A live art exhibit featuring people's Tweet-size immigration stories brings an interactive element to this year's Ashland Independent Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Monday at several locations in town.
Part of "Immigration Nation," a transmedia project featuring film, art and live storytelling, the exhibit invites visitors to Houston's art gallery to share stories of their families' beginnings in 140 characters or less, either written down or Tweeted, during the First Friday Art Walk on April 5.
The live exhibit will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at Houston's Custom Framing and Fine Art Gallery, 270 E. Main St.
Artist and illustrator Anthony Weeks will translate those short pieces into a 4-by-8-foot mural that will hang in the front window of Houston's on Monday, April 8.
"Immigration Nation" is the brainchild of AIFF alumni filmmaker Theo Rigby, whose short documentaries "The Mayor" and "The Caretaker" will premier in the festival's Short Docs program. Rigby's work, which explores themes of immigration, has been showcased twice at the festival. His film "Close to Home" was screened in 2010, and his award-winning short film "Sin Pais," the story of a family separated by deportation, was broadcast on PBS and screened at AIFF in 2012.
Weeks and Rigby have teamed for similar events, most recently at a film festival in Sebastopol, Calif., where Weeks created a mural from Tweets such as "My Grandmother left Romania when she was 17, with no money and no luggage," or "My family came from England on the Mayflower."
AIFF Executive Director Anne Ashbey said the small bits of biographical information are fascinating.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what people in Ashland write," she said. "Saying what you need to in a limited space is like writing haiku."
Rigby's work fits with the festival's plan to experiment with more interactive filmmaking and what is known as transmedia — telling a story across multiple media formats, including art, video, Internet, literature and speech, Ashbey said. Rigby's "Immigrant Nation" project consists of short films, live events and a website.
"Theo's film really pushes the boundaries between media. He tells a compelling story and it unfolds across different formats," said Ashbey. "This is the evolving nature of storytelling and it is a different way to interact with the film festival, to bring technology to the festival in a way that is meaningful to our audiences."
"Immigrant Nation" also will be the centerpiece of a weekend "hackathon" on Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7, as coders and filmmakers experiment with how to collect and distill new technologies to tell stories.
It's hosted by Southern Oregon University's digital media center in conjunction with the Portland Incubator Experiment and the Technology Association of Oregon.
"They'll be creating applications that will further the ability to collect and transmit these sort of transmedia events," said Ashbey.
Ashbey said transmedia is a change of pace for the festival, but she thinks moviegoers will embrace it.
"This is a very different kind of programming for the film festival and it may be intimidating to some of the people in our audience, but once you get past the fear factor and look at how the story is created and told in a collaborative way, it's fascinating," Ashbey said. "I can't wait to see how our audience interacts with this."
For more information about "Immigrant Nation" and the eMerge Transmedia Project, go to AshlandFilm.org/eMerge or visit the "Immigrant Nation" page on Facebook.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.