Atomic Cafe filmmaker Jayne Loader has won raves for her CD-ROM Public Shelter, but calls the 'new medium' a dud

Unfortunately, unlike The Atomic Cafe, Public Shelter has yet to win a wide audience. Only 1,600 copies of the CD-ROM were ever produced, most of which were given to members of the press and broadcast media, while only about 500 of those copies were actually sold. Loader's original plan was to seek out a publisher upon finishing the CD-ROM. That didn't happen; she was rejected by publishers as big as Microsoft. (As Loader says with a laugh, Microsoft reps essentially told her, "Well, Jayne, if we wanted your CD-ROM, we would've made it ourselves.")

She hopes that the wins at the Invisions Awards may bring interested publishers. So far, they have failed to materialize.

Aside from the good reviews and the award, Loader says, "Public Shelter has not been quite that satisfying--in hard cash." But she has found digital technology lacking in more important ways, as well.

"I think that the film [The Atomic Cafe] is more powerful emotionally," Loader says. "A good film can make a much bigger impact than a CD-ROM ever can. Because with a CD-ROM, the maker gives up a lot of power."

The CD-ROM's "message," its point of view, she says, is switched off because the user controls the medium. This interaction, of course, is exactly what is being touted as the power of the new digital medium. But powerful point of view is a theme she's passionate about.

The TV documentaries that were produced for the the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a case in point, Loader says. "Lots of them were really, really terrible," she says. "They had no point of view. They would say, on one hand, it was bad to nuke the Japanese; on the other, it was good. They tried so hard to be balanced that they didn't take a position. While not taking a point of view is a point of view, it's a wishy-washy one. That's what I hate about most television."

She singles out Microsoft's CD-ROM that chronicles the history of the atom bomb, Critical Mass, as an example of a listless point of view. The only possible way a CD-ROM, with its immense capacity for information, can have point of view, Loader has concluded, is through the design of its graphic interface and the selection of its video, audio, and text material.

It's this idea that she implemented into the overall design of Public Shelter, both the CD-ROM and Website. Yet, she says, it still falls short emotionally because things work differently in a medium that is affected by the audience and not the other way around.

"A CD-ROM doesn't allow you to manipulate people in the same way that you can with a movie. You can really jerk people around with movies," she says. "The Atomic Cafe makes a stronger statement. Public Shelter provides more information."

And, indeed, The Atomic Cafe delivers its message to the viewer more effectively in its 90-minute running time than a user spending anywhere from several minutes to hours perusing through Public Shelter's reams of text. The Atomic Cafe takes you on a ride. Just ease back and relax as the film does its light-and-sound show. Basically, as Loader intended, Public Shelter is really about storehousing history. Sure, interacting with it can be a pleasurable experience, but its fun comes from clicking on a video or sound clip and looking at the photographs. This describes most multimedia reference CD-ROMs (and why they have such a hard time finding publishers).

Public Shelter in some ways refuses to function like a typical reference CD-ROM. It lacks a table of contents and, like The Atomic Cafe, there is no narrative to accompany you through the experience. You wander through Public Shelter's contents with only your curiosity leading the way. Using this CD-ROM solely for reference, thus, can be frustrating. It's like going on a scavenger hunt without a list--the only objective being to find something cool.

Interacting--or "playing," if you will--with Public Shelter recreates the thrill that Loader and the Raffertys must have felt when they searched for five years through government archives for those choice films and declassified documents that were used for The Atomic Cafe.

"I found the artistic and intellectual challenges greater in CD-ROM. It's harder to do this medium right," Loader says.

But delivering a message, a definitive point of view, is what challenges Jayne Loader and, so far, she has found that the new medium has failed to deliver--or has, at the least, made such efforts extremely difficult.

"The point of view [of multimedia] is that Americans are stupid--give them games," she remarks sarcastically.

Backing Loader's assertion, at this year's Invisions Awards, the Adult Edutainment category was canceled because of a lack of entries, the category in which Public Shelter would have naturally been nominated. Many multimedia companies have ceased producing educational entertainment titles geared for an adult audience. For the European marketplace, Loader says, it's a different story. There's still a market there for products like Public Shelter, she says.

Worse, Loader says, even though everybody seems to own or use a computer these days, there are still not enough wired folks to make the computer as influential a mass medium as it might be.

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