28 Cannes Filmmakers Weigh in on the Digital Debate
We asked Cannes directors: how would you like your films to be seen?
[Editor’s note: some answers have been edited for clarity and condensed.]
The current debate around Netflix and Cannes, on the surface, is about how we watch films and if there is an “ideal” way to experience them. Though it takes some good faith to assume that this discussion is really about art and the love of cinema rather than commerce, we might as well play along, ride the waves and use this new channel to deepen the dialogue that is relevant nonetheless.
Having just a few strong voices can easily seem like they represent all the possible versions of the debate. It is tempting to oversimplify the situation as having two extreme poles (Netflix vs. Cannes!, tradition vs. innovation!, sacred vs. profane!, etc.). To broaden the discussion and move it a bit away from the "decision makers", we find it useful to hear a more diverse range of voices and opinions for the filmmaking community itself.
Applying some shades to black and white, we asked directors whose work will be present at this year’s Cannes Film Festival about how they imagine their films in the future of cinema. Our question, to the people who actually create the content of the current debate, was simple: how would you like your films to be seen?
“I hope my films will be primarily experienced in the sacred darkness of the cinema.”
Dolfin Megumi (Rubber Dolphin) – Cinéfondation
I like to take small stories and make them big, so no doubt it should be screened big. It's not just the size, it's the setup. I don't want the viewer to be able to fast forward, stop in the middle or be active in any way, just to watch closely and listen carefully. For that, the old-fashioned cinema experience is where I want to show my future films. But honestly, I just want my films to reach as many viewers possible, and secretly wish I could be present in the room with each of them, to see how they react.
End of Season – Cinéfondation
Our life became irretrievably individualistic and virtual. But, I hope my films will be primarily experienced in the sacred darkness of the cinema, surrounded by other people.
Censor - Marché du Film Frontiéres
For me, cinema is everything...The experience of sitting together, in the dark, in silence, being fully immersed in the world of a film–no distractions–is the way to experience moving image. When a film really works, you step out of the cinema feeling like you’re on another planet. This doesn’t really happen when you view films in other ways. Cinema helps you to surrender all your attention to the film – to experience sound and image completely. This is how I would like my films to be seen in the future, and how I want to see other people’s films... I want to transport people to other planets, and the cinema is my portal.
Las cruces – Quinzaine des Réalisateurs
I imagine showing a film in a cinema where people are lying on a comfortable kind of bed, the films are screened on the ceiling, the film himself and the audience would fell asleep.
Ya normalniy (Normal) – Semaine de la Critique
I would like my work to reach the audience as soon as possible, shot and shown. It’s not so important for me how the viewer will watch the movie: at home on the couch, on the train, on a mobile device or on the back of a seat in the plane. It's another matter when I sit in the movie theater as an author and observe the reaction of the audience, but this is rather selfish.
However, I understand that there are some sacred rituals like going to the movies, where you and a few strangers are watching a movie, and this is also very cool. But this ritual is not an excuse to deprive streaming resources of the opportunity to participate in festivals.
“It’s not so important for me how the viewer will watch the movie.”
Inanimate – Cinéfondation
I'm actually thinking a lot about it, and I'm dreaming about a new interactive way of making films. I see cinema as a one-way media. As a viewer, you can safely watch someone else's stories without answering back. I think it could be very interesting to find a way to make the audience more actively engaged. I love that kind of situation when suddenly your certainty breaks apart. That's the moment in which you can find your bare essence for a second and you have to re-make up your own mind and do something. It's a change opportunity moment. And I think that's how I'd like my films to be—to be able to cause inner movement and give people the opportunity to experience that moment.
I like a lot the idea of the "live cinema", it's a bit like mixing cinema and theatre, and the viewer can become active during the film—involving a performance, provoking a dynamic experience in which the audience move from a passive role to an active one, putting himself in the game and becoming a part of the whole magic, unrepeatable show.
Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas
Skip Day – Quinzaine des Réalisateurs
I learned to make observational films spending hours in the fine arts library at The University of Texas in Austin watching films that cost $180 to buy a DVD copy of. As much as I loved these films, I want our work to be free and accessible anywhere in the world. We see our films more as art projects and so we try to fund them through grants or distribution partners that will make them accessible without charge.
I really feel like we are adapting our approach with each film and for some films the venue will be an art space and others we want anyone with a phone to be able to get a wireless signal and play it. Overall, the future of film needs to be fluid, people need to be able to type our names into a box and have all of our films instantly.
I dream of a day when good films are not treated as precious objects that common people will not understand. I want everyone to have access to the films I make, especially young people in the most rural areas of the world. If they see my film on their phones, so be it, as long as they can see the films and be inspired.
