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CFC Habitat New Media Lab Soiree

Thursday night found me in the lower room at Revival, while a Ryerson fashion show took place in upstairs. I was there for the CFC Habitat New Media Lab info session/soiree.

You know a media program is good when every laptop in sight is a high-end Apple (how I envy those with Powerbooks).

Despite the freezing room and the absence of a spotlight on the various speakers as they presented their projects, I came away duly impressed by the program - especially after chatting with a few of the current students.

The bulk of the evening was devoted to hearing from the alumni of the program who have developed various interactive new media projects - some still in prototype form, some launched into the world.

The purpose, we were told by the program's director Ana Serrano, is to get the students to "invent the future of entertainment." The New Media Lab divides the interactive projects into five types - interactive cinema (remember our review of Meanwhile? That's from the NML), mobile, spatial, network online, and goal based (games).

We wrote about a few of them last summer.

Since it's inception in 1997, they've produced over 50 projects. (One of which is [murmur] - which you should all know and love, because it's grown to Vancouver, Montreal, and may actually expand to San Francisco).

Recent works include Things Left Unsaid which is an online community (that just went live this week) that provides a forum for anonymous posts of secrets. The creators developed a short video story in conjunction with the online component to dramatically illustrate how four people try and fail to communicate and are left with, yes, things unsaid.

There's also a mobile component to their project - the video can be downloaded onto a mobile phone, and weekly secrets from the website can be texted, with the idea that the continuing revelation of secrets will trigger something in the reader/receiver that they too will share.

The interactive film Meanwhile (see link to review above) can be viewed online as well as DVD and on iPod.

Also, remember Painting the Myth from Digifest Goes Wild? Yup, it's from NML, too.

I spoke to Ana Serrano during the mingling/h'ors d'oevres time to get a bit more info on the program. Although some of the projects obviously have a life outside the program, I wondered if many of them stayed prototypes. She told me that about a third have some commercial life, some have a festival kind of life, and some are experimental.

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The students usually come from a background in traditional media of one kind or another, with the understanding that the existing platforms don't present enough for the kind of works they want to create. The program requires a lot of work, maturity, and flexibility - you have to be able to work with a team - slackers and egomaniacs need not apply.

After completing the program, many of the students go on to start their own companies, or lead traditional media evolving in new directions.

I was delighted to find my friend Maggie is a member of the new class - they've been in for about two and half weeks now, and she and some of her compadres - Alison, Faustine, and Ryan, told me more about the day to day of the program.

They work from about 10 to 6 (scheduled 'til five, but these are hard-working, visionary minds here), and benefit from having professors who are experts in their field come in and do intensive days teaching them in a variety of skills - including leadership, narrativity, interactivity, and foresighting.

Imagine my envy when I learned they had the head of Outward Bound Canada getting them into team-building.

They spend their day brainstorming - and learning and presenting projects on what they've learned. I was more intellectually stimulated by hearing these kids talk about their program than I have been over the past two months together.

As Alison (who is full of bon mots, including how after NML she'll never be able to have a regular job again) succinctly put it - the NML is teaching "a whole new way of learning."

This is the vanguard, guys, and it's right here in the t-dot.


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