Theater of Cruelty

Goodbye to the film reels

Cinema Futures
Regissør: Michael Palm

DIGITALIZATION / Cinema Futures is both a poetic farewell to a medium on its way out and a complex analysis of the digital revolution's many sides.


The film industry should be regarded as part of the technological upheaval of the time. Everything becomes more efficient and less personal. In the industry that produces and develops analog films, thousands have lost their jobs. The predictions are that the same will happen not only with drivers, shop employees and farmers, but also with Doctors, accountants, lawyers, journalists, teachers – and hundreds of other professions.

The Austrian director Michael palm conversations with various film experts, among them superstars who Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan og Apicatpong Weerasethakul, in an attempt to circumnavigate the significance of technological change for film – and society at large.

Profitable digitization

The driving force behind it digital revolution is a profit. Analog movies are expensive, not only to record, but also to distribute to the network of cinemas. During the first week a movie is launched, between 3000 and 4000 copies are needed. Later, most of these end up in the garbage.

Kodak is today the latest dinosaur, still producing analogue film. The company can cost this because there are still old superstars, like Steven Spielberg og Christopher Nolan, who appreciate the physical presence of the film. Although Kodak has promised to keep it going, no one knows how long it will remain profitable for the company to produce analogue film. Even Spielberg and Nolan have to digitize the movies as soon as they are recorded, since most movie theaters
laughing equipment to show film by analogy. Movie showcases are no longer produced, and the old ones who still keep cooking will not last forever.

With today's technology, an analog movie can last for 500 years.

A little while ago I was asked to take pictures of a middle-aged woman. She gave me strictly detailed instructions on the angle I should choose to avoid the wrinkles and double chin. The woman thus summarizes our society as a whole, where aging is perceived as something terrible. As this woman looked for ways to deceive reality, she still thought in analogous terms. Today we live in a world where most of the images we encounter in public are digitally manipulated. This applies not only to the enhanced bodies of jam-thin girls in fashion photographs, but more and more scenes in regular cinema have been edited. Actors are made younger and leaner, so they are better adapted to the beauty standards of the time.

We step away from reality and approach the imagination. Movie stars are also appearing on the lists of professions that are on their way out. In the past, the film was not only the realization of an artistic vision, but also a documentation of certain people and places, even if these people were actors in costumes. Now we can no longer be sure that the images we see have their counterpart in reality. Already Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016) had an actor who died in 1994. It is quite possible that future actors will simply be able to scan three-dimensionally, leaving the rest to the technicians who program the special effects. Soon, more and more dead movie stars will be appearing in new movies.

Problematic digitization

The next big question is how to salvage our collective memory captured on analog film. Martin Scorsese says 75 percent of US silent films have already disappeared. Film rolls are not immortal, they must be taken care of – scanned, restored, copied. Film restoration is a costly process and not all films will survive. People who work in archives, museums, cinemas and idealistic organizations are thus forced to decide which films to live on – and which ones must die. There is some concern that only the big and established names will be saved – the same Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles films, over and over. But with what right do we decide which films should be precious to future researchers, archivists and historians? Watching movies die reminds me of the terrorist group IS's destruction of ancient temples in Iraq and Syria. Containers locked in an important part of our history are about to disappear forever – but the incident is invisible and no one protests. We are constantly trying to find out how the Egyptians built the pyramids, but we ourselves do not take responsibility for saving and storing necessary information for future generations.

How do we choose which films will be precious for the future?

Still, it's not just movie reels that are at risk: Digital information is disappearing even faster, mostly because programs are constantly changing. With digitalization, video recording has become available to the masses. Almost every movie's own personal story – small moments from life. But if these films are not upgraded and reformatted, they can easily disappear. The paradox is that the safest way to save them – is to copy them to film. With today's technology, an analog movie can last for 500 years – so it might be premature to say goodbye to the film reels. We can still celebrate them as the most stable medium for audiovisual storage we have created so far.

Astra Soldiers
Astra Zoldnere
Soldiers is a Latvian film director, curator and publicist.

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