More than 400 industryites, cinephiles and interested civilians gathered at the Museum of Modern Art’s Roy and Niuta Titus Theater on Tuesday night to discuss the future of celluloid.
Peter Bogdanovich, Open City Films co-prexy Jason Kliot and Daily Variety and New York Press film critic Godfrey Cheshire were among six panelists who took part in “The Death of Film: A Millennial Symposium,” a panel organized after a few high-profile digital screenings last year raised some critical red flags.
Tuesday’s dialogue circled around such enigmatic questions as: How were films meant to be seen and how integral is the medium to the message? MoMA Department of Film and Video senior curator Laurence Kardish moderated.
A panel divided
Panelists were divided along consistent lines with Kliot, Cheshire, and lenser John Bailey generally pointing up the homogenizing effects of digital exhibition to the film image and Bogdanovich, American Museum of Moving Pictures director Rochelle Slovin and MaxiVision creator Dean Goodhill prioritizing content over images and also extolling the virtues of ultrasharp focus.
Cheshire warned of the possibility that conversion to digital delivery and projection could lead to the transformation of theaters into mere television facilities, wherein cheap programming and easy transmission might ultimately discourage the higher-risk and higher-stakes investment involved in the making and projection of traditional movies.
Starting from the position that degradation of film began 50 years ago with the demise of nitrate, Bogdanovich attributed the current poor image-quality partly to analog projection. Any technology that can clarify what a film is trying to express, Bogdanovich said, should be employed. “It all boils down to what we’re making, not the technological form it takes.”
“The medium has everything to do with what’s in it,” Cheshire countered. “TV’s been around for 50 years. Name an important TV director.”
Touching on more practical matters, Bailey expressed doubt that the technology for digital exhibition will arrive as soon as some of the studios have been predicting it will.
Whether digital is imminent or remote, Cheshire will moderate a similar panel called “Digital Cinema–a New Aesthetic?” later this month at the Sundance Film Festival. Roger Ebert, as well as Kliot and Bailey, will participate.