I am not mourning the death of filmmaking on celluloid and its traditionalist link to filmmaking as an art.
But I am also not celebrating the digital era and all its endless capabilities either.
I just don’t really seem to care that much how the films I watch are made.
Yes, I know I call myself a film student. Yes, I am aware of the ‘art’ that once went into crafting a shot on film. It was a time consuming and monotonous process that could fall to pieces if the film was exposed to light. Yes, I’m aware that some people will read that last sentence and say “oh Bella, there is so much more to it than that.”
But that is precisely my point. I’m rather ignorant about what actually goes into using celluloid film, and I believe there are many of my generation, – yes, even those that are also film students – that are equally as ignorant.
I’m going to play the ‘generational ignorance’ card. Meaning, that due to my age (relatively young), and the decade in which I was born (relatively recently), where I had the blessing of experiencing movies made on film and movies made digitally (and films made with both methods) with such an ease, growing up I did not notice there was a significant difference in the end result between the two methods of filmmaking.
And even today, with a BA in film and screen studies now under my belt, many an essay read on the ‘art of film,’ I still can’t really see the difference.
I’m not the type of cinephile that was driven to study film because I was in awe of its aesthetic quality and capability. I think film is magical. To me, what I see achieved on the screen is complete sorcery and my imagination is illuminated every time I watch something new. But again, I hope that my oversimplification of what films do amplifies my stance on the matter.
What does drive my love of film though is the beauty of storytelling.
I love narrative in all shapes and sizes. I love when it is spelt out for me so I can enjoy the familiarity of a feel-good film, and I love being challenged by a plot so complex that it baffles me throughout the two hour sitting, but also for days and weeks after. It is the driving force behind the best films of all time. Even if it’s trajectory is slow at times, in order to play out another cinematic quality, it is the narrative that is the vehicle for exploring larger thematic issues.
I love characterisation. I love falling in love with a character. I love feeling like I know a character because they remind me of someone I actually know, or even more when they remind me of myself. I love when a character inspires me to do better, and I love when a character is flawed to remind me that mistakes are okay too. I love that it’s an opportunity for a filmmaker to critique people.
I love dialogue. When you feel like something is ripped straight from a conversation you had in a coffee shop, or when, vice versa, you can steal a favourite line to show how culturally invested and up to date you are with the current sociocultural climate. I love short and witty. I love long-winded and over-the-top. I love discovering new ways to say what I mean and how I feel.
What ties these aspects together is not whether they were shot on 35mm or on a small handheld digital camera. It is the art of combining these things to create a moving picture that moves me.
This does not mean I can’t tell the difference between a well crafted shot and a bad shot. My three year degree has taught me some things. But I also contend that this has zero correlation with the medium used to capture the shot, and rather a one hundred percent correlation with the eye used to craft the shot. A shot is only as good as the individual behind the camera.
I’m not saying this transition from 35mm to digital is not worth examining, I just don’t think it is necessarily the “death of cinema”. Digital prints are cheaper to manufacture, distribute and exhibit than film. They also make the distribution of non-blockbuster formats more practical – indies, art films, foreign films, documentaries, classics. Digital also opens up a range of filmmaking opportunities for budding filmmakers who couldn’t obtain the basics previously needed to start making films. Does your phone have a camera? You too could win an Oscar.
I don’t think I would ever love a film more for reasons related to it being filmed on celluloid. I may however love a film more for the incredible effects that the digital era has enabled. But for now, I’m blissfully ignorant. Loving films. Loving stories. Loving the people they are about.
The four films pictured above earned a combined 27 Academy Award nominations, and seven wins.
All four were produced entirely in digital.