When I arrived at the SXSW Interactive conference last weekend, I wasn’t fully prepared to encounter the thronging masses of techie gurus and disciples who descended upon the cavernous Austin convention center intent on exploring (and peddling) the latest trends in emerging media, film, gaming and all things virtual.

I felt a bit intimidated as I scanned the schedule and attempted to decipher what I could learn from each of the hundreds of panels on offer.  Being a non “web-native” filmmaker exploring the unfamiliar terrain of emerging media, I sometimes feel like I’ve been sent back to elementary school, where I’m being forced to learn a new language and alphabet (the acronyms fly fast and furious in tech-speak).

If someone had suggested to me few years ago that I would be attending multiple panels about gaming as a way to understand community engagement and participatory storytelling, I would’ve scoffed at them.   But attend them I did (tweeting merrily all the way), and more often than not got my mind at least expanded if not blown. From crowd-sourced documentaries to social-issue games to collaborative fiction, I learned that the sky’s the limit right now for storytellers who are willing to experiment with content and form.

Then came the dreaded Monday morning where I actually had to get up there and speak on a panel about HTML 5 and filmmaking entitled HTML 5: Leading Edge or Bleeding Edge? I played the role of the intrepid filmmaker experimenting with ways to increase impact and engagement through interactive video.  My fellow panelists (Ben Moscowitz from Mozilla, James Burns from Zeega and Xavier Facon from Crisp) represented the best and the brightest in merging cutting-edge technology with meaningful content.  Our amazing moderator Pat Aufderheide from the Center for Social Media, encouraged us to engage in lively debate about the pros and cons of working with video and HTML 5.

The audience members ran the gamut from filmmakers to technologists with a spectrum of knowledge and experience.  My favorite question came from filmmaker who asked about the challenges of reaching working-class folks who may not have access to the newest gadgets and latest web browsers for viewing media content. That’s a tough question and I think the answer lies in forging strong strategic partnerships with community organizations that can help to bridge the access divide.

For me the take-away from this rich experience was clear: the times they are a changin’.  Those of us who want to tell high-impact stories will have to embrace the multiplatform/crossplatform/transmedia future in some way or risk being relegated to the analog dustbin of history.   I say bring it on!

~LD, March 2012