema Chile also opened up a very interesting line of thought in response to an audience question. As time has passed since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship there has been a trend away from documentary themes (to some extent evaluating or bearing witness) to more character driven plots – although still in her words with a “focus on uncomfortable subjects”. She identified this trend across other countries, as a major “scar” in their history was re-interpreted over time.

Next an entertaining conversation with Merced Productura regarding their VR film Hotel Zentai (above) – revolving around a lycra clad fetish club. Their response to questions on ethics and presence in VR were essentially that there weren’t any rules yet, they weren’t afraid that something was “too weird”. The fact that they were on skype in Santiago and had clearly just got out of bed added to the surreal undertow…

And finally the fabulous Gonzalo Maza, writer of Gloria and A Fantastic Woman, took us through the development of A Fantastic Woman – including the revelation that Daniela Vega was a consultant on transgender issues long before she was actually cast as the lead actress. He walked the audience through a key scene, ending on a shot of an empty locker with the assertion that “it’s a metaphor, so I don’t have to explain it”.

Next week to Chile proper, as part of a LatAm trip taking in Sao Paulo, Santiago and Buenos Aires.

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New term

An interesting recent article by Janan Ganesh in the FT on the impact of tourism “ossifying” medium sized cities resonated with a trip to Portugal over the summer. His contention that tourism hampers change because the visitor wants the “old town” to stay the same not grow a new tech sector, was reflected in Porto and Lisbon where there is local opposition to the airbnb-ification of property in the city centre as displacing real activity.

However if you’ve read any of my other blogs on Lisbon you’ll know that the regeneration of the city economy has been remarkable, and revisiting a busy and sparkling Porto the Uber driver claim that they were being priced out of the city was undermined by my experience in 2012 when the city centre was empty, desolate and rundown.

Visits in 2012 were en route to Guimaraes to produce part of the European Capital of Culture programme (Open City). Travelling back there I was delighted, and slightly surprised, to find a symbol of culture as a force for economic growth, with the city tangibly more prosperous and vibrant.

New term, new travel plans (Vasco de Gama above…):

  • Lisbon again shortly
  • Sao Paulo / Santiago / Buenos Aires in October
  • Berlin and maybe one more in November
  • New Delhi and Mumbai in December

Closer to home the pitch process continues for Bristol to become one of Channel 4’s Creative Hubs – decision in the next few weeks…

I’m taking a very quick crash course in Chilean cinema ahead of chairing a panel at Raindance Film Festival.

And finally, picking up previous blogs on the impact of Reliance Jio on the Indian mobile data market I’ll be chairing a panel with them to explore the Indian opportunity in London on Sept 17th

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Overdue – Hyderabad / Bangalore / Mumbai / Berlin / Helsinki / Bristol

A slightly over-intense period, with the result that this site fell off the to-do list…

The highlights:

India for Innovate UK, focusing on the potential for productive UK / Indian collaboration on the development of the immersive technology sector. I’m authoring a report and making strategy recommendations (to be published later) but there is a tangible sense of an opportunity, although the shape of the emerging industry is very different. And as noted before here the consumer technology landscape is changing at speed – Jio switched on 100M 4G mobile customers in 170 days last year, with a forecast of 500M 4G smart phones by 2020 – and 4G data is currently free…

Berlin and Helsinki for DIT, presenting at events again focused on immersive tech. As is common across all countries there is a slight frustration that the market is not moving as fast to commercial revenue as they’d like – but a byproduct is a sense of active collaborative, an open community seeking to share knowledge in order to move everyone forward. The recently launched Helsinki Games Factory, in an old hospital building (white tiles and industrial lifts), has these values built into its ethos in establishing a new focal point for the Finnish Games market (already a global phenomenon).

And back in Bristol two successes on bids:

The city was shortlisted for the location of the new Channel 4 National HQ. Over the past year I’ve been working on Bristol’s representation into this process and authored the various submissions. C4’s considerations now move into a second phase with the final decision in the Autumn.

And a consortium of Bristol and Bath Universities, plus Surrey, came together to propose a programme for £5M funding as the national Industry Centre for Excellence in Immersive Narrative (I co-authored this one). Interview done, now we wait.

The gif above is at the Bangalore vs Mumbai IPL game. Cricket is a religion in India – India represents 85% of the global cricket economy – and the game and its stars are often the drivers of innovation and engagement. Meetings at Star TV around their work with 360 broadcast exemplified access on new platforms as a catalyst for new audiences.

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Paris / Bristol

An event in Paris at the spectacular British Embassy exploring the relationship between “tech nations”. Combining inputs from companies and intermediaries from across the UK and France, it was an object lesson in the fact that collaboration is driven by ideas and complementary strengths or vision rather than geography.

And echoing the post below re: SxSW, the installation of some fabulous modern art (such as the Cornelia Parker above) in a classical building reinforced a particular kind of British creative unorthodoxy.

