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Alejandro G. Inarritu on the Need to Preserve Poetry in Cinema

Alejandro G. Iñárritu is urging the film industry to guard against the influence of television storytelling in cinema, a looming crisis he said could strip film of the beauty and poetry that make it a unique artistic form of expression.

Attending the Sarajevo Film Festival to receive the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo award, the Oscar-winning director of “The Revenant” and “Birdman” spoke to Variety about his concern that a new generation of moviegoers could lose the ability to appreciate that which makes cinema special.

The most challenging issue facing cinema is the effect quick-fire storytelling associated with serialized television shows, aimed at keeping viewers constantly entertained and captivated, was having on cinema, Iñárritu said.

Storytelling “needs much more contemplation, a little bit more patience, it needs to be a little bit more mysterious, more impenetrable, more poetic, more soulful.”

In the past, films “were exploring different ways of telling stories, trying to push language. Those have disappeared. Now it’s the big tentpoles … or the TV streaming experience.”

The attention modern television demands from its viewers has led to greater immediacy in storytelling, said Iñárritu, who also spoke at a master class on Sunday.

“The language is changing, the need of plot and narrative is so much that it’s starting to deform the way we can explore themes.” People tend to reject anything that demands “a little bit of time,” he added. “People are very impatient now, they are like: ‘Give me more. Kill somebody! Do something.”

The narrative trend is influencing filmmakers and making its way into cinema, he said.

“It is changing so fast that now the films have to immediately please the audience. They have to be global and they have to make a lot of money, so now they become a Coca-Cola commercial that has to please the world. What will happen with the younger generations that will not be able to understand that a film can be poetic or impenetrable or mysterious?”

That poetry, the unique voice expressed by filmmakers, often emerges unexpectedly in flaws, which makes producing a film all the more challenging for Iñárritu.

While he has produced such films as José Álvarez’s “The Gaze of the Sea,” Carlos Armella’s “The Land of Silence” and “The Last Elvis,” by Armando Bo, Iñárritu said he is not as prolific a producer as compatriot Guillermo del Toro.

“When I see a film that I like, I like to help that film be exposed,” he said, but stressed that the role poses difficulties. “As a producer I always find conflict because I like to see somebody’s voice come out, no matter if it’s mistaken or if I do not agree with it because sometimes the mistakes in a first film become the magic and that’s what I like.

“The first film should not be perfect. That’s the poetry, it’s human, there’s something clumsy there – that’s exactly what I like. … The dirt, that’s what really makes the voice of [a storyteller], and I don’t want to take that out, and the temptation is to take that out. I cannot do it because I like that so maybe I’m not a good producer. I like people to express themselves how they are, including the mistakes. That’s why I suffer, I find myself in a dilemma.”

Speaking earlier at the master class about the many facets of moviemaking, Iñárritu said cinema was for many “an artistic form to express a personal view of the world, for others it’s just entertainment, for others it’s a medium to make money, an industry.”

Cinema has developed into “the most important art form in the world,” but at the same time it has become “an orgy of interests that are in the same bed, with poetic principles but at the same time it’s also a whore that charges money.”

Cinema is now being stretched in different directions, Iñárritu explained. “Every time it’s more radical. The radical poets are now really radical – to not move the camera, no narrative, no plot.” At the other end of the spectrum, “the mercenaries of money just want to make – how do they call it in the studios in the United States? They call it ‘content to fill the pipelines.’ That’s how they express it in the studios.

“Another problem is the dictatorship of the algorithm in the world we are living in.” Streaming services are managed by algorithms designed to keep feeding people what they like, he added. “And they stretch those tastes. When we make choices they start giving us more of that. The problem is that the algorithms are very smart but they are not creative, and they don’t know what people don’t know they like.”

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