Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Future Is Now: Melbourne WebFest 2016

Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Future Is Now: Melbourne WebFest 2016

Article excerpt

'What is the place of the web series in the screen-production landscape?' This is the question that Steinar Ellingsen, director of Melbourne WebFest (MWF), asked in his festival welcome.

Is it a calling card? Is it a launching pad? Is it a viable alternative to traditional media? Depending on who you are, and where you are in your career, it can be all three--and, I believe, many more things, too.

The fourth international MWF, held on 1-3 July, certainly addressed these questions--and so it should, being the only web series festival in Australia. Though it's quite a young event, the concept is solid: 2016 saw fifty-five titles from fifteen countries screened at Deakin Edge in Melbourne's Federation Square, with a host of engaging events complementing the screenings.

Many of the series' creators are ambitious creatives striving to bring something unique to the screen, which is a reflection of the festival itself. According to its website, MWF is working to acknowledge digital screen producers and is creating a hub for networking and professional development in the heart of Melbourne. It is also an opportunity for the public to experience the best in digital series entertainment from around the world. The 2016 festival included a greater diversity of material, new awards and a live pitching competition, Pitch Perfect, held in partnership with ABC iview. Each of the web series showcased at MWF had the opportunity to win any of the festival's twenty-three awards, including the Grand Jury Award (paid trips and entry to several international web series festivals) and People's Choice (cash prize).

The ambitious Industry Development Day was a highly relevant feature of the festival--a full day of workshops at La Trobe University's CBD campus, covering such topics as how to create a web series within budget and time constraints, how to pitch, how to direct actors, and working with 3D technologies and virtual realities. The festival's opening night included a keynote by John Cabrera on how both online and offline communities will shape digital entertainment in the future, which was followed by the premiere of 2046, starring Chinese-Australian actor Aly Zhang. MWF's last day saw an informative panel exploring strategies for funding and commissioning a web series, featuring Nick Forward (Stan), Rick Kalowski (ABC), Mike Cowap (Screen Australia) and Travis Rice (LENS-immersive).

Local titles were screened at the 'Spotlight on Melbourne' pre-festival event. This selection showed that comedy is a strong point in Australian screen media, something that was further demonstrated during the main festival's screenings. While Australian web series held their own among the international titles, spanning a variety of genres--drama, thriller, nonfiction--their strength particularly lay in comedy. Kalowski, the ABC's head of comedy, mentioned that the network would be 'aggressively commissioning short-form comedy' this year, and it's easy to see why. Highlights from MWF 2016 that employed the awkward, self-mocking brand of Australian humour include The Katering Show, Footballer Wants a Wife, The Wizards of Aus, Aunty Donna: 1999 and DAFUQ?.

The various screenings of both local and international titles proved it was a well-curated festival; the talent and diversity represented were impressive. …

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