Then to OIConf in Bristol, a conference exploring the role of influencer marketing in digital advertising. A conversation at the partner dinner the night before covered the usual ground of relevance and authenticity, but there was also an interesting acknowledgement that we are approaching an inflection point in the maturing of social media as a series of negative news stories make people (finally) wake up to the data driven underpinning. The tyranny of unlimited choice in a digital environment is also a line of thought worth following…

But for authenticity nothing beat Miles Chambers, who catered the Jamaican food for the night and then performed his “Bristol, Bristol” poem, written during his stint as poet in residence for Bristol City Council. It left people open mouthed….

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Austin: SxSW

Overall the expected slightly frenzied mix of showcase, panels and parties.

Reflecting against my last visit four years ago, reality has rather overtaken the naïve enthusiasm of the early years of SxSW Interactive. There were no start-ups in branded T shirts thinking they were going to break at SxSW as Twitter and Foursquare had done in the past. And there were a lot of underwhelming corporate innovation showcases which had a sense of marketing budget over substance.

Across the show there were plenty of British accents and Sadiq Khan really made an impression with his very clear and well delivered messages. Country presences which stood out tended to be via installations outside the conference hall, and also tended to be a result of playing up idiosyncratic differences. Activity by Germany, Japan (with Panasonic) and UK at the British Music Embassy all said more about creativity in the country than a catch all platform of interchangeable tech jargon (blockchain, AI, machine learning etc etc).

Unfortunately I left Austin just prior to the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth, a VR installation in partnership between the Philharmonia, Mixed Immersion and Igloo Vision. The idea was conceived whilst sitting together in traffic on a freeway in Silicon Valley in December – see my blog 4 posts down….

I was interviewed by Igloo Vision on the project, given my part responsibility for the fact that they were on the bus together in the first place: http://www.igloovision.com/blog/Interview-with-mark-leaver

(And concurrently to SxSW the Playable City Austin project had Shadowing installed in 6 locations across East Austin and South Congress – see Fox’s coverage: http://www.fox7austin.com/good-day/shadowing-in-austin)

One of the joys of SxSW is seeing some live music – the picture above is Francobollo at the British Music Embassy, wild and noisy in a good way.

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Munich

Another fascinating exploration of attitudes and activity around VR. The consensus across countries as diverse as India and Germany on the market position and necessity for experimentation is striking, and there is a consistent open and collaborative ethos everywhere in seeking a mutually beneficial commercial future.

In comparing production exemplars between UK and Germany across games, film IP (coming soon, Das Boot) and enterprise, the key difference which emerged was actually the strategically focused nature of UK Government support for innovation in this emerging sector – as channeled via Innovate UK and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Our event hosts, Remote Control Productions, have developed a very interesting business model: supporting very small games companies to develop IP and grow in a role part accelerator, part investor, part community manager, part service supplier. Clearly it’s working well as after 11 years they have 100 people in their “family” in Munich and have expanded to Helsinki.

I made it out to Munich ahead of the major UK snow to a much colder, snowy city where life carried on as normal – including surfing on a city river….

Flight cancellations meant an unplanned extra day in Germany and the experience of some of the worst corporate communication I’ve ever encountered – I’m forgiving of cancellations due to snow, but BMI’s inability to text / email even the most basic of updates was pathetic.

As I was stuck went to see some amazing Cy Twombly’s at the Brandhorst.

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Mumbai / Bangalore / Hyderabad

A mission across three Indian cities exploring the collaboration potential between India and the UK, with a specific focus on VFX and immersive technologies.

the room next door
The Head of Technicolor India uses the phrase “the room next door to Soho” when describing his 3500 person facility in Bangalore. This site acts as a back end for The Mill and MPC servicing VFX, commercials and VR projects. During the same trip Framestore signed a deal with Anibrain from Pune, and obviously DNeg is owned by Indian post group Prime Focus, reinforcing an impression that the Soho / India link is very well established and thriving. From my perspective the quality of work is way ahead of what I saw on my first visits here a few years back, and as a result the services provided are much further up the supply chain, including creative development, to the cheap and nasty outsourcing of old.

immersive
Within immersive technologies Indian businesses are at a similar position in terms of experimentation as other markets. A tangible difference is that the innovation lead tends to be technical expertise rather than creative content development. This tech excellence is common across both larger corporations and early stage start-ups.

There is a belief that exponential mobile data growth will drive the lower end of the consumer market first, with some LBE experiences linked to Bollywood and a tangible interest in enterprise applications.

public support
Bangalore and Hyderabad both displayed significant local Government interventions in support of a growing creative economy, with a very specific focus on the technical end of that spectrum.

For example:
Govt of Karnakata (Bangalore) is funding a “centre of excellence” to provide shared resources, skills training and a focal location

Govt of Telangana (Hyderabad) has made multiple investments (mainly land and taxation levers) including support for the expanding T-Hub Accelerator plus other mixed creative developments at scale.

