Bob Elfstrom, The Magic Room
Interview and research by Kay Savetz.
From 1982 through 1984, Atari ran summer computer camps at several locations around the United States. I covered the Atari camps extensively in a special episode in 2015. Now it's summer 2021, and we're going back to camp!
That first year of the computer camps, in 1982, Atari commissioned a film about its summer camps, about the kids and teachers who were there, about the process of learning about computers, about kids challenging themselves, and about making friends at summer camp. Atari commissioned filmmaker Bob Elfstrom and his partner Lucy Hilmer to make the film. They shot the 26-minute film at the University of California, San Diego campus in 1982. It would be titled The Magic Room and was released the next year.
There are many scenes in the computer lab: we see close-ups of kids concentrating, thinking about the logic of their programming projects. Their faces light up as they solve their problem. There’s an adorable scene with a robotic, computer controlled turtle running across the floor, racing an actual turtle. There's kids riding horses at magic hour, and singing by the campfire, and finally an epic pillow fight, with feathers flying everywhere in the dorm hallways. The end credits were made with an Atari 800, naturally.
This interview is with the filmmaker, Bob Elfstrom. (Lucy Hilmer was unavailable for an interview.) Bob has a long list of film credits to his name. He is known for his work on Johnny Cash! The Man, His World, His Music (1969), and Mysteries of the Sea (1980) -- his IMDB page lists scores of credits.
It's easy to watch The Magic Room (and you should!). It's available at YouTube and Internet Archive.
My interview with Bob took place on June 17 and June 25, 2021.
Watch The Magic Room
The Magic Room Trailer
ANTIC Special Episode - Atari Summer Camp
ANTIC Interview 412 - Linda (Gordon) Brownstein, Atari VP Special Projects
Bob in IMDB
Lucy Hilmer's site
Lucy in IMDB
Magic Room credits:
Robert Elfstrom Productions
Executive Producer: Linda S. Gordon
Executive Consultant: Lauren Dunbar
Produced and Directed by: Robert Elfstrom and Lucy Hilmer
Edited by: Michael Chandler
Associate Producer: Gloria S. Borders
Music by: Sasha Matson
Written by: Lucy Hilmer and Michael Chandler
Production Advisor: Richard Pugh
Sound: Agamemnon Andrianos
Additional Sound: Nelson Stoll
Production Manager: Kathleen Andrianos
Special Assistant Caroline Pugh
Special Thanks: Raymond E. Kassar, Robert A. Kahn, Wayne Harvey, Ted M. Kahn
Head computer instructor: Richard Pugh
Instructor: Karen Okagaki
Computer Campers: Maria Smith, Candace Shockley, Margaret Aiken, Enrique Rios, J. J. Kreideweiss, Vincent Cook, Jim Dillon, Leendert Mulder, Rick Crosby, Brent McDonald, Barry Champagne