The End of the Silver Light

Posted: June 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Art, Film, Film Festivals, Filmmakers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I’m in Norway for the Norwegian Short Film Festival in the storybook holiday town of Grimstad.  White wood houses, boat trips, fresh shrimp  and a diverse selection of films, many of the Norwegian films straight out of film school with very big budgets (jealous).

And then there’s the light.  When one is in it, it feels sharp and bright, it privileges the national color blue.  For many hours this light approaches silver.

Does the quality of light change a culture?  I think it must, although I don’t know how to quantify.

I heard today that within a year all Norwegian cinemas, from the largest stadium theater to the tiny traveling cinemas which operates briefly during the summer will no longer project from film, making Norway the first country to go completely digital.  It is a move heavily motivated and partially funded by Hollywood.  This relationship with Hollywood is long established – Norway is frequently used by the American film industry as a test country for films before they are distributed to the rest of Europe. (Two facts about the film industry here:  most of the film funding comes from the government and the first Norwegian film school opened in 1997.) Hollywood’s promise to Norwegian theaters – that the new, very expensive digital projection technology that will be installed will hold steady for 10 years (and if there’s a bridge you want to buy I know of one available in Brooklyn).

There’s a big part of me (my back, my hands, my brain, my left leg) that doesn’t like (hates) to see things change. Digital projection has improved and as a long-time video user who only uses film intermittently I’m not going to argue that film is ‘better.’ It is different – and the end of film means one less tool, one less texture, a range of colors no longer available. The filmmaker Tom Kalin, who shoots exquisite S8 images, reminded me of this recently, speaking of the end of Kodachrome. I recently sent Tom the last few rolls of Kodachrome I’d been saving in my freezer.

Digital projection will certainly hasten the end of film, which is currently dying out film stock by film stock.  It is interesting to think back to Wim Wender’s film from 1976, shot in glorious b&w 35mm – about a guy who fixes 35mm projectors. It is an ode to the end of neighborhood cinemas.  Here’s a fragment of the film from YouTube (the moving image is dead, long live the moving image)

Wender’s film leads me to a still relevant question – what will digital projection mean for the truly independent (no budget, non-traditional, marginal) moving image producers and small neighborhood cinemas? For producers, there may be a lowering of the bar, digital projection eliminating the need for hugely expensive 35mm prints.  Neighborhood cinemas may or may not fair so well, they certainly won’t be able to ante up for a 2 or a 4k projector.

The people I talked to here are not at all optimistic – they’re predicting cinemas that are connected via satellite to a central server – a mainline to mainstream Hollywood. But if this mainline consists only in movies that audiences don’t want to see (as in much of what Hollywood is producing right now) the industry and the cinemas may be best served by keeping access open.

Format finally doesn’t matter.  Access does.  Making  images that represent, capture, poke prod these new times forward with tiny sharp shards of light, this is what matters above all (and this is a very difficult thing to do in any medium).

Derrida writes in Of Grammatology that it is “a power proper to man, according to which he uses his organs in this way, and which if he lacked these, would lead him to use others to the same end.”