Athens, Georgia

If one thing can be said about Athens it is that it has proved time and time again to be a true breeding ground for creativity. Given that reputation, it is no wonder so many artists call Athens home. “It really is only in Athens that you can find the type of person who has the heart of an artist, the soul of a geek, and the mind of an academic. That is what distinguishes Athens from other places. There are people that really have no problem moving back and forth between all those areas,” says Scott Shamp, director of Athens’ New Media Institute.

A community where curiosity prevails makes Athens the perfect environment for exploring creative uses for new media. “People here are willing to do a bunch of different things. And there is a high tolerance for people trying new things that don’t work,” Shamp says. This constant eagerness to explore contributes to Athens’ ever-changing environment of creative ideas and projects. For many artists, the chance to be a part of something new is reason enough to experiment. “The cool thing about Athens is, nothing is ever finished,” Shamp comments. “You can always be at the beginning in Athens, because everything is always changing.”

New Media Institute

Test bed for wireless technology

In just two years, Athens’ New Media Institute (NMI), an interdisciplinary unit of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, has become a leading institution for the creative exploration of ideas. Combining technology with “technowlegable” students, NMI is developing new ways of approaching what new media can and should do. “The primary driving force in new media is not technology. It is creative ideas for the use of technology,” explains Shamp.

NMI offers students the chance to create a new communication experience by exploring the possibilities of mobile-rich media. By creating a wireless zone called the WAGZone (Wireless Athens Group), Shamp and the rest of the NMI team are using wireless technology to stream audio/video signals throughout downtown Athens. Currently, anyone using a WiFi-equipped device is able to transmit and receive data from a collection of ten WAG boxes installed on the city’s light poles. “There are a lot of other places who are flinging up these access points and allowing people to log on. Nowhere that I’m aware of has a city government and an academic institution come together to facilitate and enable wireless communication. That’s what makes it unique,” says Shamp. By establishing Athens as a wireless test bed, a whole community can begin to explore creative uses with this technology. The wireless “cloud” becomes a platform that anybody can build upon.

No one knows this better than NMI’s fifty-three students, who are already connecting to the internet a quarter-mile from NMI’s downtown headquarters. In fact, NMI’s 5,000 square feet of teaching and research space is a completely wireless environment, enabling students to roam from room to room with continuously connected laptop computers. Once outside the classroom, students can also take full advantage of the radio spectrum space designated to amateurs and noncommercial practitioners allotted by the federal government.

One recent group project enabled students to stream video directly from cyclists participating in the 2002 Charter Twilight Criterium bike race, that runs through downtown Athens. Cameras linked to backpack computers equipped with WiFi technology were placed on racers to give spectators a first-hand account of what it’s like to be a part of the event. “This is just one example of creative exploration that lowers the barriers,” says Shamp. There was no satellite truck, no TV station to broadcast a signal. Just fifteen students with access to under $5,000 of equipment who were able to produce a really compelling video presentation to people around the world.”

It is this type of experimentation that Shamp believes will transform how we use wireless communication. “Wireless technology hasn’t advanced, because we haven’t found a way to tell people what they can do with wireless. We only have been told, ‘it doesn’t use wires.’” But Shamp is confident that his students will find a solution. “It’s the institute’s job to build the wireless zone. It’s up to students to change the face of what it can do. Here you can just work on cool.”

Flicker Theatre and Bar

Athens’ lo-fi, no-budget fun

Founded in 1991 by Michael Lachowski and Jennifer Williams, Athens’ Flicker Film Festival has long been considered the best ticket in town for folks looking to gather for an evening of lo-fi, no-budget discoveries. First gaining notoriety for having screened early works from such talents as Lance Bangs, Matthew Buzzell, Jem Cohen, and Jim McKay, Flicker has, over time, grown into an international phenomenon, inspiring over ten independent chapters worldwide, with recent Flicker interests in New Orleans and Prague.

