Small screen filmmakers

Daniel V. Villamediana

There is a new generation of filmmakers nowadays whose cinephilia has been built around films watched on TV (DVD) or on Internet, more than on the big screen. This fact has a priori a number of positive consequences, like for example the possibility to watch films that were only accessible in the film libraries of big cities ten years ago, making it possible for a bigger number of people to get a rich and recent information.

However, there has been a secondary effect. Unlike the film makers of the old generations who were educated in the majority with films watched in the movie theatres, and whose eye got used to the big screen, the new film makers conceive, think, save and edit their shots with an eye used to the small screen that even the configuration of their shots is adapted to the television format or to the computer screen. This is why the new films can be watched in a good quality on television as well as on the big screen, and sometimes even better on TV, unlike the works of the classic filmmakers such as John Ford, Orson Welles, Vittorio de Seta, Mizoguchi or filmmakers like Clint Eastwood, Spielberg or Oliveria.

Shapes, scenes, the composition of a shot or the framing are not thought of in the big screen dimensions any more. It is a reality that is gradually becoming general, though thee are still some exceptions. The world of the new filmmaker and his visual categories are ingrained in the television or computer screen frame. Moreover, while shooting, he looks more to his shot in the screen of the video camera or through the video assist, these inventions that didn’t exist twenty years back. We are not facing a defect here, but a new reality about which the new filmmakers think constantly. What happens most of the time is that these films that have been shot en digital video and then converted in 35 mm at a very high cost, are shown on a big screen on local festivals only, and with some luck they will enjoy 15 days in a commercial movie theatre. However, the natural environment for these movies is the one in which they have been conceived: the DVD seen on a television or Internet broadcasting. The big screen is nothing but an enlargement of the image, an artificial expanding for more people to see it and for preserving the social and economic act of going to the cinema.

But from an esthetic point of view, these films have different features than the big screen films whose images are best expressed in the environment where they were conceived. The Ford shots loose their meaning on a small screen, where they live smothered. The general shot of J. Ford is very different from the one made by a young filmmaker today. It is not about judging the quality of the film, it is just a kind of film that belongs to an esthetic world that is closer to the videography than to the cinematography.

This opens many debates about the need of transferring to 35 mm films that have been conceived in digital video, in order to be shown in commercial movie theatres: a place that remains very far from the non commercial and documentary films. The concept of the exclusive cinema is loosing ground, against a cinema watched many times on the net, on a DVD or in festivals. The different ways of watching films allow them to be shown in different contexts, and not only in an exclusive big screen broadcasting. The circulation of these movies in festivals and on Internet will give them a richer and longer life than the short one in empty movie theatres. I am talking of course about non commercial films that are auto-produced or state-subsidized, and whose cost of transferring into 35 mm is higher than the shooting. However, there is still the problem of many festivals (not all of them) who don’t accept short and long films unless they are in 35 mm to be in the competition.

This entails a delay with regards to the new production tendency. Festivals have to take into consideration the need of accepting unconventional projects, thus allowing to digital works to reach the official selections. State subsidies should help as well films produced and shown in digital version. Not to forget that most of the movie theatres aren’t adapted to the new technological way of showing movies. For all this, and in parallel, these films find their natural way to the web, where they can be watched in the adequate format, permanently, and without the need of a physical base. A real digital cinema, that can’t be touched but can be watched.