The question is no longer ‘is the future of cinema digital?’
Clearly, the future of cinema is digital. Digital is an amazing new medium, versatile, democratic, cheap and with a huge potential to create an exciting new cinema.
But it is not film. Digital differs in every aspect: in production, enormously in post-production, in quality, in how it is made, shown, received and experienced.
It is a different medium.
So the question should be: does the future of cinema have to be exclusively digital?
And the industry surely must start answering no. Surely the future of cinema needs to be both?
Film is not dead. Film will only die if it is murdered.
It is time for the film industry to move on from this polarized and polarizing discussion.
I am an artist. As an artist, I understand medium. If I choose to paint a painting I will. If I choose to draw in chalk on a blackboard I will. If I choose to make a 16mm film, I will … or at least as long as I still can. And I will show my painting as a painting, my blackboard as a blackboard, my 16mm film as a film projected in the museum. Again, as long as I can.
Artists like to have a lot of mediums. We use anything we can get our hands on, including film.
I do not understand why the film industry is not rejoicing that now it has two mediums with which to work. Two entirely different magical, versatile ways of making moving images.
Why on earth do you want to return to just one?
Why is the industry so invested in destroying film, when there is plenty of room for both and a market for both if there is allowed to be?
Why deplete the world of the medium of film?
FILM — my project for Turbine Hall at Tate Modern — is a 35mm portrait format anamorphic film projection, made in the camera without any digital production or post-production.
I rely on you, the viewer, to encounter it in the space — walking up close to it and seeing the grain, walking behind it. Experiencing it.
Thankfully the museum has a responsibility to show the work in the way the artist chooses to show it: medium specificity is fundamental to the preservation and exhibition of art.
But I need film print. I need film print because that is what I show and what I cut. I need negative too and intermediary stocks and labs and equipment but most endangered of all is the film print. Our history of cinema needs the film print too.
I know finance plays a large role in this but it is also an attitude of mind. A decision.
Blanket statements like ‘there will be no more 35mm release prints in 2013’ send a palsy of fear to many throughout the world:
>> To independent cinemas who cannot afford or perhaps do not want to pull out their 35mm projectors and replace them with digital ones because their repertoire has always been a mix of the current and the historical.
>> The stock manufacturers, Kodak & Fuji who need to protect their core professional businness but are being menaced into thinking there is no future in it.
>> Labs that are struggling and fighting against the odds, then closing
>> Archives, who have the responsibility of preserving our film history with dwindling analogue facilities and must work with unstable and unproven digital ones. (It is said the even some directors titanically invested in digital are still too afraid to rely 100 percent on the digital archiving of their films. Digital’s failure to be a secure archive tool is a massively undiscussed subject.)
>> The artist, the filmmaker, the director, the cinematographer who all want to make the work they want to make, and who want to be able to choose the way they make it.
>> The viewer who wants to watch a hundred years of their beloved cinema projected as it was made to be seen (which, according to a Guardian poll that took place during the opening of FILM here at the Turbine Hall, is 78.7 percent of us).
Surely it would be better to be less absolutist about this and say instead that the digital camera package will become the prevalent distribution method in 2013, but prints will also be available on request.
We need to stop the wilful annihilation of film and keep the choice: You, the powerhouses of the film industry: I need you. We all need you. Let’s make a market for it. Let’s make film survive.