Strange Fate at Sundance

by Mary Martialay on December 12, 2011

Image courtesy of Brent Green

I can’t claim to be a film buff, but even I know what Sundance means: It’s the American Cannes. It’s the red carpet in the Rockies. It’s rubbing shoulders with the big league.

And this year, Rensselaer is part of the action.

Two recent works commissioned by the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center– Early Morning Opera’s “ABACUS” and Brent Green’s “To Many Men Strange Fates Are Given” – will be featured at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in the New Frontiers category. The works were commissioned by Kathleen Forde, EMPAC’s time based-curator, who will be on hand at Sundance for the premiere in January.

Now you may be saying “well that’s great, but why am I reading about Sundance on a research blog?” And to you I say “a-haaa!,” because, like much of the work produced at EMPAC, research is an important component in the equation. Of course, research in media and the performing arts doesn’t bear as much ressemblance to your high school chemistry lab as, say, research in biotechnology. Research at EMPAC is more about pushing the boundaries of communication than it is about pushing the boundaries of molecular interactions.

To create “To Many Men Strange Fates are Given,” brent Green and technical staff at EMPAC – Senior Research Engineer Eric Ameres and Event Technician Ryan Jenkins – created an apparatus that mimics a multiplane camera, a machine once used to create three-dimensional effects in hand-drawn animated films. The team employed several LCD screens stripped of their polarizing filter and backlight in building the custom device. You may recall that I wrote about Green’s work, then in development, in an August post on The Approach. You can see the full post here.

Image courtesy of Brent Green

Similarly, “ABACUS” (a large-scale multimedia presentation by Early Morning Opera), as it is described on the EMPAC website, is “a re-imagining of Buckminster Fuller’s Geoscope as a data cathedral for the masses” –

This Geoscope expands on Fuller’s dream of a data visualization device that would comprehensively model the Earth’s “vital statistics,” historic patterns, and future projections. Aided by this device and a chorus of Steadicam operators, ABACUS argues the obsolescence of national borders and proposes their dissolution while simultaneously acting as a study in two dominant forms of persuasive discourse today: the TED-style (slide-based) presentation and megachurch media design.

Both are compelling projects and it’s great to see them recognized on such a large stage. Congratulations to Brent Green, Early Morning Opera, Kathleen Forde, and of course, EMPAC!