Re: 45th Ann Arbor Film Festival

From: Roger Beebe (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Mar 30 2007 - 07:42:02 PDT

I'd been biting my tongue on the encomium to the DVD that Ken
offered, but I do feel, since this thread has continued a bit, to add
a post to the great past volume of cautionary posts that Pip has sent
to this list about the limits of DVD too. As "crisp" as a DVD may
look at times, it also is a format that's plagued by horrible
encoding errors that result in endless glitches. I'm not talking
about the specific problems that Pip has with DVD compression as it
relates to work that changes greatly from frame to frame (although we
should certainly worry about that too), but rather I'm concerned
about the more noticeable and global kinds of visual glitches that,
say, turn the image into a cascade of giant blocks. The worst thing
about these glitches is that they seem totally unpredictable from
deck to deck or sometimes will even occur during different playbacks
on the same deck. I've seen this at major shows at big international
museums, where DVD was chosen presumably for the ease of installation
& the ease of looping, but some of the pieces have been so flawed
that I found them almost unwatchable. As someone who runs a
festival, I've regularly encountered DVD-R screeners that either fail
to work altogether in certain decks or that are plagued by video or
audio glitches substantial enough to harm the makers' chances of
placing their work in festivals. (At FLEX, we routinely juggle decks
until we can find one that plays back glitch-free, but of the 200 or
so DVDs we got in the last round, there were at least one or two that
never successfully played in any deck or computer that we could
find.) Unfortunately, there's no "troubleshooting" of this glitch
generation--I used to test my burned DVDs in 3 different decks to
make sure they'd play fine only to have friends report that the DVDs
wouldn't play in their decks at home. (Dave Tetzlaff referred to DVD
burning as a "Black Art," and I think that's about right from my

Do I still use DVD-Rs. Yes. Begrudgingly. But I think we should
probably be a little less enthusiastic about embracing them as a
perfect solution for all of the reasons others have enumerated here &
for the additional problems I note above. For my money, I still like
the simplicity of pressing play on one tape deck & pressing record on

2 centimes,

On Mar 30, 2007, at 4:08 PM, Robert Schaller wrote:

> 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
>> ================
>> 40 FRAMES
>> 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>.

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