Lezione di Cinema: Il futuro della pellicola

Lezione di Cinema: Il futuro della pellicola  is an important roundtable discussion on the current status and future possibilities of motion picture film that took place at the annual Il Cinema Retrovato  event held by Cineteca di Bologna, Italy on July 1, 2015.

A strong theme that emerges from the colloquium is the desire for co-existence of film and digital media. The Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film / FIAF, in a written statement of support, advocated this bilateral approach as key to the future of both mediums.

Among the many topics covered are:

– the important, distinctive nature of film projection – avoiding taking an ideological stance in relation to different media – funding of archives – one major studio’s approach to current archival practice – ongoing interest on the part of young people in film as a medium – the importance of education in film and film history – framing discussion in terms of what people want, rather than solely on opinions about what can or cannot be done – film and digital media as active, ever-changing formats – the human quality of film – manufacturers’ responses to a changing market
– audience education –


Moderated by: Scott Foundas, Chief Film Critic, Variety


00:02:28    Gian Luca Farinelli, Director, Cineteca di Bologna  [fr]

00:07:45    Rachael Stoeltje, Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive; FIAF
00:12:50    FIAF Statement

00:15:20    Pietro Marcello, Filmmaker  [it]
00:19:45    Communication from ORWO
00:20:25    Alexander Payne, Filmmaker
00:23:40    Nicola Mazzanti, Director, Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique

00:32:30    Eric Le Roy, Head of Access Services, Archives Françaises du Film,
                         Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée / CNC  [fr]  also 00:47:50
00:37:20    Grover Crisp, Senior Vice-President Asset Management, Film Restoration &
                         Digital Mastering, Sony Pictures  also 00:58:05
00:49:05    Gabe Klinger, Critic and Filmmaker

00:59:55    Michael Pogorzelski, Director, Academy Film Archive  also 01:09:45
01:02:45    José Manuel Costa, Director, Cinemateca Portuguesa /
                         Museu Do Cinema  also 01:12:50
01:16:30    Jonathan Nossiter, Filmmaker

01:27:07    Renato Berta, Cinematographer  [it]
01:38:05    Christian Richter, Film Laboratory & Studio Relations Manager,
                         Eastman Kodak

01:47:55    Discussion

Reproduced by kind permission of Cineteca di Bologna and
Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film / FIAF


Keeping Options Open

Media Plurality and Cultural Diversity

800px KuhneKlein Painting Time

The recent conclusion of film supply agreements between the major studios and Eastman Kodak is a welcome acknowledgement of the ongoing importance of maintaining a range of creative options for filmmakers.

Choice is at the heart of creativity; and creativity is the driver of the commercial film and television industry. It is this understanding that lies behind the evident will to ensure that talent is not restricted in the tools and mediums available with which to tell stories, communicate ideas, and enthral and entertain audiences.

Preserving choice lends certainty and confidence and further shores up freedom of choice, which has been under threat. It also makes economic sense, as a diverse range of media options affords resilience, particularly in times of volatility or uncertainty.

The same idea holds true in exhibition. Flexible programming that employs a wide variety of formats (perhaps, flexhibition), ensures diversity and also supports the right of audiences to experience creative works in their preferred medium.

The AMIA Film Advocacy Task Force has highlighted the demand for film-based screenings across a broad cross-section of audiences from different countries and cultures. Cultural diversity is an important theme, and the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity speaks to the subject in the following ways:

Article 1 – Cultural diversity: the common heritage of humanity

Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind. As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations.

Article 2 – From cultural diversity to cultural pluralism

In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities as well as their willingness to live together. Policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace. Thus defined, cultural pluralism gives policy expression to the reality of cultural diversity. Indissociable from a democratic framework, cultural pluralism is conducive to cultural exchange and to the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain public life.


Why Cultural Diversity Matters – TEDxCSU [Note: October 2014]

The connection between cultural and biological diversity has been explored and developed in recent years1 and provides a useful and practical framework for considering issues of diversity and plurality in the arts. Of further interest is the additional connection that has been made with linguistic diversity2. Indeed, within the field of moving images, it is stimulating and productive to consider the various gauges and emulsions of motion picture film and various formats of analog and digital video as languages – and even perhaps as dialects.

