Re: 45th Ann Arbor Film Festival

From: Robert Schaller (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Mar 30 2007 - 07:08:44 PDT

I think Alain makes a good point, that filmmakers who work on film do bear
an additional cost and hassle to transfer to video, make a DVD, and
duplicate. This may be a modern necessity, and it opens up more options for
having the work seen, but if the work was meant to be seen on film, how much
advantage does it really confer? The idea that a particular piece of work
is the same no matter which medium it's presented on, from IMAX film to ipod
screen to crummy YouTube flash, is at best a problematic claim. It is also
a claim being increasingly assumed and accepted, often without really
thinking about it, by general viewers and the engines of commerce and even
filmmakers themselves. It certainly has a seductive appeal.

One of the clearest reminders to me, though, that the format does matter,
came, paradoxically from digital editing. I was working on my first 720p24
project in Final Cut, and had original footage in a wide variety of formats
that I was working with, in DVCProHD60p, PAL anamorphic, PAL 4X3, and NTSC
29.97. I edited away and got a fine cut, only to realize that I didn't have
anything at all: because I had used all these different formats, I couldn't
output the piece, and the visual quality of what I had was a mess. I had to
go back and transform the source material to a common format, and redo the
edit. Which was an object lesson that format matters very much, and that
programs like Final Cut are not doing us a favor by letting us think that
they are all interchangeable and somehow equivalent. They are not. How
many of us have endured almost unwatchably bad interlaced video projections
at film festivals? I remember going to IDFA a few years ago, and feeling
crucified by work that was sometimes very interesting from the point of view
of "content" but was visually hideous, as if the filmmakers had no idea that
they were creating a visual work, and didn't care about visuality at all.
And then, for the last screening, I saw a film shot and projected on film,
by Frederick Wiseman, and it was like being reborn. It's not my purpose
here to single Mr. Wiseman out for specific praise, but it was so clear that
he was thinking about how what he was making would LOOK, in addition to
attending to documentary "content" -- in fact, the visuality of the work and
its content were one: he was making a FILM, and it was a pleasure to watch.
The difference was clear.

So I would hope that there is still room in the world for works that insist
on being films, on being in the particular medium for which they are made,
which recognize that they ARE, IN FACT gateways to a specific visceral
experience, and take themselves and their audience seriously enough to
deliver themselves as they really are meant to be, whatever that is. And I
hope that a distinguished festival like Ann Arbor would still be willing and
able to evaluate a work on film if that's what the maker intends. It makes
me think of a response attributed to Robert Frost on being asked what a poem
of his meant: he replied, "what, you want me to say it less well?" I think
that we ought to be very careful not to sacrifice what really matters on the
altar of convenience, even as we make use of that convenience when
appropriate. We must remain vigilant about where that line is.

None of which is intended as a criticism of Ann Arbor, but just a thought...

Robert Schaller

On 3/28/07 9:51 AM, "40 Frames" <email suppressed> wrote:

>> I hate VHS screeners, especially those sent to us in SLP. But, some of
>> my favorite work, even 16mm, comes to us that way. I have a 56" DLP HD
>> TV, and a 400 disc DVD changer. Call me lazy, but I have come to
>> accept, even like, DVDs for screening purposes, as they are so quick
>> and easy to handle, look good if the transfer is good, and don't
>> present any chance of damaging an expensive print. We have had entries
>> done originally in HDV that looked better than most commercially
>> produced DVDs of 35mm films. I do miss the old days, of screening all
>> on 16mm, but it just isn't possible any more.
>> Ken Bawcom
> The drawback of this approach is the difference in translation in screening
> or pre-screening VHS/DVD compared to a 16mm print. When I have the option
> (which is unfortunately very rare) I will request the print for screening.
> I agree that this convenience has become a *necessity* as it's believed to
> cut cost, but this cost cutting seems to be more on the side of the
> exhibitor who is paying less in postage (to ship prints) than for the
> filmmaker who is paying to xfer the film and duplicate DVDs and (as is
> often the case) cover postage. (Of course now xfers and duplication of
> video media is also a *necessity*.)
> Locally, this idea of convenience has made the writers for the weekly and
> daily newspapers very lazy, and many have told me they *prefer* a tape or
> DVD even if a press screening can be organized. And when we have had press
> screenings (let's say there is NO tape or DVD of the film we are showing)
> we're lucky if one person shows up out of three or four invited press
> outlets.
> In the current scenario there's also less running of projectors which is
> not a good thing. Continual operation of projection equipment and
> maintenance of that equipment often go hand in hand. It also can help
> prevent the damage that results from lack or use/practice for the
> projectionist.
> I understand the convenience side (I am an exhibitor after all), but I
> also believe there are enormous compromises in doing this... for both
> maker and exhibitor.
> -Alain
> ================
> Alain LeTourneau
> Pamela Minty
> 425 SE 3rd, #400
> Portland, OR 97214
> United States
> +1 503 231 6548
> info(at)40frames(dot)org
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.