The End of Film as We Know It

Given that I wrote quite a bit about digital projection in my first book, Reinventing Cinema, I feel somewhat obligated to mark the announcement from 20th Century Fox that they will end 35mm film distribution by the end of 2013. It wasn’t hard to predict that this would be the direction that the movie industry would take, but I am somewhat surprised that it happened quite this quickly. But as this Hollywood Reporter article points out, the National Association of Theater Owners now seems to support a total phase out from all studios by the end of 2013.

This move isn’t terribly surprising, and to be honest, I’m not sure that many moviegoers will notice the difference. I still wonder how the digital transition will affect how movies are distributed. Obviously, digital copies are far cheaper than film prints and much easier to deliver, which potentially benefits low-budget and independent filmmakers, but it’s a little less clear how digital projection will work for independent and repertory cinemas. NATO and the studios have pledged to help theaters adapt, but for smaller distributors, the virtual print fees (the subsidies paid by movie distributors to help theaters cover the costs of buying digital projection equipment) may be too expensive, making it more difficult for independent and low-budget films to reach theaters.

There are also some significant problems associated with archiving and preserving digital copies–namely the need to upgrade as digital platforms evolve. There may be some room for optimism here. As this article suggests, digital copies take up significantly less space than film copies, making it easier to store multiple versions of a movie, but given the number of movies that have been lost due to a lack of attention to preservation, it seems important to dedicate some effort to the preservation process.

More than anything, this news is yet another reminder that cinema, like most media, is a medium that is in a constant state of transition, both at the level of aesthetics and economics.


Comments are closed.