Re: 45th Ann Arbor Film Festival

From: Ken Bawcom (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Mar 31 2007 - 19:27:49 PDT


You can stop biting your tongue, I meant no "encomium to the DVD." The
only thing I prefer DVDs to, as prescreeners, is VHS, which seems to be
your preference. I'll try to be a bit clearer...

First, and foremost, the Ann Arbor Film Festival DOES accept 16mm film
for prescreening purposes. This year, two, out of over 2,000 entries,
chose that option. In the days when we would ONLY accept 16mm for
prescreening, it was not uncommon for film makers to plead with us to
accept a VHS screener, so providing a 16mm print is not always
preferable, or convenient, for the film maker.

I would prefer to look at all films on film, for prescreening purposes.
But, that doesn't seem yo be possible any longer. I have come to accept
the DVD, not prefer it. When the DVD is well made, and viewed on good
equipment, including a sizable monitor (not a computer monitor, or 27"
TV screen), or a good video projector, it becomes an acceptable
substitute for a print, for previewing purposes ONLY. The only sense in
which that is superior to a print is the utilitarian considerations.
VHS shown at what I consider an acceptable size doesn't look very good,
so I prefer DVDs to VHS. The Ann Arbor Film Festival is a big screen

I have experienced all the DVD glitches you describe, and could add one
or two. Have you gotten DVDs that would turn off the player, when they
were read? I had one that the only way I could get it out of the player
was to unplug the player, and plug it back in, while I had the eject
button depressed! I have four DVD players, and always run into a couple
that will not play in any player. In that case, we request a
replacement copy.

VHS is hardly immune to glitches, and tape damage, that make viewing
ugly, or impossible. The strangest VHS glitch I remember was a tape
from India that had the multiformat player switching back and forth
from PAL to SECAM in auto, and wouldn't play at all if either was
selected. After about an hour trying to get it to play, I found that if
I adjusted the tracking to a spot near one edge, it would play back,
after a fashion, without switching back and forth. I believe it was
called "Journey," was programmed, and awarded. I'll admit I couldn't do
that with a DVD, but I'd bet that someone with the computer skills
could do the equivalent with a DVD.

So, while I appreciate the ease of DVDs, and find a good quality DVD,
shown on good equipment, to be an acceptable substitute for previewing
only, 16mm is still the best. But, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate
good video work!

Ken B.

Quoting Roger Beebe <email suppressed>:

> 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 experience.)
> 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 another...
> 2 centimes,
> Roger
> 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>.

"Those who would give up essential liberty
to purchase a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty, nor safety."
Benjamin Franklin 1775

"I know that the hypnotized never lie... Do ya?"
Pete Townshend 1971

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