The UNESCO Universal Declaration addresses the consequences of unchecked commodification of creative works on diversity:

Article 8 – Cultural goods and services: commodities of a unique kind

In the face of present-day economic and technological change, opening up vast prospects for creation and innovation, particular attention must be paid to the diversity of the supply of creative work, to due recognition of the rights of authors and artists and to the specificity of cultural goods and services which, as vectors of identity, values and meaning, must not be treated as mere commodities or consumer goods.

This underpins the value and need for comprehensive education in this area, so that we can attain new, enlightened perspectives on these important issues.

1. See for example, Pretty J et al, The Intersections of Biological Diversity and Cultural Diversity: Towards Integration  Conservat Soc 2009;7:100-12

2. See Sharing a World of Difference: The Earth’s Linguistic, Cultural and Biological Diversity

Image: Painting Time – Collage from art postcards
by Hendrikje Kühne und Beat Klein is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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Preserving  Los Sures

Chair of the Film Advocacy Task Force, Elena Rossi-Snook, discussing film-based access in the context of the original surviving print of  Los Sures

Courtesy Christopher Allen and UnionDocs

Los Sures  (Dir. Diego Echeverria) is a powerful 1984 portrayal of a Brooklyn neighbourhood grappling with the social and economic challenges presented by high crime rates, violence, racial tension, dereliction and deprivation. Determined to overcome this, however, is a community rich in culture and creativity.

30 years on, this notable film has been preserved by the New York Public Library using an original print in its circulating 16mm film collection. Film-to-film preservation was done by Colorlab from the original 16mm print and resulted in the creation of a new preservation negatives and a 16mm access print which is available to the public.

As a tangible, durable record of its time, Los Sures  has further provided the foundation for an updated documentary project, Living Los Sures, by locally-based UnionDocs. This Multi-Author Place, Media, and Art Project (MAAP) uses UnionDoc’s expansive documentary approach embracing film / video, radio, photography, performance, interactive and locative media to bring the story into the present and to promote new forms of community engagement and discovery.

UnionDocs utilised the New York Public Library’s original 16mm print to remaster the work on digital video for the Living Los Sures project.

This kind of multi-purpose institutional and community collaboration is a perfect demonstration of the ongoing relevance of and argument for film conservation and preservation: by conserving the original print – keeping it in cold storage, employing careful handling when projected – the film was available, 30 years after production, for transfer to both new film elements and to contemporary digital video formats. It is therefore now available equally as an online interactive community outreach exercise and as a projected-film experience.

Preserved by the Reserve Film and Video Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Living Los Sures – Facebook

Living Los Sures – Transmediatic

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Assuring Access


Does the widespread availability of electronic, binary versions of
film material – increasingly, the only way one is being allowed to view it – truly constitute access?

“Access” is defined in the following ways:

>  The means or opportunity to approach or enter a place

>  The right or opportunity to use or benefit from something

>  The right or opportunity to approach or see someone

>  The process of obtaining or retrieving information stored in a computer’s memory

>  Denoting broadcasting produced by minority and specialist interest groups, rather than by professionals: access television

>  An attack or outburst of an emotion

>  To approach or enter (a place)

>  To obtain or retrieve (computer data or a file)1

Access to content is not the same as access to an experience. The relationship of the word to the field of information technology is also noteworthy in this context.

An interesting aspect within the definitions is the concept of entry. Previous work by the Task Force has highlighted the important physiological aspects of the engaging film projection experience. Does greater emotional engagement with creative and artistic works of cinema in this way (as argued) assist entry into the narrative, thematic, and spatial milieu created by the filmmaker? Is any restriction of cinematic work “access” to purely electronic means a form of denial of access – ultimately, a form of censorship?

The reference to rights (in the broad sense) is thus also significant. Whilst new means of access are valuable and important, they should complement and extend existing and traditional means of access, not supplant them. An ideology of supplantation is incompatible with fundamental rights.

