Helmers mull high-tech shifts

Panel debates film, digital video

Digital video may be democratizing the biz but it brings downsides, agreed the assembled helmers at the American Directors session of the Variety Village Cannes Conference Series on Saturday.

“I’m anti anything that’s not on film,” said Allan Mindel (“Milwaukee, Minnesota”). “I think you lose the soul of humanity. I want to feel the film, feel the soul of the characters, feel the grain of the film.”

But others spoke up for the medium.

Jean-Francois Pouliot (“La grande seduction”) praised its “excitement. Digital post-production gives you incredible freedom. Now you can go back and have the grain!” while Ross McElwee (“Bright Leaves”) says, “It’s revolutionizing the world for many young filmmakers.”

Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor”) called it just “another outlet. Transferring to film is expensive and not always successful. For documentaries, it’s not the look but the content which counts.”

Also on the it’s-just-another-tool wing was Kenneth Bowser (“Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”), stating he “doesn’t like the look but if the material fits the medium, use it.”

Gus Van Sant (“Elephant”) summed up: “It comes down to what you’re shooting. You still have to have something to shoot.”

McElwee proudly waved his Sony camera and then confessed to “cursing myself why I’m still dealing with this medium. There are so many things can get screwed up. Film has a special quality.”

Sesh moderator, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, lamented the loss of an audience willing to “queue in the rain. Now they march out like sheep to the latest marketing campaign.”

Ebert mentioned a colleague’s kids who loved “Daddy Day Care,” unlike the majority of critics; he wondered if he and others “are completely out of touch for raining on Hollywood’s parade” and asked the panel for some tips.

Consensus was critics have to sell newspapers and TV shows but giving away the ending is damaging.

There was nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the 1960s when, said Bowser, “the studios collapsed, there was a power vacuum and the lunatics took over the asylum and there was creative freedom.”

Asked if he’d like to make a film like “The Matrix,” Robert Pulcini (“American Splendor”) said, “it requires a special mind to make a film like that” whereas his co-helmer, Springer Berman, said she “would like to make a movie which makes money!”

Outlook for indies remains buoyant, McElwee said. “We’re not short of independent films. Sundance is inundated with thousands. There are more out there than you can review.”

“For docs it’s the best it’s ever been,” Bowser said. “Now you can get seen by 100-, 200,000 people. That’s nothing for Hollywood but great for new filmmakers.”

Panel was presented by the Maryland Film Office and sponsored by IFP/New York.

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