The meaning of the term "cinema" has changed greatly during the history of moving pictures. For a long time, "cinema" was synonymous with "theater," which implied that both terms were so connected that they became one and the same. Now, with the advent of digital downloads, streaming video, and even DVDs/Blu-rays, cinema, especially independent cinema, is no longer tied to the theater experience. What does this mean for the state of cinema? Producer Christine Vachon (Kids, Boys Don't Cry, I'm Not There) gave the State of Cinema Address at the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival and dug into this topic. Check out the video below:
Vachon, who has produced over 60 films in her almost 30 year career, shared that she has "seen independent film die and be reborn at least 3 or 4 times." What this meant to me was that this isn't the first time cinema has gone through a complete makeover. First, it was the switch from shorts to features, then from silent to sound, then from black and white to color, and finally from film to digital. There are so many advancements that make filmmaking and film-viewing a richer experience, and it appears as though the more it changes, the more accessible the industry becomes to everyone involved.
When I started, you know, at that time, there were extremely experimental films and there were Hollywood films. But there wasn't a whole lot inbetween. And the whole notion of a kind of film culture that needed production and that was telling stories but wasn't super Hollywood and wasn't super anti-narrative experimental films, which was really what was, you know, that was kind of it. And then I started to see filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, and Betty Gordon, the Coen Brothers, and then I started to realize that there was this whole other kind of cinema -- Spike Lee also -- and I realized that people were starting to make movies and not asking permission to make them. They were just saying, 'Hey, I'm not seeing what I want to see. I'm not seeing my life reflected. I'm not seeing my world up there, so I'm going to take matters into my own hands.' And one of the things that's very exciting to me right now is I feel like that's what filmmakers are doing again, but they're doing it in ways that aren't necessarily in a theater near you. A lot of it is happening on YouTube. A lot of it's happening on platforms that I couldn't even imagine back then.
It seemed impossible when I was a kid (or even now) to think of films apart from the theater in which I watched them. That's where I fell in love with them! When I was 7, I remember sitting in my living room on my parents' (ugly) brown Hawaiian print couch and hearing the roar from the T-Rex from Jurassic Park for the first time as the trailer played on TV. That summer, I went to see the film with my family at a historic theater in my hometown called The McDonald Theatre. It had that classic cinema feel: a giant red curtain over the screen, a mezzanine, and was owned by Ken Kesey himself, who wrote the novel that inspired the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
For the last 100 years or so, feature films were primarily shown in movie theaters like The McDonald (movie palaces back then). It wasn't until the late 1980s and early 1990s that films made their way into homes by way of VHS (or, if you were cool, LaserDisc -- yeah -- we had some, and believe me, the comedy of pulling out a pizza-sized copy of FernGully is not lost on me). The "home cinema" rapidly evolved, from VHS, to DVD, to Blu-Ray, and continues to evolve as it reaches newer and greater heights.
These advancements in film exhibition have opened up new paths for independent filmmakers to make their work available to the public. Several platforms allow filmmakers to exhibit their films to a wide audience relatively inexpensively online -- but if you are thinking of getting your project to the masses, you may have to deal with distributors first, since some of these platforms, like Netflix, don't like to deal directly with filmmakers. A few services, however, cater to independents. Distribber is a very popular aggregator that charges a one-time distribution fee and lets you keep 100% of the profits made on your project (that is 100% of what's collected from each store -- a store may take a certain percentage). New Video is another that claims to be the "leading digital aggregator of independent content in the world." IndieFlix may also be a site worth checking out, as viewers can choose to pay monthly or annually to watch streaming movies, and if you're a filmmaker, you can submit your own film to be streamed on IndieFlix.
Where cinema is going is a new and exciting place. It continues to evolve and grow, die and be reborn. Defining it becomes much more difficult as new forms, tendencies, and traditions work their way in, but one thing is for sure: cinema is exploding online. I echo Vachon's sentiments when she says, "...the state of cinema is not necessarily taking place -- in a cinema."
How else have advancements in exhibition affected independent filmmaking? Which avenues have you found to be most helpful when distributing your films? Have you ever used any of these aggregators before? How was your experience?
[via Hope for Film]