These issues invite critical examination of words and phrases that are very often used unconsciously. “Access” should not be co-opted and its meaning corralled for particular political or ideological purposes. Rather, one seeks to qualify the term in order to emphasise the proper scope of its meanings. Thus equal access  (or, equality of access); physical access; diverse access; holistic access; broad access; general access; inclusive access – to give examples of some phrases that could be adopted and propagated.

In this way, the general meaning of “access” is reinstated, in this context covering a diverse range of formats and platforms: including, importantly, traditional methods of access.

Such plurality is healthy and a necessary prerequisite for the ongoing development of the field.

1. cf. Oxford Dictionaries

Image by Alfred Hutter


[Edited on January 16, 2015. Reason: “Equal Access” and “Equality of Access” added to list of terms above]

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Connecting with Audiences: Interstellar
and Exhibition Choice

ESO IMAX Hidden Universe

“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.” (James Stewart)

Changes in cinema technology worldwide in recent years have created a commercial moving image product that is almost entirely limited to the (binary) digital format. This limitation of choice for consumers (in the form of movie theater patrons) has, as is expected in free markets, created a movement1 demanding continued access to 35mm film print exhibition.

In response to this market demand, and in service to creative freedom and the heritage of the cinema experience, director Christopher Nolan, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. have designed a release pattern for the science-fiction adventure film Interstellar that alters the single format paradigm and offers a new model for inclusive, democratic distribution through its conscious provision of choice of exhibition medium for audiences.

By unprecedentedly releasing in large format 70mm film, conventional 70mm film and 35mm film in addition to binary viewing formats, Interstellar reaches the widest audience possible, fulfils market demands for varied media consumption and facilitates full engagement with its themes and messages.

It also exemplifies choice in shooting and post-production mediums, staying largely within the photochemical domain throughout and avoiding the use of reductive techniques such as the digital intermediate process.

Interstellar provides the benchmark in how to release and exhibit a major motion picture in the 21st century. It is a model that other films could follow – it is eminently feasible for example to continue to strike 35mm prints (also in large format as desired) for specialist film-based theaters in major cities – much like how traditional 70mm “Roadshow” releases were carried out.

Perhaps a larger market is yet in place; the burgeoning membership for Art House Convergence and the number of film-capable theaters therein suggests a more extensive film exhibition network. And, of course, one needs only to look to the number of Interstellar film prints booked and the associated box office receipts to determine the viability of film print distribution and exhibition (this group doubts that the numbers are disappointing). It can also be argued that the contraction in the use of film for exhibition has achieved very large financial savings which more than adequately cover the cost of limited film-based releases into the future.

For those who question the ability for photochemical laboratories to cater to a reduced but sustained production of commercial release prints, Interstellar laboratory Fotokem in Los Angeles, California, to give just one example, remains committed to the business and artistry of film2.

Catering for all sections of the audience makes sound business sense, and provides ongoing market opportunities for specialist companies in servicing niche film-based exhibition.

In providing audiences with film prints for engaging with the material held by them, archives and specialist distributors likewise also commendably play their part in upholding the right of Everyone […] freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits3.

Ultimately, media democracy and inclusive cinema is to the benefit of all.

1. See for example the Fight for 35mm Petition, which is statistically important due to both the volume and geographical distribution of the responses

2. cf. Presentation at AMIA 2014

3. Article 27(1) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

Image: Screenshot from IMAX® 3D movie Hidden Universe showing the Carina Nebula
by European Southern Observatory (ESO) / T Preibisch
is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license

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The Making of Film:
The Marketplace & The Commons

Diversity, Flexibility, Opportunity

Film is undeniably in transition, but the medium-to long-term scenario could be one of greater diversity of supply, smaller scale production, and the potential for new, flexible manufacturing processes, ironically facilitated by the same level of technological innovation that has been applied in the digital video arena. Equally, new product funding models may emerge that overcome the increasingly apparent limitations of the privately financed and controlled corporate business model. These concepts are in tune with significant changes in consumer culture that have taken place in recent years, with increasing fragmentation in many markets and, consequently, more targeted product design, manufacturing, and marketing.

