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Entries in Independent (2)

Thursday
Mar312016

STARDUST MEMORIES: THE PETER FLYNN INTERVIEW

The digital revolution represents the biggest shift in the exhibition sector since the ‘multiplex boom' of the 1980s. Old-school projection booths, once the beating heart of the cinema-going experience, have all but vanished, replaced by sterile environments housing touch-screen monitors filled ‘encrypted files’. Dying of the Light is a stirring, melancholy account of American film exhibition up to this moment in time; a point in film history that threatens to reduce to museum pieces 1000s of spools of classic film storytelling and the grand machines that lit them up. In his moving, insightful film, director Peter Flynn, Senior Scholar-in-Residence at Boston’s Emerson College, profiles the projectionists who have forged generations of film-going memories and who are now faced with a ‘change or perish’ life choice. He spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his loving tribute to the art and romance of movies…

SCREEN-SPACE: Where did your passion for the moving image and how it is presented and preserved originate?

FLYNN: I’ve always loved film.  My earliest memories are of the large-screen cinemas of Dublin City, where I grew up in the 70s and 80s—the Ambassador, the Savoy, and the Adelphi.  Back then it was not uncommon to spend two hours waiting outside in the rain for the doors to open and for the show to start. But it was worth it.  To enter those old theaters, with their ornate surroundings and lush carpeting, their balconies and curtained screens, was to enter another world.  Going to the cinema was something special back then, and it remained so throughout my childhood. The Dying of the Light digs deep into those memories, I suppose.  Try as I might to be balanced in the film, its by no means objective.

SCREEN-SPACE: As a lover of film culture and academic dedicated to film history, how did the research period and the trips to hollow, dilapidated halls in small towns impact you?

FLYNN (pictured, right): The image of the ruined abandoned movie theatre/projection booth became a sort of visual metaphor in the film, I suppose; a way to underscore the loss and ruination of the practice of film-handing and projection.  It was also the right place to start—with this palpable sense of loss, of better days gone by. The idea of the projection booth as an archeological site fascinated me from the start.  So many had the feeling of being tomb-like—relics of an older order, filled with the possessions of the dearly departed.  It was not uncommon as late as three or four years ago to enter a projection booth and find traces of the very early stages of film’s history. Fire shutters dating back to the nitrate days which lasted up until the 1950s; old 1,000 foot reels, which would have held silent films of the 1920s; notes written on the walls from one projectionist to another; old magazines tucked away in corners. Projectionists spent so much of their lives in those little rooms.  How could they retire without leaving something of themselves behind? So the film was inherently sad, or inherently reverential in a way.  But I’m also Irish and I entered into this with the idea that the film would be a wake—mixing the sad and the solemn with a spirit of tribute and celebration, with humor and energy.  I hope balance comes across.

SCREEN-SPACE: The film walks a fine line between eulogising a dying/dead aspect of the industry and celebrating its impact. Was it a struggle not to succumb to the sombre, sad loss of film projection?

FLYNN: Yes, it’s a very fine line.  And I did struggle at times to temper my own nostalgia for, or romanticization of “the good old days.”  But as a documentary maker you have to listen to your interviewees.  And not all waxed lyrical on the old days.  Nor were all critical of the new digital technologies—some “old-timers” embraced the future.  The final lines in the film, spoken by one of the older projectionists (ironically to one of the younger ones), ask that we look ahead to the future, not the past. And I thought that was a very important note to end on—a corrective to the romantic view that so many of us can easily fall into. (Pictured, above; David Kornfeld, projectionist at the Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Massachusetts).

SCREEN-SPACE: How much did your film's tone waver in post-production?

FLYNN: Post-production is where you (hopefully) find the right balance. You go out with your camera, you follow your gut, you engage emotionally and instinctually—in other words “on the fly”—with the world you are capturing and then you come back and you have to edit intellectually.  You have to moderate all the voices you find, give each its proper weight in the film, and hopefully find the right balance in the end. 

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you notice defining personality traits that were common across the projectionists you interviewed? What drove these men and women to commit to a life inside a small, dark room?

FLYNN: There is certainly a love and devotion to cinema uniting these people, but there’s a lot more besides.  There’s a commitment they all share to a quality of performance that is lacking today—to the idea of doing a job to the best of your ability, whether you’re acknowledged for that or not; and also to a notion of showmanship, which is likewise missing today.  The projection booth is a place of arrested development in many ways.  Its easy to hold onto older practices, older standards, when you’re isolated from the rest of the world as you are in the booth. As such, many projectionists may be seen to be out of step with contemporary culture, or normal social conventions—a hazard of spending too much time alone in a darkened room, I suppose—but, without exception, the people I interviewed for this film were wonderful; very warm and welcoming, open and generous.  Many have become good friends. (Pictured, above; projectionist Dave Leamon at the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

SCREEN-SPACE: You address the recent release of The Hateful Eight, noting that it was ultimately a box office disappointment. But the initial 70mm 'roadshow' screenings were sell-outs. Does this indicate that large-scale film projection may still have a place as a 'prestige ticket' event?

