Film Tonight I attended seminar at BBC North run by the RSA for the Commonwealth Film Festival about the new cinema digital distribution network. The contributors, Dave Moutrey who runs the Cornerhouse and Tony Jones (founder of City Screen and one of the men behind Picturehouse cinemas who run the screens at FACT Liverpool), painted the technology in glowing terms although the message was actually pretty bleak - that the next wave of digital projection units will only be available with the help of the major studios who will in general, probably rightly, want their product presented on them -- which sounded like a return to the vertical distribution system at work during the hayday of Hollywood.
Moutrey in particular was at pains to explain actually how difficult it is to bring new and exciting content to a cinema like the Cornerhouse when distributors want their first run movies filling a screen for every showing for weeks. I had to disagree with his review of their digital projection system, the flaws in which he thought would only be recognisable to a film 'trainspotter' (wince) or 'anorak' (wince again). I saw their presentation of A Cock and Bull Story and it actually included many of the annoyances you find in dvd releases, namely edge enhancement and artifacting. So yes, much clearer picture which doesn't change no matter how many times you show it -- I just don't think the technology is quite there yet.
That wasn't the comment I made through. What I drew their attention to was the comment I've been reading online and getting from people offline about why they stopped going to the cinema -- the experience. The fact that you end up in an auditorium with people who don't understand the etiquette of not talking unless reacting, or not bringing a picnic, or not chatting on their mobile phone, which I said were some of the reason I haven't been to FACT for some time. I suggested -- so as not to go too far off topic -- that it's up to the distributors and to an extent the theatres to make sure that the audience they're bringing in are aware of the type of film they're about to watch -- avoid false advertising. They asked for an example and I gave them Match Point, which was sold as one type of film but by at least minute three with the voiceover, the freeze frame and opera music was already a mile away from the poster and half the audience started chatting because they wondered what the hell they were doing there.
Cornerhouse Dave recognised that these were issues which is why they don't have a massive refreshment stand and don't sell noisy food and drink -- I mentioned that the Cornerhouse was one of the few cinemas I'll go to for these reasons. Tony Jones wasn't sure what I was on about I don't think, although he did make the important point that because the release schedule for films is getting shorter so that advertising is increasingly covering the theatrical presentation and the dvd they're in the position of having to wonder at what point it stops being worth their while even being in the business. On the basis of this meeting I can't see the situation changing much in the future. Even if digital 'prints' of films are cheaper to distribute with screens still being clogged out with content from the majors there still won't be anywhere to show them.