Maker Faire 2009

As the cultural position of motion picture film changes, new opportunities for development present themselves. The recent emergence of the ‘Maker Movement’1 is significant, and far from denigrating traditional technologies and crafts, it embraces them and allows for the development of new forms via cross-fertilisation. It champions small-scale, localised manufacturing that is more flexible and responsive than the traditional “smokestack” model. Such contemporary, creative new approaches to manufacturing hold out the prospect of on-demand and made-to-order models of film manufacture and supply.

Maker culture is also capable of providing new models and forms of film-related equipment, and 3D scanning developments could well benefit parts manufacture. In addition, the Maker Movement re-establishes the place of crafts in society2, highlighting their importance in a world which has increasingly turned away from the physical and the tangible in favour of the disconnected, abstract experience mediated by digital technologies.

Many who work with film speak to the satisfaction gained from working with one’s hands and to the appreciation of the craft practices associated with film handling. For far too long, this critical aspect has been overlooked, with the discourse tending to focus on film as art.

A transition path away from an industrial-based model of film manufacture is also aligned with emerging concepts of the Cinematic Common3 – a subset of the theory of The Commons, which encompasses the natural and cultural resources of the world that are held in the common ownership of humanity4.

Consideration of The Commons is a key part of the discourse on cultural heritage and cultural diversity, and compensates for the effects of what is further referred to as The Tyranny of Small Decisions – a phenomenon whereby many small decisions made by purchasers of goods and services can lead, cumulatively, to undesirable outcomes contrary to the common good5.

Within this new paradigm, development of a Cinematic Common addresses the ultimate limitations of markets themselves in the provision of film-related goods and services. Such thinking allows for public funding of film technology, either through centralised grant schemes or tax breaks (already disbursed in many countries for film productions), or more locally through crowdfunding mechanisms.

While no one can predict the future, one can continue to advocate for artistic rights and freedoms, for choice and diversity, and for new ways of looking at challenging situations.

1. Bajarin, Tim, Maker Faire: Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America’s Future, TIME, May 19th, 2014

2. Crawford, Matthew B, The Case for Working With Your Hands, The New York Times, May 21, 2009

3. Stoddard, Matthew, Film Heritage and the Cinematic Common in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Volume 18, Issue 4, 2013, pp 179-194

4. http://ccmj.org/wp/associates-papers/the-commons-a-formal-definition

5. Kahn, Alfred E, The Tyranny of Small Decisions: Market Failures, Imperfections, and the Limits of Economics in Kyklos – International Review for Social Sciences, Volume 19, Issue 1, February 1966, pp 23-47


Image: Maker Faire 2009
by Jon ‘ShakataGaNai’ Davis
is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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5 Minutes on Film: Leonard Maltin

Noted film critic, author and historian Leonard Maltin recently generously shared his views with FATF on the current status of motion picture film within moving image culture.

This contribution takes a longer view of Cinema and its important heritage and traditions, and constructively addresses current developments.

We extend our thanks to Leonard Maltin for his time and co-operation in the making of this piece.


Projection: The Politics of Passivity

It is not important what goes on each frame of film; it’s the spaces between frames that are important  (Norman McLaren)

Critics and commentators have remarked upon the induced reverie and pleasure associated with watching films, invariably characterising this as a magical experience. In the undue haste to replace film with digital (binary) video technology, few have considered the important role of the shutter in viewing the projected motion picture.

Typically (in shutter-based projection), theatre audiences viewing film on a screen spend half their time in darkness. This is thought to simultaneously relax the brain and increase active engagement as the mind “fills the gaps” between each shutter interruption. In this way, the brain constructs perception of movement from distinct still frames.

