• Are movies dead? -

    Citing the high quality of this year’s Oscar nominees, as well as the 2014 Sundance Film Festival line-up, Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, in his article, Sundance, Oscar, And Why The Movies Aren’t Dead, argues against current claims that we’ve entered the post-cinematic era.

    As the viewing of big blockbusters, remakes, and sequels at gigantic multiplexes has come to define the cinema today, perhaps it’s just the old-fashioned, movie-viewing experience at the local theater that’s on it’s last legs, not movies in general or the movie-viewing experience as a whole.

    “Do the doomsayers mean that movie going isn’t what it used to be, as a central ritual of culture, and that all too often … it involves the charm, ambiance and quality control of dining at Burger King? Inarguably true.” (O’Hehir, Salon, Jan 18, 2014)

    An eclectic mix of movies does seem hard to come by on the big screen these days, but, the good news is, this is the very mix that is perfect for viewing elsewhere, if you can find it.

    academy-awards Instead of watching award-winning movies in a theater,

    ” … many people will end up seeing this year’s three leading Oscar contenders — AMERICAN HUSTLE, GRAVITY, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE  — on TVs and computer monitors and mobile devices.” (O’Hehir, Salon, Jan 18, 2014)

    Likewise, many of the smaller, edgier independent films that appeal to narrower audiences, while not necessarily widely available in theaters, have the possibility of becoming more accessible than ever thanks to smaller screen viewing opportunities on VOD and numerous digital platforms.

    Not only are viewing options expanding and diversifying, but, for better or for worse, more films are being made than ever. The prevalence of affordable cameras and editing equipment has made it possible for just about anyone to make a film and stream it online, if they want. The fact that the majority of these films are amateurish at best is a big problem for some (Dargis, NYT, Jan 9, 2014). This is where festivals like Sundance come in by encouraging experimentation while helping to set a higher quality bar through their curation process.

    For a sense of the numbers, this year’s Sundance Film Festival received 12,218 total submissions and selected just 118 of the 4,057 feature films submitted and 66 of the 8,161 shorts. Ninety-seven of the films selected, or 82%, were world premieres. Despite an increasing number of submissions, the number of films selected has remained surprisingly constant over the years. The bar is definitely getting higher.

    Sundance: John Cooper and Robert Redford

    “Redford and his festival director, John Cooper, have shifted the focus back to actual movies — and the actual movies have gotten a hell of a lot better … Now Sundance has returned to being an artistic incubator for young or unorthodox or innovative talent of the sort that defies ordinary storytelling conventions and isn’t likely to get a three-season dramatic miniseries deal with HBO or Showtime.” (O’Hehir, Salon, Jan 18, 2014)

    The movies may be getting better and the viewing venues expanding, but are the smaller, “quality” films  really more available online? Not necessarily. In this regard, we have a long way to go. Most filmmakers are still holding out for theatrical distribution deals and hesitant to put their films online until they have a deal firmly in hand, regardless of the fact that,

    “Fewer than 2% of the fully-finished, feature-length films submitted to the Festival will get any kind of distribution whatsoever.” (Cultural Weekly, Jan 8, 2014)

    But, signs of progress are starting to crop up here and there, if slowly. A number of festivals, including Tribeca, have experimented with streaming some of their films during the run of the festival. SundanceNow offers a selection of past Sundance hits online and the Sundance Institute site provides information about past festival favorites with links to online viewing opportunities. This year, the Sundance Festival is making 15 of its premiering shorts available for free online, but, as yet, none of its feature length dramas or documentaries. (Shaw, The Wrap, Jan 17, 2014)

    What’s needed at this point to help move the movie ecosystem into the twenty-first century? 

    For one, before filmmakers and rights holders will routinely make their films available on digital platforms we need a viable business model that will reward them and their investors and at the same time support a rich assortment of quality films for film lovers to watch. For another, as more films become available in more places, we need a better way to help film lovers find the quality films they didn’t even know they wanted, something akin to the thoughtful curation at the heart of all successful film festivals and smaller, art house venues.

    What do you think? Isn’t it about time we figured this out?

    KW

    Andrew O’Hehir, Sundance, Oscar, And Why The Movies Aren’t Dead, Salon, January 18, 2014 

    Manohla Dargis, As Indies Explode, An Appeal for Sanity, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

    Adam Leipzig, Sundance Infographic 2014:  Are Indies the “8th Studio”?, Cultural Weekly, January 8, 2014

    Lucas Shaw, Sundance Fest Half-Embraces the Digital Revolution – Shorts Online? Sure. Movies? Uh, No, The Wrap, January 17, 2014.