While these satellites keep Flicker’s festival-minded spirit alive, what originally began as a series of local Super 8 showcases at the fabulous 40 Watt Theater has since become a full-time operation. In 1999, long-time Flicker organizer Angie Grass began opening her doors nightly to expanded programming at the Flicker Theatre and Bar. The Flicker establishment is host to the best in rare, classic, and independent films, boasting an intimate fifty-seat house and some outstanding drink specials. In addition to ongoing thematic programs like Flicker Noir, Summer Serials, and the ever-popular Flicker Local (a showing of all things Athens), the Flicker Theatre and Bar also offers camera rentals and access to other Super 8 equipment for those eager to make their own little gems.

“Our goal has always been to show rare and hard-to-find films,” explains Grass. Popular fare includes music docs, film noir classics, artist series, and silent films accompanied by the Flicker Orchestra, five to fifteen musicians who are often part of Athens’ eclectic music scene. “The Flicker Theatre and Bar is a truly unique venue and a good example of one that has identified with local tastes and programs to them also, within their means, which are not plentiful,” states native son Jim McKay. And with no official local arthouse cinema in town, and a revolving door of annual film festivals, Flicker is Athens’ best bet for a continuous look at new, exciting, and provocative entertainment.

Walter J. Brown
Media Archives and Peabody Collection

Treasure trove of old film, television, and radio clips

Home to more than 51,000 television programs, 40,000 radio programs, and over five million feet of news film footage, the University of Georgia Libraries’ Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Collection is a valuable resource for filmmakers and broadcast teams searching for rare and often unique programming.

Recognized as the third largest public broadcasting archives in the United States, the site offers access to a wide variety of stock and archival footage. “I believe we have the best representation of the history of broadcasting anywhere,” says Brown Media Archives Director Ruta Abolins. In large part, that can be attributed to the impressive Peabody Awards Collection, the cornerstone of the Brown Media Archives. With more than 19,100 radio titles and 22,000 television programs, the collection embodies the best in American broadcasting. Programs represent a cross section of national and local television and radio news, documentaries, drama, music and dance performances, children’s programming, situation comedies, and more. There are works ranging from the golden age of television, when performances were broadcast live, to recent stylized, fast-paced music videos.

All of the programs vying for the prestigious George Fosters Peabody Award are preserved in the vast collection. As many as 6,000 tapes or approximately 1,200 titles, are entered for consideration at Peabody in any given year. Many of the films, video, and audio tapes are the sole surviving copies of programs.

That is also true of many of the Archives’ other collections, like the Nixon/Gannon Interviews. With more than thirty hours of videotaped interviews conducted by trusted friend Frank Gannon, the footage serves as Richard Nixon’s most substantial and lengthy post-presidency interview. Another notable collection is the Michaelis Library of Living History, featuring hundreds of hours of Arnold Michaelis’ audio, film, and video interviews with leading political and cultural figures including Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Indira Gandhi.

The WSB Television Newsfilm Archive is another important chronicle, representing a visual history of Atlanta, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Southeast from 1949 to 1981. WSB’s Television Newsfilm Collection contains five million feet of newsreel. “The majority of the footage we have is unedited and predominately unused, not just the television news broadcast,” notes Abolins. “Parts have been used in productions like Eyes on the Prize and in the new documentary being done by WGBH on Jimmy Carter.”

Archival footage from collections like the WSB Television News Film Archive and the Nixon/Gannon Interviews are licensed directly by the Brown Media Archives. To obtain footage from other named collections, like from the Peabody Awards Collection for instance, permission must first be granted by the rights holder. Filmmakers or producers interested in viewing or acquiring program copies are encouraged to contact the archives directly to find out more about copyright (a breakdown of licensing fees is available on the archives’ website, Abolins notes, “We try to help out independents in any way we can and are open to negotiating licensing fees. Our first goal is preservation, but providing access to these programs runs a close second.”

About :

Paul Marchant spent time in Athens as codirector of the Kudzu Film Festival. He is currently director of the Atlanta Film Festival and the Out On Film Festival