Specific research into the physiological and psychological aspects of motion picture viewing has been hard to find, though Gestalt psychology has explored connected concepts such as the Phi-Phenomenon and Beta Movement1. However, in 2012, the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / ZHdK, Switzerland, commenced formal research into the differences between viewing projected motion pictures and digital video-based images2. Although the full results of this study are not yet available, a preliminary outcome found that

Im Gegensatz zum Aufnahmeverfahren beeinflusst die Projektionsweise die Wirkung deutlich; die emotionale Wirkung ist bei analoger Projektion tendenziell höher, wobei die Stärke wiederum je nach Film variiert.3

(In contrast to the recording process, the projection method clearly influences the effect; the emotional impact of analogue projection tends to be stronger, the intensity of which varies from film to film.)

This preliminary research suggests a link between the singular nature of film projection and one’s emotional involvement in the action portrayed on screen. The film projection experience may have greater impact because the viewer is physiologically engaged in the viewing process via the shutter interruptions. If it could be proved that non-film-based projection methods deprive audiences of physiological and mental engagement in the viewing process, that could partly explain why there has been notable resistance to digital projection in theatres and might be a contributing factor to recent recorded declines in cinema admissions in some parts of the world.

These concepts also have a bearing on the emerging field of audience rights. It can be asserted that denial of the ability to properly engage with motion pictures – in effect, enforced viewing passivity – is a breach of the people’s right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and impedes the right of artists to freely communicate information and ideas.

The need to preserve the active, engaging motion picture projection experience for filmmakers and audiences alike highlights the precariousness of a film culture and infrastructure that is in the main supported and controlled by private companies. Such companies determine the supply of and access to film-related products and equipment. This environment is increasingly unreliable. In order to preserve people’s access to the motion picture viewing experience, there will have to be intervention at national and international level4.

The Zürcher Hochschule der Künste research moves discussion and consideration of this important area from an abstract position to a more concrete foundation. It constitutes an advancement in understanding and a welcome re-introduction of film viewers to this discussion.

1. The Phi-Phenomenon is a process that is carried out in the visual cortex of the brain in which spaces between static visual elements in sequence are used, in part, to construct a perception of movement.

Related to this is a similar, but distinct process called Beta Movement, which also contributes to the perception of movement between otherwise still images.

What is commonly referred to as Persistence of Vision (i.e. after-images on the retina of the eye) in fact appears to play only a minor role in the motion picture viewing process, with some claiming that it operates mostly only to reduce perceived flicker.

The human visual system and brain do not have to continuously take in images in film projection, due to the shutter interruptions approximately every 1/48 of a second (for projectors with two-bladed shutters).

2. ANALOG / DIGITAL: The Emotional Impact of Film Recording Processes on the Audience (Study by Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / ZHdK, Switzerland)

3. Medienmitteilung der Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, der Universität Zürich und der Universität Bern vom 15. März 2013

4. See the recent SaveFilm.org initiative, which the Film Advocacy Task Force wholeheartedly supports.

Additional References

Steinman, R. M., Z. Pizlo, & F.J. Pizlo. Phi is not beta, and why Wertheimer’s discovery launched the Gestalt revolution: a minireview (2000). Vision Research, 40, 2257{2264. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10927113 (Abstract)


http://www.indiana.edu/~audioweb/T284/ beta-phi.html
(Examples of Phi and Beta Movement)

Contributions of Gestalt psychology

(Phi Phenomenon and Gestalt Psychology)


(Critique of Persistence of Vision theory)

(Movement Illusion in Film – Myths and Explanations)


Motion Picture Persistence of Vision: “How You See It”
(1936 Chevrolet Educational Short Film explaining
Basic Principles of the Motion Picture Projector)



(Cinema Attendances – EU)

Image: Bioscoopaffiche, Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, 1909,
by Julien t’ Felt (1874-1933)
Public domain / PD-Art
Public domain in the United States / PD-US

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Material Alteration and Reduction of Motion Pictures: The Berne Convention and the Moral Rights of Authors and Audiences

Filmmakers have long sought to protect their works from unauthorized alteration and modification. Practices such as colorization, pan and scan, lexiconning (the speeding up of motion pictures for broadcasting purposes), and re-editing are rare today due to a combination of enlightened and progressive legislation and high-profile campaigning by noted filmmakers. Victor_Hugo_1884_A
Internationally, the moral rights of authors1 are protected by the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works of 1886, administered by the World Intellectual Property Oganization (WIPO) and signed by 167 countries. The integrity of artistic works is protected under Article 6bis (Second Instance of Article 6) of the Convention:

(1) Independently of the author’s economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.

