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The silver screen meets the metaverse at the Maryland Film Festival’s CineTech

From projection mapping to the immersive world of Quest 3, the festival’s 25th edition offers something for every cinephile to explore the future of tech and narrative media.

"Recombination" by Julius Horsthius projected inside the Parkway Theatre. (Courtesy Maryland Film Festival)
Except for a brief period during Artscape 2023, the iconic SNF Parkway Theatre on W. North Avenue hasn’t welcomed the public since it halted its programs and screenings in January 2023.

That changes today, when the theater doors open for the 25th Annual Maryland Film Festival (MDFF) and its event aimed at film enthusiasts and technologists alike: CineTech.

This year’s MDFF explores new territory by introducing this inaugural tech-focused program alongside an array of feature films, shorts, panels, discussions, receptions and post-screening events. This program caters to people like Q Ragsdale, associate programmer of emerging technology and CineTech’s curator, who see themselves as advocates for the future of film.

“‘Emerging technologies’ is a big umbrella term, but in my context, it refers to virtual reality, augmented reality, immersive media and interactive experiences,” said Ragsdale, the former director of acceleration for Impact Hub Baltimore teammate. “What’s funny is, when I was in entrepreneurial coaching, it would always be focused on the digital parts of entrepreneurship. And I was always [telling] people, ‘Don’t be intimidated.’”

Ragsdale, who identifies as a creative technologist with business strategy savvy, granted Technical.ly a sneak peek at the cutting-edge technologies featured in this year’s festival.

From that first look, attendees can expect unexpected journeys through fractal worlds that incorporate projection, music and mathematics, with artists like Julius Horsthuis from the Netherlands leading the way. Additionally, cosmic animated installations will adorn the theater’s second and third floors, courtesy of Baltimore-born Kyle Yearwood and others.

White VR headsets on red cushions near black TVs in a white-walled room.

VR devices and experiences at CineTech. (Alanah Nichole Davis/Technical.ly)

Festival-goers will also get to immerse themselves in titles like “Now Is the Time” and other VR experiences using headsets, including the Quest 3, provided at the festival.

Ragsdale said that support for showcasing emerging technologies at the historic venue came from various stakeholders, including a programming team with 2024 RealLIST Connector Bakari Jones and veteran local technologist Terry Kilby.

“There is no blueprint for creating an immersive experience in a theater built in 1915,” said Ragsdale.

According to Kilby, Ragsdale enlisted the services of his boutique digital imaging firm Evergreen Digital to bolster the festival’s immersive media elements. One of those components is projection mapping, which involves playing various videos onto differently shaped surfaces, such as ceilings or curved walls. It’s a tad different from his first medium.

“It all started with drones for me,” said Kilby, who used to run the aerial photography company Elevated Element.

During the pandemic, Kilby attracted global interest when he scanned the graffiti-covered Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia before its ultimate removal. This led to collaboration in 2021 with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland, where he fell in love with projection mapping.

“I really admire the organization [MDFF] for taking this leap and trying to bring something special for the 25th anniversary,” said Kilby.

Both he and Ragsdale anticipate festival attendees will engage with projects that extend beyond the theater walls. One of these projects involves using apps for augmented reality like Artivive to make artwork pop off the over-100-year-old theater’s walls. Ragsdale added that this tech-forward programming can be enjoyed between film screenings and does not require registration.

Ragsdale also said that Jason Gray, an educator in Johns Hopkins University’s Immersive Storytelling and Emerging Technologies program, recruited some tech-savvy volunteers to assist people trying this tech out.

“We will have people here to help them,” said Ragsdale. “And if people are excited about what’s on the forefront, with the future, this is what I want to bring to them to show them what’s possible in the future of the moving image.”

The fate of the Parkway Theatre as a fully operational, year-round venue remains uncertain. Ragsdale mentioned that news regarding its future should be forthcoming shortly.

Until then, you can explore the future of immersive narrative media through CineTech. That program, and the MDFF at large, takes place at the Parkway Theatre from today, May 2, through May 5.

Explore the full lineup of CineTech showcases

Series: Entertainment Tech Month 2024

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