Palm Trees and Power Lines – Cinéfondation
Personally, I prefer my films to be viewed in a theater with an audience. However, I appreciate that we are living in a time where content is unusually accessible on many different devices. At the same time, I fear that important details from the film will be lost if it is being viewed on something as tiny as a cell phone screen.
Manto – Un Certain Regard
On a big screen with perfect projection and sound would, of course, be ideal. I would want all the little nuances that we work endlessly on, to reach the viewer. But I am no purist. Being an actor/director of largely independent films, I know my work and that of many others can only be accessed only on viewing devices. Though the social experience of watching a film together is lost.
Cinco minutos afuera (Five Minutes Outside) – Cinéfondation
I would like my films to be seen by as many people as possible. In an ideal world that would be in a movie theater, with great projection, sound and comfortable seats that would allow everyone to be submerged in the story that is being told. I’m a strong believer that cinema and art can change peoples’ lives, lift moods, embellish time. That’s why I believe everyone should keep on watching movies, as much as they can... I think the most beautiful thing that can happen to a movie is to be seen by a thousand eyes.
“I think the most beautiful thing that can happen to a movie is to be seen by a thousand eyes.”
Logan George and Celine Held
Caroline – Short Films Competition
We'll always choose a movie theater. It's still the best environment to lose yourself in a story.
Raymund Ribay Gutierrez
Judgement – Short Films Competition
Ideally, I still want my films to premiere on the big screen, released in theater houses in different countries, either short of feature. At some point, I think that cinema industry and online platforms like Netflix would meet halfway over their interest of showing good films because the society is inevitably evolving beyond the traditional movie habits.
Ladyworld – Marché du Film Frontiéres
Honestly, I'm a Luddite and in many ways an artistic traditionalist. I want my films to be seen in a theatre. But maybe rather than an obvious showing in a multiplex (which would be unlikely considering the work I do), a more thrilling route would be event-based screenings with live music, conversations, interactive aspects.
Sadly but realistically, people need reasons to leave their homes/private spaces in order to engage with art. The theatre experience is a way of being held hostage, a complete warp of perspective. Never in life are we in complete darkness, with loud sound, and giant visuals - this already starts us off with a certain surreality. Then our disbelief can shift to belief more easily, immediately. Complete release, total trance. The theatre requires active viewership, putting the onus on the audience to stay attentive, aware, alive.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway – Marché du Film Frontiéres
The answer is with the time and interest enough to sit down, reflect and be inspired to participate in a real community. The main difference between going to the theatre and watching the film online is the experience itself. How focused you are, how connected you are with this work of art, how is your feedback, how inspired you are. Watching a film in theatres is preparing your body for that experience (going out of home, walking to the theatre, having a tea with friends afterwards, etc). It's a deeper, immersive experience that needs more effort and for this reason, it could change more your life and your environment.
One of the most interesting things of the digital era is that it doesn't change very much the number of people interested in your art. When in the past we were sharing our music and films via fanzines and word-of-mouth, the number was pretty similar. I guess, it has something to do with the limitation of personal time (the real and limited time to be focused) rather than the accessibility, which is a word invented by the companies to sell more in less time. As much as we compress more and more the time, the pieces of art have less and less impact on the society, so the capacity of creativity to change the world is narrow and very limited.
“It's undeniable that Netflix is affording filmmakers with a lot of opportunity and freedom.”
Thomas Robert Lee
The Ballad of Audrey Earnshaw – Marché du Film Frontiéres
I don't think there is a simple answer for the question of theatrical vs. streaming anymore. It's an interesting time to be a cinephile and a filmmaker, as there are more possibilities than ever in terms of how to get your film made as well as how/where to watch content.
With my film Empyrean, we opted to distribute the film online via iTunes and Amazon Prime as it was felt like the most streamlined approach for us. Personally, I'll always prioritize seeing a film that I'm excited about on the big screen as opposed to waiting for iTunes or Netflix. However, it's undeniable that Netflix is affording filmmakers with a lot of opportunity and freedom in regards to producing content that the studios simply aren't making anymore. Even Scorsese is in the Netflix family now with his upcoming The Irishman. Being a huge Errol Morris fan, I watched his Netflix series Wormwood as soon as it was available, but had I been given the opportunity to see it theatrically, then I'd have done so.
Dots – Cinéfondation
I would like my films to be seen in the cinema. I still believe it is the greatest way to experience storytelling and that will never change. I like the idea of VR. However, in my opinion, a film should be a director’s vision and therefore the viewers must be consciously lead in a story, whereas with VR this aspect can be broken.