United States law refers to the concept of “material alteration”, initially defined in Section 11(a)(5) of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 and dealing with colorization and “other fundamental post-production changes”. This concept is developed in more detail in Section 2, Paragraph 5 (I) of the Film Disclosure Act of 1995 (Page 10, Lines 12 thru 19), which amended the Lanham Trademark Act of 1946, inserting new clauses into Section 43.

Paragraph 5(I) and sub-clauses (i) and (ii) of the additions state:

(I) the terms ‘materially alter’ and ‘material alteration’—
(i) refer to any change made to a motion picture;
(ii) include, but are not limited to, the processes of colorization, lexiconning, time compression or expansion, panning and scanning, and editing;

These concepts – of “distortion, mutilation” or other modification as cited in the Berne Convention and of “material alteration” in U.S. law – remain relevant and applicable to current new technologies.

In this context, the contemporary practice of re-issuing only reductive, digital video-based binary versions of restored motion pictures to circumvent the creation of new photochemical projection prints raises serious ethical and legal issues. Without the consent of the authors of motion pictures (as defined in the Berne Convention and above acts), it is legitimate to assert that such practices can constitute prima facie “material alteration”, “distortion”, or other modification of these artistic works, as defined.

The issue is not the making of digital video-based copies of motion picture materials per se. This is a legitimate extension of practices that have existed for several decades, from the earliest telecine methods to current scanning technologies. The crux of the matter is the exclusivity involved. Converting a film to digital-only format is a greater degree of alteration than making editorial changes or inserting new shots: such alteration removes the ability of both filmmakers and audiences to experience a filmed motion picture in its original format.

Enlightened enhancement of the existing legislation could uphold the rights of artists working in the motion picture field and guarantee choice in how their works are exhibited and preserved. Furthermore, it could strengthen the emerging area of audience rights and give voice to a constituency completely ignored during the recent discourse on cinema exhibition technologies and practices.

Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works

National Film Preservation Act of 1988 (a constituent of Public Law 100-446—Sept. 27, 1988: An act making appropriations for the Department of the Interior and related agencies for fiscal year ending September 30, 1989, and for other purposes)

Film Disclosure Act of 1995 (HR 1248, Page 10, Lines 12 thru 19)

Lanham Trademark Act of 1946 (15 USC 1125 – July 5, 1946: An act to provide for the registration and protection of trademarks used in commerce, to carry out the provisions of certain international conventions, and for other purposes)

  • The artistic, academic, and cultural impact of an increasingly non-print-based exhibition paradigm has been discussed in some depth in recent years. We cite some perceptive work on the topic in the Recommended Reading section of the Resources area on the AMIA Film Advocacy Task Force website.
  • The ethical aspects of the use of recent intermediate digital technologies in motion picture restoration have been considered by experts in the field2 as these, too, are open to inappropriate usage.

1. In the United States, studios and production companies are considered authors of filmed work
2. E.g. The Moving Image (Spring 2007, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 78-91), Wallmüller, Julia, Criteria for the Use of Digital Technology in Moving Image Restoration

Image: Médaille à l’effigie de Victor Hugo, œuvre de A. Borrel, 1884, Bronze, 68mm by Defranoux is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
(Victor Hugo, L’Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale and the Berne Convention)

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Fight for 35mm: An Interview with Julia Marchese

In November 2011, thousands of people from around the world began to sign and share the Fight for 35mm Petition.

Seven months and 10,753 signatures later, Julia Marchese had enough support to crowdfund and produce Out of Print, an exciting documentary that presents the case for retaining the art, craft, and unique experience of 35mm motion picture presentation.

