How Graffiti Inspired Machinima’s New Film Festival

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Machinima, the online video heavyweight, launches an Interactive Festival on Friday 

When creating a new film festival, such names as Cannes, Sundance, New York and Toronto all spring to mind as models. Yet when Machinima, a major power in online video and one of YouTube’s most prominent partners, launches its festival this week, its inspiration will not be Cannes’ La Croisette but art exhibits about graffiti and videogames.

The Machinima Interactive Film Festival blends the physical with digital, securing a presence at in an art gallery as well as a special YouTube channel for the films. It kicks off Friday at iam8bit, a studio and gallery known for videogame-inspired art, then moves online Saturday through Dec. 6. The gallery show runs through Dec. 8.

Jeremy Azevedo, Machinima's head of entertainment programming, said the festival has the same mission as a 2011 exhibition at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art titled “Art In the Streets.” That show profiled the diverse history of street art, highlighting graffiti artists like Shepard Fairey and Fab 5 Freddy (also a famous rapper).

“A lot of people went into that show with a certain perception of what street art is, and a lot of the conversation was about how there’s a lot more to this than they thought there was,” Azevedo told TheWrap. “That’s what I want people to say with this festival: There’s a lot more to this than I thought there was.”

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In other words, Azevedo hopes the festival will enhance the reputation of online video, a medium still more closely associated with cat videos than Oscar winners.

The company has built an empire in the world of YouTube, owning a position as the most popular YouTube partner besides Vevo, which distributes music videos. It reaches tens of millions of fans a month and has earned the respect of Hollywood companies, working with the likes of the SyFy channel on programming and helping television networks like AMC reach new audiences through online campaigns.

Yet Machinima, whose main audience is men between 12 and 34, remains unknown to much of the population because it caters its content to gamers and teenage boys. Beyond its business success, respect is hard to come by.

“People in the older generation don’t understand there’s TV-quality content on YouTube,” Azevedo said. “Selfishly, it's good to have messaging out there that there are all these amazing filmmakers and animators we’re working with. It’s extends us beyond game-play commentary.”

Azevedo is hoping the quality of the content will prevail, though few of the names are well-known outside of YouTube circles. Most are also people Machinima has worked with before, such as Jordan Mathewson (better known as Kootra) and the team behind RecklessTortuga, a live-action Machinima channel with close to one million subscribers.

The festival's six categories include both live action and animation, action and comedy.

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While most of the creatives have a younger audience, the hope is that a more traditional format like a film festival will expand the videos' reach. YouTube companies largely promote themselves online within the video portal's ecosystem, using existing YouTube channels to spread the word about new content. This gives the digital advertising campaign a physical face.

"We need to do a lot to celebrate great work in a network, and it’s important to do that offline sometimes," George Strompolos, CEO and founder of YouTube partner Fullscreen, told TheWrap. "So many creators are building massive audiences online, but it doesn’t have that water-cooler effect of film festivals, billboards or videos on planes."

Yet if launching a film festival suggests a retro tact of attaining credibility, this festival differs quite a bit: At the gallery show, for example, videos can be watched at any time — unlike the rigidly scheduled titles at traditional film fests, and are subject to the whims of the viewer — start, stop, pause and reverse.

Iam8bit was chosen, Azevedo said, because, “They’ve been doing these pop-culture gallery shows for a few years now, and all of their artwork is based on videogame pop cultural references and such. That really resonated with me — paintings and sculptures and all kinds of stuff inspired by what Super Mario Bros looked like in their imagination. As I started getting into Machinima stuff, I saw the same thing happening in video and had never really seen somebody combine the two concepts.”

Viewers can also watch the videos at home at any time, earning potential prizes such as an HP workstation or Adobe Cloud membership.

“It takes into account today’s consumer is an active media consumer; they are not really as interested in going and passively watching something,” he said. “We’re trying to emulate the environment we’ve seen be successful online both online and offline with this event. We’re giving the audience freedom to choose what they’ll watch, when they’ll watch, how they’ll watch and what the response will be.”