Dallas — Writing about cinema in the summer is a bummer. Blah-blah-blah-mind-numbing movies that are not to my taste. I really don’t want to write about Men in Black, and the late summer fests are not upon us yet, but we are looking forward to the Asian Film Festival of Dallas (July 18-25; as of this writing they have not announced their titles), and the Women’s Texas Film Festival is Aug. 15-18.
Oh, the Dallas Medianale part II is coming July 17 and 18 (free) at the Latino Cultural Center. This is the Dallas VideoFest’s experimental film, video art, and live video performance fest. This year we are featuring work from many Dallas video artists including Carolyn Sortor, Richard Bailey, Tim Best, Jeremy McKane, Colette Copeland and Tamatha Curiel. We have work from VideoFest favorites like Jem Cohen, Eden Valez, Kelly Sears, Wago Kreider, Van Macellwee, Buill Brown, and Diane Nerwen. And there are videos from Israel, Australia, England, Japan, Thailand and Switzerland.
And we have live video performance on Thursday at 7:30 with Mike Morris, Scott Stark (who is bringing his portable 35mm projector from San Francisco), Dean Terry and Dallas Ambient Music Nights.
With that, I will turn my attention to the state of movies in theaters.
The New York Times had a big story about the future of the film biz entitled “How Will the Movies (as We Know Them) Survive the Next 10 Years.” It’s one of those the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories. We used to get one of these every few years about Apple (and Ewan Spence, who writes for Forbes, still seems to do that; every column seems to be how Apple’s most recent decision is going to kill them). Living though so many changes in cinematic technology, these arguments seem to have a rhythm, the drumbeat for people who are not going to go to the see films anymore. I remember these arguments for home video, and no, VHS and Betamax did not kill cinema. HBO and Cinemax did not kill it. Heck I remember as a kid hearing that TV was the death of cinema.
In case you haven’t noticed, cinema still isn’t dead. But is has and is changing.
All changes in technology manifest themselves in changes in the art form. I am sure many people have said something like this; I heard that notion from Brian Eno, and he is a genius. Attendance at the multiplex has been a bit down this year but people are still going to see movies both here and around the world, especially in China.
The movie experience has gotten better for theaters, thanks to digital formats (called DCP for Digital Cinema Packages). Getting films to theaters is much easier than sending 35mm prints. And running the films does not require as much skill as a quality projectionist would demand.
The Times story also asks, as others have, should the Oscars award cinematic material that does not play in a theater? Personally, I don’t care deeply about this issue, but it seems that there is a place to honor works that show on home screens. It is called the Emmys.
One area that the NYT story does not address is the Art House movement. All over America and the world, big cities and small towns have their own version of the Texas Theater (well they are theaters that show good films, but The Texas theater is really special). These theaters are thriving, showing new independent, foreign films, documentaries and mixing in classic cinema as well. These theaters are the antidote to the big box cinematic chains. Fort Worth is finally getting one.
There are some good points in the story. One is that social media is like the group experience of going to see a film, and while that sounds good it doesn’t resonate with me. The story also discusses the idea of festivals taking the place of regular cinemas, because festivals will play work that distributers cannot otherwise get people to see. Barry Jenkins talks about how films are expensive, and so many are, but because of digital technology they are (relatively) less expensive than they have been.
I do think that online/streaming services have changed our notion of the cinematic experience. They have enabled filmmakers to create new work — lots of it. In fact, these services have so much work it is hard to keep up. It is so hard to be a TV critic now. Looking at Amazon Prime Video or Netflix to select something to see is akin to meandering through a Blockbuster store, but without the exercise.
But perhaps the biggest problem in getting people to come out and see movies is the lack of local film critics. The Dallas Morning News has exactly zero film critics. We have a major film community, with many people going to see films at our quality theaters, but we get served wire copy from the papers in smaller cities than Dallas.
So, cinema is not dead. There are good filmmakers, good audiences and good theaters. And hey, last I looked Apple is still very much alive (I typed this column on a Mac).
This summer see a film and get inspired. Better films are coming as the weather cools down, and don’t forget that you can always go to the Texas Theater.
» Film Notes with Bart Weiss runs on the first Tuesday of the month.
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