Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dear Future, Don't Take Our Film Away


With the recent announcement that Fujifilm will officially end its production of filmstock, it seemed about as good a time as any to discuss this.
 
The film vs. digital debate has gone on for quite a while, whether it be in a film school classroom, message boards, a documentary, or through directors loudly and actively "quitting" film, and both sides have done an admirable job in making their arguments heard. In case you're wondering what I think (though you're probably not), I'm very much for film, and it's my hope that, if and when I do find myself in the director's chair, I will be shooting 35mm. However, from Kodak's declaration of bankruptcy to Martin Scorsese's decision to shoot his latest picture digitally after being a film advocate for years, the seemingly constant barrage of depressing film-related news is hard to ignore, if occasionally overblown.

Quite frankly, I consider the articles and commentators that ponder whether 2013 is the last Oscars that film-shot movies will feature in to be fairly idiotic. There are still plenty of filmmakers that are shooting film, many of whom are extremely well-respected and influential people. The use of film is still popular in major film schools as well, so even the next generation is already working with it.

Now, it wouldn't be too difficult to explain the merits of film. I could go on about how only film possesses true black levels, how digital scanning can't capture the full image quality of a well-shot and preserved 35mm or 70mm movie, how only the film format exists in the real world and engages audiences in a visceral way that digital projection can't even begin to match. But the simple fact of the matter is... that's not ultimately what's important here.

What matters is that there are hundreds of up-and-coming filmmakers and film students that WANT to shoot film (I only hesitate to say thousands because I don't have the hard data to back up such a momentous, though plausible figure). Some of them are doubtless going to be great artists... maybe another Welles or Tarkovsky; who knows? Regardless, the movie world has no right to deny such people creative expression through whatever medium they choose.

This is what ticks me off about some film professors and technical experts putting down film-lovers as change-hating fogeys or hipsters, no different from those who advocate vinyl records over MP3s (by the way, that's almost an exact quote from one of them, not my own words). Such ignorant and narrow-minded venom is a sign of our modern age, one that seems to advocate open-mindedness but ultimately comes down to "agree with me or you're wrong." I have no problem with digital technology in movies. Filmmakers like David Fincher and Ridley Scott have done marvelous work with digital video, just as Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson are currently doing in film. Quite frankly, I'm blown away by some of the possibilities of the new tech, my favorite being the use of digital compositing in special effects: far more efficient, clean, and seamless than optical compositing. I can even understand the love that people have for digital video, and I agree with many filmmakers that the relatively low price point of commercial-grade digital camcorders has gone a long way to establishing new artists who could never have afforded to realize their visions otherwise. I'm excited about the new possibilities, and I would never label those who choose to work in a purely digital workflow as film-killing nerds...
 
Except for maybe James Cameron... but come on! He had it coming!
 
I will, however, say this: To those who are saddened by the precarious position of celluloid these days, be vocal about it! Whether it means signing a petition, attending 35mm screenings, actively going out and watching movies shot on film, or shooting your own projects the same way (seriously, Bolexes and 16mm stock aren't that expensive) there is something you can do to keep film alive. And to those who are advocating digital, please understand that this is not a black-and-white argument. If you believe digital is the future, that's great, but know that there are incredibly important merits to shooting on actual filmstock as well, and, beyond that, there are artists and visionaries to whom that medium is integral to telling their stories. Celluloid is a vital piece of film history and a vital tool in filmmaking, and it would be an unnecessary and heartbreaking tragedy to lose it now.