The Timely Death of Film in the Age of Digital Cinema

The rise of video platforms like Netflix or Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and many others have not only changed the way people are watching their favourite movies and long-form drama serials, but it has also highlighted the death of the idea of Film as Film in the age of digital cinema. No longer is film king of entertainment; indeed it is now digital cinema.

It is therefore not a surprise to see that film is fasting becoming obsolete in the age of digital cinema. Indeed, film is dead and no one; at least not the masses; is the least bit concern by it.

Indeed, film theorists like Noel Carroll advised us to think of the subject of film not as film but as and in terms of moving images. One would go further and say that it is better to think about the subject of film in terms of the specific contexts in which it is used in conversations and discussions. That is because the word film is not only a noun but it is also a verb and an adjective all rolled up into one; and where sometimes the lines are blurred without one knowing that they are blurred in the first place. Hence, it is important to divorce the different uses of the term film by identifying the specific contexts in which it is referred to in conversations.

Firstly, it is important not to conflate Film as a be-all and end-all term of not only the art and craft of making movies but also the theorization and thinking about the subject in academia. It is important to see that there is the literary interpretation of film as a unit of analysis and discussion of cultural representation. Secondly, there is the sociological study of the effects and impact of media on people. Third, the socio-economic structure and superstructure of Film as Industry. Lastly, film within the supplementary domains of film criticism, fandom, and gossip columns. But while all of these domains make for a vibrant and exciting film ecology, they are nonetheless equally affected by the advent of digital disruptions and technologies that are not only improving but changing the ways in which films are made and seen in the era of digital innovations.

Indeed, the digital disruptions that are transforming ways of doing things in many industries and corporations are equally disrupting not only the way movies or made, distributed, and exhibited. That is because, save for a selected few, no one is actually shooting on film nowadays. Even Kodak and Fujifilm, the traditional manufacturers of film stock, have either shuttered their film divisions or divested their attention away. Indeed, it is increasingly acknowledged that the business of making and selling film stock is just not viable or profitable in the age of digital devices and media technologies. Moreover, while digital systems were cost prohibitive at first, distributors and exhibitors, not to mention production companies, nonetheless realized that it is probably more prudent and wiser to invest in digital platforms. After all, the world is being transformed by newer, faster, and more productive ways of doing things; what more in the film industry.

But digital cinema, if not already, is fast transforming the way movies are thought of and conceptualized within academia. Indeed, if no one is using Film, where even film manufacturers are not even bothering with advancing film-based technologies; where film makers are not even bothering to shoot and edit on film; where distributors and exhibitors are not even distributing and exhibiting on film; where even consumers and viewers are not really watching films with film projectors or even going to film theatres; then it begs the question, as indeed it has prompted Noel Carrol to swap film with moving images; is film dead? Is it dying or has it always been dead?

The short answer to the first question has to be “Yes, film as a technology is dead”. But it only applies to the raw materials (film stock) and to its image acquisition and editing technologies (non-linear editing and coloring software). Eventually, film will go the way of vinyl records or as collector items. There is no ambiguity in terms of its obsolescence in terms of technology. But fortunately, film as an art form will survive.

If anything, the death of film technologies is not only emancipative but it is also productive in the sense that it has allowed for a plethora of filmmakers in the rise of digital cinema.

But this rise in digital cinema has also changed the nature of digital storytelling and films; especially when watching a film is no longer about just the film but also the ability to read about it on news websites, fan sites or even watch analyses of it on YouTube. And to consume it not with other people in a theatre but in one’s own space with a laptop.

Whereas one had to SHARE, now one can CONTROL when, where, and how to use a video, film or clip to suit one’s own convenience, time, and mood.

Digital cinema, and by implication technology, has liberated people from being herded and controlled by filmmakers and/or theatre owners.  Indeed, it has also freed people from the tyrannical hold of understanding a film from filmmakers and film critics and academics, by allowing people to engage with it through blogs, social media, and also allowing viewers of all stripes and colours to evaluate it without the dictates of taste-makers.

Indeed, technological innovation in digital cinema has led to the timely death of Film in the age of digital innovations and disruptions by giving control over to the people and to the individual.

But is that a good thing?



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