In this exclusive interview, Julia shares her passion for repertory cinema, reflects on the petition, and discusses the filming of Out of Print.

Julia Marchese Directing "Out of Print"

FATF: How did you become interested in film and in repertory cinema?

JM: I’ve always been a movie fan. I was a drama major, film minor in college – it was study of film, not film production – and I adored it. I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, found a New Beverly calendar and I just immediately knew that it was the place I had to work. I went there and asked for a job the first time I went, and every time I went back for five years until they finally caved and gave me a job! That was in 2006, and I’ve worked there ever since. Something about it is magic to me.

Why is repertory cinema important to you personally?

I think it’s really important to keep community of cinema alive, because if you go to a multiplex, all you do is you go in and watch a movie, and you go home and you’re not interacting with anybody.

But the New Beverly and other repertory cinemas offer an experience for people who are like-minded and want to talk about these things, and it becomes something more than just watching a film. I think that’s really important, and I think if you lose that, it’s going to be losing a really important part of cinema, which is discussion – because talking about movies is almost as fun as watching them. I think that you’re also going to be losing independently-owned places – the New Beverly is not a chain, we’re just a family-owned place. I think it’s so important to keep these places around.

Something that a lot of directors that I interviewed for Out of Print said – and I think this is really interesting – is that repertory cinemas are where they went when they were young and that’s really where they learned about film. They saw films projected in a cinema with an audience and that experience is what made them want to direct. If you take that away, what happens to the future generations of filmmakers? You could watch whatever on your computer, but that’s not going to give you the same feeling as if you saw Casablanca at a theatre surrounded by people who are oohing and aahing and crying and laughing; the group audience experience is so important to watching a film.

Can you describe the role of film projection in this?

Film projectionists are such unsung heroes, because you don’t notice them if they do their job correctly. You only notice the projectionist when the sound goes out, or the picture goes out of focus, or there’s a reel change; but if they do their job perfectly, you won’t even know they’re there. I think that’s why people are so flippant and think, “Oh well it doesn’t matter, we’ll just change to digital” – well actually there’s an artform to it, there’s people who are very, very into film and who are really careful about making sure your experience is great, and they’re getting no reward for it…and now they’re just getting fired. It’s very sad that you have this group of people who should be lauded, and they’re getting the short end of the stick. If you’ve ever been in a projection booth you’ll know that they’re running around the entire time the film’s playing – they’re making sure that everything’s OK, they’re getting the next reel ready, making sure it’s in focus – it’s a really stressful job. I think that because people don’t see them, they don’t realize how hard projectionists work.

By May 2012, 10,753 people from around the world had signed your Fight for 35mm petition. Why do you think so many people responded so passionately?

The petition started when we got a letter from one of the studios saying that in 2012 they intended to stop making new 35mm prints. That made me nervous, because I knew that eventually that would trickle down to repertory cinema. I had to stand up and say, “Hey, just to let you guys know this is happening, and we should be doing something about it”.

I think it just got the dialogue started. And because nobody had known this was even coming, it kind of came out of nowhere and blind-sided everybody. 35mm is really important; you can’t just take it away – it’s something that everybody should have a say in. I was so incredibly amazed that so many people signed it, and that it got so much press coverage, and everybody started to realize this was happening. The goal of the petition was to just get the word out, and it really did. And that’s what kind of led to Out of Print, because I realized that there are so many people out there who really care about this subject. I thought – how can I reach a broader audience? How can I really show people how important repertory cinema is? That’s why I focused on the New Beverly, but also broadened the scope to repertory cinemas in general because you should be supporting your local theatre – you’re going to really miss it if it goes.

Can you tell us about your documentary, Out of Print – how did it come about, and what were your experiences making it?