It is great that the increase of electronic devices allow more and more people to experience videos regardless of where they are. However, I still believe this isn't necessarily a good way to experience cinema/high-end storytelling. Nothing compares to sitting in the cinema and allowing yourself to enter a storytelling world.
Ektoras Malo: I Teleftea Mera Tis Chronias (Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year) – Semaine de la Critique
Regardless of the medium, the place or the context, I want my films to be seen with love and intimacy, thus with easy access any time of the day, like a hug from a close friend.
O órfão (The Orphan) – Quinzaine des Réalisateurs
Even though I'm sure films will be mainly seen in VOD—which is great because of the huge range of people it reaches—I truly hope it won't be the only way. There's nothing like the experience of a watching a film screened in a good the movie theatre.
Tiikeri (The Tiger) – Semaine de la Critique
The question of how we engage with epic stories is at stake here and in many ways something that is compressed in two hours cannot compete with a cinematic, beautifully crafted season of high-end drama. So this is the moment to remind ourselves what cinema profoundly is. And I believe in cinema, and in the language of cinema which is constantly developing. Cinema is not just storytelling, it is fine art, images and sound that can heal—or destroy—your soul. It is poetry, something that is beyond the banality of stories.
“I want my films to be seen with love and intimacy like a hug from a close friend.”
Our Song To War – Quinzaine des Réalisateurs
I guess that in the future I would love my films to be more immersive, an experience that reaches all the senses, that extends to outside of the screen to get inside the skin of the viewer. For this reason, I think that exploring the idea of extended cinema is what will still take the viewers to the temple that is the cinema room, to overwhelm them with something that for a TV will be impossible to do.
Nos batailles (Our Struggles) – Semaine de la Critique
Of course, it's always better to see a film in theaters in good conditions. But perfection doesn’t exist. What really matters is that the film is seen! Even on a tablet, a smartphone or in a plane... I experienced real cinematic shocks while watching some movies on my laptop.
The Winter Lake – Marché du Film Frontiéres
In the cinema…100%. The cinema is, without doubt, the best place to watch a film, I don’t think that could ever be refuted. It focuses the mind and limits distractions; distractions that your home is full of. The communal experience heightens the emotion, tension and humour of the film. Which is why we watch them in the first place.
But that’s not to say I think cinemas are perfect. I wish they did more to make going to see a film more of an experience. I find myself going to boutique cinemas a lot more now as I crave a sense of pageantry. Most cinemas these days feel like office block. I would love more engagement with the art form from the cinema. A sense of real curation, more engagement with the filmmakers and to promote and support the filmgoing community.
Tin y Tina (Tin & Tina) – Marché du Film Frontiéres
As a creator, to me, it’s really important to analyze the aimed viewing platforms first—theaters, VOD, live cinema, VR, internet—in order to build the best viewing experience for the audience. What is in my hand is to keep that compromise with the format and with the story. In this way, it’s highly recommended that the audience keep this same compromise to enjoy the experience as it was designed.
Mesle Bache Adam (Like a Good Kid) – Cinéfondation
I have to say that, for me, every single audience that watches the film matters. I believe that anything in a movie can be felt by any audience no matter if he/she is a cinema expert or it is just your old grandma who only watches soap operas! The ideal viewing experience for me is creating a feeling. Overall I make films to create a moment of connection with the audience. Not sympathy exactly but more of an empathy between the audience and the characters and how they feel.
Every perfect film tries to connect you with different layers of truth. Maybe you can’t find it but the honest struggle toward the truth is what matters most and that’s when the audience engages at most and worries for the destiny of the characters during the film and—if you are a lucky filmmaker—after the film finishes too!
Third Kind – Semaine de la Critique
I would like my films not to be seen but experienced as a journey to a no man’s land where fiction and reality, logic and absurdity, truth and lies merge.
“Having an intimate viewing experience with strangers is community and empathy building.”
I Am My Own Mother – Cinéfondation
As a filmmaker, ideally, I still hope my work is experienced in the theatre. The magnitude of the image and sound within a theatre is incomparable. I want to be absorbed, subsumed, into a film that I’m watching, and unless you have a state-of-the-art home entertainment system, that’s hard to achieve.
The theatre experience is also more than just amplified sound and image. Having an intimate viewing experience with strangers is community and empathy building. People still crave gathering together within a single dark space, a vacuum, to watch cinema. That communal aspect of the cinematic experience is vital, and needs to be protected.
When it comes down to it, I just want people to see my films, via whatever means necessary (ideally not on a smartphone, unless that’s the only option!).