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Palo Alto: Tech zest-blessed fest

Fest Traveler: Palo Alto Intl. Film Festival 2012

Nestled in Silicon Valley, the Palo Alto Intl. Film Festival has claimed its spot as a place where technology and the film industry converge.

The tech-centric fest opens today with sci-fi action thriller “Looper” — a natural fit for Palo Alto, with its visual effects and time-travel plot, says Alf Seccombe, the fest’s director of media and programming.

Drawing on a powerful trifecta — technology companies, venture capitalists and the film industry — Palo Alto is growing exponentially in just its second year. This year the fest sold more tickets six months earlier than it did while it was running last year. Fest has also garnered attention from major studios including Fox and Disney.

Disney asked fest to screen its anticipated black-and-white short “Paperman” at the festival. “Paperman” uses a new technique to merge computer-generated and hand-drawn animation.

Seccombe says technology will “define the next 100 years of cinema,” and, because of its locale, Palo Alto has a corner on the market.

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“This town, it’s the epicenter of innovation,” he adds, noting that industry big names such as Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar and Lucasfilm all have facilities in Northern California.

The fest’s panelists include such innovators as vfx supervisor Kim Libreri of Industrial Light & Magic’s and creative director Rudy Poat of EA Vancouver. There are also representatives from Machinima, the top entertainment channel on YouTube and from Netflix.

“We’re trying to actually program panels that other people aren’t programming,” says Seccombe.

Panels and film screenings aren’t the only place festivalgoers can see groundbreaking technology in action. They can be participants in Renga, an interactive, cinematic game that allows the audience to control a “Star Wars”-like storyline with laser pointers, he says.

“It flips the whole hero’s journey on its head. So instead of you following (the hero), the audience has to work together with the laser pointers, coordinate moves to win each challenge. The whole audience becomes the hero,” he says.

Palo Alto strives to recognize projects that usually go unnoticed, such as tech documentaries and Web series, says fest’s managing director Alex Ippolite.

Though it’s a forward-thinking fest, Palo Alto was born out of the area’s deep cinematic roots.

In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge photographed Leland Stanford’s horse galloping one mile from the present site of the festival’s offices. The footage, known as “The Horse in Motion,” is sometimes referred to as the first motion picture.

This year, the fest will pay tribute to film history with a 21st century spin — a 3D screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.”

Just as Muybridge and Stanford merged technology and art, Palo Alto looks to do the same.

The fest’s growth in one year has caused organizers to have four nights of outdoor film screenings, up from a single screening last year. However, Seccombe says, “We don’t hope to be the next Toronto in terms of size.” Instead Seccombe hopes for an “intimate industry event where people actually talk to each other,” presumably about the intersection of cinema and cutting-edge technology.

HIGHLIGHTS

THURSDAY
6 p.m.
Opening night screening: “Looper.” Palo Alto Square Theater #1
9 p.m.
Opening-night outdoor screening: “Dial M for Murder” in 3D; with Disney’s “Paperman.”

FRIDAY
11 a.m.
Panel: Innovation and Animation: Behind Walt Disney Animation’s “Paperman.” Speakers: Andy Hendrickson, chief technology officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios; Brian Whited, senior Software engineer, Walt Disney Animation Studios; John Kahrs, director; Kristina Reed, producer. Moderator: Variety technology columnist David S. Cohen. Festival Village. Talenthouse

7:30 p.m.
Panel & Screening: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” presented by the AMPAS Science and Technology Council. Speakers: Dennis Muren, visual effects artist; Don Digirolamo, sound designer. Moderator: Variety’s David S. Cohen. At Festival Village.

SATURDAY
3 p.m.
Talk: Machinima: Venture Capital, Gaming and the Third Wave. Allen DeBevoise, chairman, CEO and co-founder, Machinima Inc., with Variety TV editor Andrew Wallenstein.

SUNDAY
1 p.m.
Panel: Filming in Northern California. Speakers: Freddie Waff, production designer, and Josh Stern, director, “Jobs”; Lauren Machado, filming commissioner, San Francisco Film Commission. Moderator Variety deputy editor Peter Caranicas

5 p.m.
Screening: “Butter” Palo Alto Square Theater #1
8 p.m.
Screening: “Creature From the Black Lagoon” in 3D. Closing night outdoors. Festival Village

Fest Traveler: Palo Alto Intl. Film Festival
Tech zest-blessed fest | Disney’s ‘Paperman’ pioneers hybrid look | Fest voting gets 21st-century upgrade | Rambaldi’s magic made E.T. irresistible

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