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June 6, 2007

Ninjas are the New Everything

...and one of many winners at the inaugural Webbys Film and Video Awards

The Office's Angela Kinsey gets her ninja mind meld on at the Webbys Film and Video Awards (Photos: Annaliese Griffin)

"Web is the new cinema." At least that's what Josh Rubin, founder and editor of Cool Hunting, an art and design Web site, told the audience in his acceptance speech at the Inaugural Webby Film and Video Awards, held Monday night at New World Stages. Host Rob Corddry, a former correspondent for The Daily Show, launched into the evening with five words of his own; "This costume's really fucking hot," he said, struggling to remove a foam banana costume. The five-word limit on acceptance speeches, one of the Webbys' defining features, transformed the night into a contest for the best one-liner.

Many of the winners honored by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, the Webbys' voting body, made it clear that the Internet is not only a viable medium for film and video, for them it is the medium. In the evening's opening speech, the awards' executive director David-Michel Davies told the audience that this year was the right time to add a separate ceremony for video not only because of innovations in technology and broadband access and, but also because of the quality and originality of the work found online. "We're celebrating a beautiful and long awaited sea change in the world of the moving image," he told the audience of bloggers, videographers and Web designers.

The Webby Awards have pinpointed the best design and content on the Web since 1996; the general awards ceremony took place Tuesday night and saluted guests David Bowie and eBay CEO Meg Whitman with lifetime achievement awards. Upholding the Web's anti-authoritarian ethos, the Webbys hand out an official Webby award and a People's Voice award, voted on by anyone with Internet access, in each of 14 categories ranging from animation to experimental to news/documentary/public service. Lonelygirl15.com star Jessica Lee Rose and Ninja from askaninja.com both accepted special acting awards, as well.

From Halcyon, a pink-haired, fake-fur aficionado who documents his efforts to gather the world into a group hug at hugnation.com ("Everybody squeeze, that's from Grandpa."), to Kevin Sites, a video journalist known for his coverage of strife, famine and conflict at hotzone.yahoo.com ("War. What's it good for?"), the award winners formed a broad tableau of the video projects made possible by the Web.

“Being traditional and saying thanks,” said LonelyGirl15 star Jessica Lee Rose (and special acting award winner) in her regulation five-word acceptance speech

"It's a chance for people to take their creativity, their content straight to an audience," Stephen Voltz from eepybird.com told The Reeler in a pre-awards interview. After Voltz and partner Fritz Grobe posted the first video in their The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments to the Web, it took less than a week for Dave Letterman to call. Not long after, Coke set up a sponsorship for the next video. The pair choreographs fountain-like geysers of foamy caramel-colored Diet Coke shooting several feet in the air, a reaction caused when Mentos candies are dropped into the two-liter bottle. The decidedly non-Hollywood duo accepted the Webby in the Viral category, saying, "18,000,000 views and still no dates."

In addition to creating altogether new viewing experiences, online video has also enriched established media, especially television. NBC's hit comedy The Office won a Webby in the Short Comedy category for Webisodes starring Angela Kinsey as a disgruntled accountant ("Accounting is a riot, thanks.") "Internet itself has just broadened our audience so much and allowed us to explore other worlds within the show," she said before the show. Kinsey mugged for cameras with Ninja, who told The Reeler, "Ninjas invented the internet in like the 1400s. We've been waiting for other people to catch up."

Even nominees who didn't win a Webby this year remained convinced that online video provides a unique platform for film work that emerges as more of a collaborative medium all the time. "An interesting little movie is still an interesting little movie -- it matters more when you also have a big Internet series," said Neil Mandt, producer and one of the stars of Last Stop for Paul, an episodic web show that will be released as a feature length film this fall. "They're going to work together -- they have to," he predicted for film and the internet. "If you don't think that way, you're dead."



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