After a short debate about anointing this event as one of our final “Flicker of the Week” picks, given the historic pedigree shared in Friday’s Calendar that informs its very existence, we decided against it by the technicality that it does not actually involve a film presentation. Yet, given how pervasive the use of computers and other technology is in media production, we suppose the “Cyberfest 20th Anniversary” celebration and talk scheduled for later tonight, Monday, March 13, is worth a highlight. The University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), which hosted the original “Cyberfest” in March 1997 and connected it with the January 1997 “Urbana birth date” of the artificial intelligence HAL-9000 as told in the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, also organized this namesake cosponsored by the UI College of Media and Roger Ebert’s Film Festival. Presumably free for the public to attend, Cyberfest 20th will be held in the main auditorium at NCSA, 1205 W. Clark St., Urbana; it begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception as well as interactive demonstrations arranged by staff. This will be followed by a panel, “The Impact of Cyberfest on Culture and Society,” moderated by NCSA/Media and Cinema Studies postdoctoral research associate Veronica Paredes; “Ebertfest” stalwarts Chaz Ebert and Nate Kohn will join international technology experts, several of them with present and past UIUC ties, to ponder the Cyberfest legacy and once again theorize how scientific innovation may intersect with the arts and shape our immediate future.
We now lay down a few pertinent links. Click here for the official NCSA announcement detailing Cyberfest 20th, visit this page for a vintage press release breaking down the primary schedule for Cyberfest ’97, and switch data streams to read an article about the longstanding relationship between UIUC and digital computer advancements. (Interestingly, the first Cyberfest is just recent enough that one can easily locate national press and obscure ephemera lingering in various corners of the Internet, originally brought to everyday consumers by the NCSA-developed Mosaic Web browser.) We also excite your senses with key images; above resides a nifty poster by local illustrator Steve Schaberg that depicts the infamous sensor-eye of HAL lording it over Cyberfest ’97 performer Insook Choi, while below is embedded a video that preserves the half-a-world-away meeting between Ebert and Clarke conducted via satellite as part of a “Cyberfest Gala” extravaganza. Of course, everyone loves to wax poetic as to how this fabled conversation along with Ebert’s emcee turn the night before, introducing the film 2001 to an enraptured audience at the Virginia Theatre, directly pointed towards the founding of Ebertfest. Given the latter’s consistency in duration and scope, we can’t help but wonder about the single-evening brevity of this Cyberfest in comparison to the last, which took place over a full week at multiple locations. Even if this does not quite compute – we happen to not be rocket scientists, after all – it should be a rather interesting foray for those who value the positive attributes of science fact and speculation.
~ Jason Pankoke