This is my first film, and honestly it could not have been a better experience. I raised the money through Kickstarter, and we raised $80,000 in 30 days. I was so amazed by the support and loyalty. I’d never dreamed that I would be able to film on 35mm, but then I got talking to Panavision, and started talking to Kodak, and told them what the film was about, and they were very, very generous and gave us a camera package, and film. Being able to shoot on 35mm was incredible, and there’s a split-screen sequence in the film where we actually show digital and 35mm side by side, because I don’t think people can know what the difference is – but then when you look at it side by side you go, “Oh OK, well I can see that now”. But filming was fantastic – I got to interview so many of my heroes – Mark Romanek, Edgar Wright, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Joe Carnahan, Patton Oswalt – all these guys who I’ve looked up to, and are people who love the New Beverly, and also love film and want to fight for it. So doing that was amazing, and then getting to go and edit the film, and then do all of the sound, and all of these things – it’s been incredibly educational and really fun, and I really enjoyed the experience.

What would you like the film to accomplish?

I’m in a weird place right now because the film’s finished, and I’ve submitted it to festivals and am waiting to hear back – so I’m in that weird limbo of waiting and being on pins and needles, but I just hope that the film does well because I want it to prove to people that independent, single-screen theatres are important. And people who have watched the film so far have come out saying, “This makes me want to go to the New Beverly, and this makes me want to go to my cinema”. That makes me so happy, because that was the goal of the film – to make folks realize that they have these cultural gems in their towns that they’re probably not supporting like they should be. Single screen theatres are struggling as it is, because they’re having to compete with the multiplex and everything. So if this can drive just a little bit more business their way then I’ve done my job.

A strong theme in the film is to retain access to 35mm projection. If one were to try to curtail that, then it actually limits what you can show, among many other things.

Every time you switch to a different format you lose titles. They didn’t transfer everything from VHS to DVD, or DVD to Blu-Ray, and so everything from 35mm is certainly not going to go to digital. And so you’re going to get smaller and smaller percentages of films available to view.

Another theme is choice. Do you think people understand that they have a choice, and should have a choice, in how they experience films at the theatre, despite a prevailing narrative that clearly tries hard to persuade them otherwise?

I don’t think as many people realize they have a choice, that they can voice their preferences to their local cinema and help their local theaters keep their 35mm projectors. But that’s kind of the goal of the film – to let people know that they do, indeed, have a choice.

What’s the difference in visual information that you see with 35mm? Returning to the split-screen comparison in Out of Print – how would you describe it?

I feel that there is a depth and life to 35mm that digital lacks. Digital feels very flat to me – whereas film feels rounded and full. And I enjoy the imperfections in 35mm – the faded prints, the scratches and cue marks – they make you realize that the film is an actual physical object that can be damaged, and that it has gone through hundreds of human hands and projectors – it’s a really wonderful feeling.

How have people reacted to the film? What’s changed for you and the New Beverly Cinema since the petition and the making of Out of Print?

The reactions to Out of Print so far have been really positive – something that I guess I didn’t realize until I finished the film was that anybody who watches Out of Print will get a glimpse of who I am – because it’s very groovy, and there’s a lot of fun colors and things – I use a lot of old drive-in snipes. I put my personality into the film and that’s something that’s been fun to watch people react to. I think people aren’t expecting it to hit all the bases but there’s sad bits in it, and there’s funny stuff, and there’s educational stuff – I tried to really make it hit every point that I wanted to make…and not make it overwhelming of course!

I don’t know how it’s affected the New Beverly – I think that if it does well it will certainly make a difference. The way festivals work is they want to premiere your film – so you’re not hitting screens beforehand. Not a lot of people have seen it yet – it’s basically my friends and family, and that’s it. So I’m interested to see what the reaction is with a big audience.

Do you think there needs to be more and better quality education about film – that is, the medium; the material?

Of course – the more people that know what’s happening, the better chance we have of keeping 35mm around. And I make this comparison in the film – if you take another medium and say, “Books are only now going to be on your Kindle, or your Nook – you cannot get printed books anymore” – people would freak! This is very similar, because there’s no more physical film. You can’t own a print – it becomes this ephemeral thing where you don’t understand how it works – but it’s very important to have this tangible object that’s not just a button on a hard drive.

Out of Print has been submitted for screening at a number of upcoming festivals

Fight for 35mm Petition

Out of Print website

Photo courtesy Julia Marchese

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