Reclaim The Screens!

Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) 2004, Thailand/France/Germany/Italy, 118 mins

Postcard from Sydney, by Mathieu Ravier

Hi everyone,

How rewarding to read your words, such interesting ideas bouncing back and forth across time zones (and hemispheres!).

I’m thrilled about how information technology is changing the way films are made, seen, disseminated and talked about. It’s opened up new opportunities for many who were previously excluded from this creative universe. It’s turned cinephilia from a secret club for the privileged to a “Broad church” in which anyone can worship.

I don’t think access, even defined as overexposure, poses a threat to thoughtful criticism. Those sensitive to its charms had to seek it out in the past, they will seek it out in the future. The same can be said of contemplative cinema. Isn’t part of our role to aggregate, demystify, point the way? If anything, I think the abundance of un-sponsored, unedited, multifaceted voices helps bridge the gap between an audience too often treated like a market, and a cinema too often marginalized by its inability to compete for attention in a media-saturated landscape. For all the trash that washes up on its beaches, the internet is still a place where one can access treasures of cinema, gems of criticism. It’s an ocean of information, not a tidal wave.

I agree that cinephilia is about time, and sometimes it seems cinema and thoughtful criticism move to a different timescale than the internet and online banter. Negotiating this disconnect, moderating our unlimited access to knowledge and materials, these are the challenges of the age (and not just for cinephiles). It requires incredible self-discipline, but isn’t it a fascinating, stimulating exercise?

I’m less interested in the size of the screen at the moment than in what’s on it. I have a multitude of devices on which I can (and do) watch moving images. And yet like everyone here, there is nothing I like more than watching films the way most were meant to be seen: in a cinema, in a comfortable seat, on a big screen, with proper sound. But it’s not something I can take for granted anymore.

I live in Sydney. There is no cinematheque here. There is no centre for the moving image. The last repertory cinemas have been turned into office buildings. Independent cinemas are all but extinct. Five or six so-called art houses all show the same 7 or 8 movies. A quick glance at some of the titles screening there this weekend: Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Water for Elephants, Insidious,  The Hangover 2. And then there’s the multiplex.

This is not some provincial backwater, this is the biggest city in the country, a city of over 4 million people in one of the world’s richest economies. This is the place small town youth flee to in search of culture. The films of Denis or Breillat, Tsai or Weerasethakul, Costa or Lanthimos, they cannot be seen in a cinema here, outside of a festival. Ozon’s Potiche, for many here, is as leftfield as cinema gets.

I’m all for the purist’s cinema experience, but not at the expense of diversity. Is it better to stream Tropical Malady on a TV, computer or home projector, or never to see it at all?  If we must resort to other screens to awaken and preserve interest in the work of true artists, past and present, so be it. If tweets and podcasts are helpful to share that enthusiasm and alert people to alternatives, then bring it on.

Cinephiles run film festivals here because without them, the cinema experience would boil down to consuming event movies with popcorn. The internet has levelled the playing field, provided accessible and powerful opportunities for promotion and discussion, allowed us to keep in touch with audiences and filmmakers year-round and to champion under-represented cinema. The aim is still to bring people together in a darkened, acoustically-sound cinema, and in the case of my next event, to introduce them to the work of promising Quebec auteurs such as Sebastien Pilote and Stephane Lafleur.

Alongside traditional film festival, I started a monthly short film night here called Kino Sydney 5 years ago, where we show uncurated short films made specifically for the night. It’s the other end of the spectrum. The films are of varying quality, the sound is average, cushions replace red velour seats and everyone’s drinking and talking. But we’re drinking and talking about film. We’re sharing our experience (and our understanding) of shooting and assembling videos, and how that relates to our experience (and our understanding) of cinema. The lines are blurred.

There are so many new ways to engage with filmmaking, criticism and viewing. Each has become more accessible than it’s ever been. If there is a new cinephilia, then perhaps it’s one which allows us to seamlessly alternate between taking on, learning from and commenting on each of these three roles. The possibilities are endless.

Mathieu

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