Film critic Egert blasts distribution circuit

CANNES — Digital filmmaking, the Cannes selection and the U.S. distribution system took direct hits at the American Directors sesh, which drew an SRO crowd at the Variety Pavilion Wednesday.

Film critic Roger Ebert, serving as moderator, kicked off the controversy by saying that, even though the Sundance Film Festival schedules only American films, it managed to put together a better program than the Official Selection here, even though Cannes has a global smorgasbord to choose from.

Actors Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh agreed Fine Line was remarkably easy to work with on their co-directing effort “The Anniversary Party,” with Leigh adding that a distribution deal was easier than making audiences aware of the film. According to Leigh, the hardest thing about putting out a film is that “you have to know it’s playing.”

Ebert said an alternative must be found to the current distribution circuit, and he suggested the Independent Film Channel — which backed the event along with the Independent Feature Project — should sponsor a chain of campus cinematheques to play undiscovered pics.

Cumming admitted his advice to aspiring filmmakers is: “Get famous friends.” Certainly making their job easier as first-time filmmakers was the opportunity to line up pals such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Kline for the digital ensemble piece.

Digital, however, stirred up the biggest controversy at the afternoon sesh. An audience member asked the filmmakers if they would vow to shoot on film instead of digital. Having shot their current films digitally, Wayne Wang (“Center of the World”), Leigh and Cumming declined to promise.

But Scott McGehee (who repped “The Deep End” with his co-helmer David Siegel on the panel) took the challenge and raised his hand in a mock-solemn vow to shoot his next pic on celluloid.

Other filmmakers on the panel included Amos Kollek (“Queenie in Love”), Michel Gondry (“Human Nature”) and Arliss Howard (“Big Bad Love”).

When another audience member asked the panelists’ opinions on the effect of watching films projected digitally instead of on film, Ebert said, “Hollywood has not spent one dime to research the difference between film and television on the viewer.”

Ebert, a strong backer of celluloid, singled out Kodak as one of the Hollywood companies promoting the virtues of digital projection without considering the artistic, physical or psychological effects.

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