FLYNN: The success or failure of The Hateful Eight in relation to the future of 70mm has yet to be determined. It’s a case of “wait and see.” My guess is that 70mm will pop up periodically in specialty theaters (but) not on the grander multiplex scale that the Weinstein Company and Tarantino had hoped for.  For me, the great visual surprise of the holiday season was not The Hateful Eight in 70mm, but Star Wars in 4K Digital 3D.  It was the best digital presentation I have ever seen.  That seems to be the future of large-format, large-screen presentations.  That does not imply that there is no room for 70mm presentations.  In fact, the arrival of digital does not, or rather should not, imply the complete eradication of film presentations.  There’s room for both—maybe less room for film than we’d like, but room for both nonetheless.  Theaters like the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, prove conclusively that there’s still a place for analog film in commercial exhibition.  And that more than anything makes me feel there’s a future, albeit a limited one, for 70mm.

Dying of The Light is a First Run Features release currently in US specialty venues; other territories to follow.

 

Wednesday
Feb182015

ZOMBIES, PIRATES AND ME: A DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT.

It has been a heady couple of weeks for Australian filmmaker, Kiah Roache-Turner. Having topped the iTunes charts with his zombie epic Wyrmwood, the debutant filmmaker then learnt that his low-budget passion-project was also one of the planets most illegally downloaded films. SCREEN-SPACE wanted to know how the turn of events impacted the Sydney-based director (pictured, below; on-set, with one of his creations) who, with his brother Tristan, poured all their money and countless unpaid hours into the production. So, for the first time, we turned our site over to the victim of a crime. Exclusively for SCREEN-SPACE, Kiah Roache-Turner provides a first-person account of how destructive net-piracy truly is…

“My name is Kiah Roache-Turner, I am a filmmaker who has just released my first feature, 'Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead'.

Wyrmwood is currently one of the most torrented films in the world. This is fantastic and horrible, all at the same time. What a lot of these ‘jolly pirates’ don't understand is that the film was made by a bunch of people on weekends over four years on a 'deferred payment' basis. A lot of these amazingly talented actors and crew, including myself, have not seen a cent from this film yet.

In this instance, profits from the film are vitally important because they go directly to very basic things like rent, bills and food for a lot of hardworking artists and technicians who exist in an industry where it is very difficult to find work (pictured, right; on the set of Wyrmwood).

We expected to be torrented. My issue isn't with torrenters; that is a global policing issue that is out of my hands. My issue is with those who pirate the film, love the film and then just move on to the next thing. All I ask is that you think about (your actions) for just a second. I don't mind the 'try before you buy' theory, but if you try it and you like it please pay for a legal copy because artists have to eat. It's really that simple.

I've been following the online comments and a lot of the reaction boils down to "If those fools were too stupid to organise a cross-platform, same-day global release strategy, then they deserve everything they get!" And yes, comments have been that harsh, even harsher; the Internet can be a pretty brutal playground.

When you sign on with a distributor, you sign on to be guided by their existing distribution model. Remember, these guys and gals are really smart and really know how to release a film. They've been doing it for decades to a wildly successful degree.

You don't sign onto one distributer, which would be fantastic; you sign on to many distributers all over the world, who all have different release strategies and key dates and different agreements when it comes to DVD, Blu-ray & VOD. This is a point that needs to be clarified, as most people don't seem to understand how the film industry works. Quite frankly, nor did I until very recently.

In conjunction with Studio Canal, we tried very hard to get 'same day' for Wyrmwood for iTunes but unfortunately our hands were tied due to the window* required by cinemas. In this instance we were able to get a two month window instead of three, which is fantastic. But Aussies were still pissed off when (US distributor) IFC Midnight released theatrical and VOD same day. As soon as the iTunes copy launched, 'BOOM'; somebody ripped that film off the platform, uploaded it to Pirate Bay and the film became one of the most torrented films in the world overnight.

People have been asking, "Then why go theatrical at all?” Unfortunately, funding bodies require a limited theatrical run for funding consideration. And my brother and I (pictured, left) ran out of money for this baby years ago so without funding - NO WYRMWOOD. Thank God Screen Australia believed in us because without government funding for post-production, this film would not be playing in cinemas at all.

People need to understand that this industry has been around for a long time. It is huge and vast and labyrinthine and doesn't change on a dime. I liken it to the 'Titanic'; we've all spotted the iceberg and the ship is turning, but not nearly fast enough. Every single person in every single organisation, from the government bodies to distributors to cinema chains all know what the problems are and they are working their butts off to make these changes. But it is happening in the way that all huge industries generally make gargantuan changes and that is never 'overnight'.

Right now it's in YOUR hands. Yes, YOU the person with the hand paused over the 'download' button getting ready to download my bad-ass ozploitation zombie film RIGHT now. I can't stop you pushing that button nor do I judge you for pushing that button. Mate, that's your decision, it's none of my business. But if you download Wyrmwood and really bloody like it, please do the right thing and purchase a copy. Support independent filmmakers who sweated blood for four long years to bring you that film.

It's all very well to say, "Well, this is how the world is" or "If the industry won't change fast enough, why should I bother?" But the simple fact of the matter is my cast and crew need to eat. So, please - YOU WATCH, YOU BUY and we can eat. It's really that simple.

Yours truly,

Kiah Roache-Turner.”

Australian readers can pre-order Wyrmwood on DVD here.

Wyrmwood can be purchased via the US iTunes store here.

Local screenings (including profit-share arrangements) can be organised here.

*period between a film’s theatrical release and subsequent ancillary platforms (DVD, VOD, Pay-TV, etc).