NORMAL — The first-ever Arts Tech Film Fest at the Normal Theater opens Tuesday with a fellow freshman traveler: Hollywood's first-ever attempt at co-starring a computer in a mainstream movie with big A-list stars.

The week-long event climaxes three evolutionary films later with the downstate premiere of the first romantic comedy centered on the augmented reality eyewear poised to change our lives, and society, forever.

The brainchild of Rick Valentin, assistant professor of arts technology in Illinois State University's College of Fine Arts, the Arts Tech Fest will examine the ways computers have been portrayed in the movies over the past 60 years.

Along the way, he says, the festival will explore "what these depictions say about our evolving relationship with digital technology," and include special guest discussions after each film.

In addition to the films at 7 p.m., each night the doors will open at 6 p.m. for an hour of multimedia installations and demonstrations by students from ISU's Arts Technology Program.

The program's focus is on the fundamentals of visual art, music, theater and dance in conjunction with the theory and practice of digital and interactive media.

"Some of the installations involve projections, and some pieces will involve surround-sound," says Valentin. "We'll also have a table set up with demonstrations of virtual reality and augmented reality, from the cheapest Google Cardboard viewer to Oculus Rift headsets."

Following are the films, along with their post-screening guest speakers; regular theater admission applies:

  • Tuesday: "Desk Set" (1957): Hollywood's first big star vehicle for the computer age, with Spencer Tracy as an efficiency expert hired to streamline operations at a TV network via a computer the size of a corporate board room; Katharine Hepburn is the research head whose department is destined to be replaced. Sparks, and copious printed readouts, fly; IBM gets on-screen thanks for its cooperation. Post-screening guest: Shari Zeck, assistant dean of ISU's College of Fine Arts. 
  • Wednesday: "Alphaville" (1965): French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard's melding of film noir and dystopian science-fiction via the futuristic encounter by private eye Lemmy Caution tangling with sinister sentient computer Alpha 60 on the mean streets of Alphaville, a city in a galaxy not so far, far away. Post-screening guest: William Thomas McBride, film and drama professor in ISU's English Department.
  • April 21: "WarGames" (1983): Matthew Broderick, in pre-Ferris Bueller mode, as a young hacker tapped to prevent a computerized launch of World War III. Post-screening guest: Kevin Hamilton, assistant professor and senior associate dean in ISU's College of Fine Arts.
  • April 22-24: "Creative Control" (2015): See accompanying interview with the film's star, writer and director, Benjamin Dickinson, who'll be the post-screening guest April 22 only, via live Skype link.

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft


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