Northwest Film Forum program director Adam Sekuler talks about Hollywood’s digital destiny, the big difference between film and video, and why he’s screening as many 35mm prints as he can right now.
Hollywood studios have determined that a technology called the Digital Cinema Package will be the next wave of cinema projection. They’re offering a subsidy to all cinemas until the end of the year to install DCP machines in their theaters. But to receive the subsidy, the studios insist that theaters remove all film technology from the building. Which means that those theaters will never present a film print again.
Some people in the industry—directors, actors, theater owners—put out a petition to maintain 35mm as the standard in film projection. I signed it, knowing full well that there was no chance that it would happen. They had an 11,000-person goal for the signatures and they didn’t reach it.
People have been talking about this switch for at least 10 years, ever since digital video technology was acceptable enough to project in a theater. As video technology has improved, the perception of the video image, for the viewer, is closer and closer to what we experience with film.
But it’s a totally different experience. A film frame is essentially a still slide that you put in front of a light. As light passes through, the film changes the way the light is represented on the screen in front of you. A digital projector is simply a bunch of pixels arranged in a certain way, and they’re constantly rearranging themselves. They are two different mediums. You can’t replace one with the other, which is why talking about them as the same thing is problematic. But honestly, I don’t know that people on the street know the difference.
If this deadline that the industry has created for itself actually phases out 35mm film to the point that it’s a super-specialty format like Super 8 or 16mm, then it seems like there’s no time but now to celebrate what 35mm film is. So the programming at the Film Forum has shifted to celebrate this medium that’s been a part of the history of the art form since 1896.
I’m not opposed to the idea of projecting video in a theatre; we do it at the Film Forum and we will continue to. But we won’t take the subsidy. We’re going to adopt the technology, but we’ll buy it ourselves, and we’ll figure out a way to pay for it. AS TOLD TO MARK BAUMGARTEN
Northwest Film Forum hosts the series 35MM: The Celluloid Dream until August 23. See nwfilmforum.org for a full list of films.