Whilst the UK Government is funding significant support for this sector, the scale of Indian interventions to accelerate economic growth is very impressive.

 

Overall, whilst this is still a country with many challenges, the sense of hurry up towards a reinvented (technology focused) economic future is tangible. And the consistently high quality of people and skills combined with a proactive international partnership approach is driving the cities forward very quickly.

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Lisbon

An overnight trip to Lisbon, as part of a series of joint events between the British Embassy and Second Home Lisbon – the Portuguese outpost of the Brick Lane tech accelerator. The venue itself is emblematic of the changes in landscape in Lisbon, an oasis of calm concentration, with a lots of plants and young people with macbooks, on the first floor of a refurbished old building, with a newly swish local food market below.

Other meetings during the day reinforced the theme – all focused young businesses looking internationally even at an early stage of growth.

Speaker Sol Rogers from Rewind led a standing room only audience through the current realities of Virtual Reality, and then off into his vision of an immersive future. Some pointed Q&A on ethics and privacy acted as an interesting prompt that we are in a phase where the technically possible is not always desirable…

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San Francisco

A second early December trip to San Francisco for some meetings in the Valley and the VRX conference.

Similarly to last year there is a medium term confidence that VR / AR will become a massive market but nervousness in the short term as, despite the fact that all of the main tech players are in the market, the fundamentals are still not quite right to ensure growth. To quote one speaker the “content / platform / hardware intersection is not yet aligned”, so it remains an emerging medium with no clear successful business model identified.

The interesting part about this trajectory is that it has allowed for experimentation, generating some very diverse and creative approaches. There is an increasing understanding that the methodologies of other creative disciplines have something to add, last year theatre was often cited, this year magicians and misdirection came up more than once.

So there are green shoots (including Sony reporting 2M PSVR sales), but no-one was putting a timeline on it as before.

Things that were different from 2016:

A new term is LBE for “location based experiences”.
The successful social elements of console gaming have been adopted into public VR experiences, whether arcade, IMAX or theme park. This has two benefits: firstly, acting as an entry point to VR for those who have not experienced it, helping to habituate the tech and seed an aspiration for home use; and secondly, ensuring that a first VR experience is high quality and transformative, there has been a perception that the negative of a poor early exposure to VR is harming demand.

The increased potential of AR.
The release of ARKit and ARCore software platforms has enabled simple development of AR across a massively expanded “install” base of IOS and Android models (NB: plus Facebook Camera Effects). This clearly opens up a scale opportunity for different types of storytelling or information overlay applications.

The promise of new headsets.
The clear barrier to entry of requiring $1k of PC kit and peripherals, all attached by big wires, is a hurdle which will exclude all but the most committed. But the imminent release of new untethered headsets at a lower pricepoint, e.g Oculus Go, could be an important turning point. Obviously we are at the “massive mobile phone” stage of the technology, so any advancements will help drive wider adoption.

And whilst VR / AR / MR are often lumped together as immersive tech there were some interesting distinctions appearing, seemingly obvious when stated but worth noting. For example, within the brand panel it was clear that VR installations were about values and empathy, where AR treatments were much more call to action. Or on a TV panel where there was a clear distinction made that 360 is not a “gateway drug” to VR, but a very different medium.

Weirdly I got quite excited by probably the most tech-y thing I saw, a cloud based compression system delivering an improved quality VR experience over a 5G enabled network.

Final impressions from meetings across SF / Silicon Valley:

  • the new openness of Magic Leap
  • the lesson of Madefire, you don’t always have to be bleeding edge to create a great experience (and great authoring tool)
  • the classiness of Apple
  • the culture of generosity of both time and insight at ILM
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Helsinki

Helsinki provided proper Slush weather this year –dark, cold sleet / snow.

Inside the venue was again a trade show with a really different feel, and whilst slightly less manic than in previous years (although still more nightclub than conference venue) it displayed a couple of things which for me separate it from other tech / start up gatherings.

At a side event one of the panelists spoke the “start-up jargon bingo” drivel, all buzz words and no substance (data was his growthhacking secret sauce etc). This was in marked contrast to the main conference which managed to completely avoid these clichés – in fact I didn’t see one “disrupt” across the two days.

And, clearly related, there was a seriousness of purpose to the vast majority of the early stage businesses, with a lot of education and healthcare related initiatives (plus a second wave of 3D printing).

In typical Finnish style there was also the beautifully designed but odd: speakers embedded in large tree trunks which you pressed your ear against (or hugged) to hear the recorded birdsong.

Normally there is one company which really stands out for me – and the vision of the Varjo VR product was this years.

And in a short gap one afternoon a fabulous diversion. In the centre of the picture above you can see a swimming pool in Helsinki harbour. From the sauna you run through the freezing air into a steaming outdoor pool and swim surrounded by the city in the dark.

The next day however was not swimming weather…

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