PRINT October 2015


35-mm-film projection booth, Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, Brussels, 2013. Photo: Xavier Harcq.

IN 1999, scarcely a century after cinema’s birth, a feature film was projected digitally before an audience for the first time: George Lucas’s Phantom Menace. But the menace to film was no phantom. By the beginning of 2015, more than 90 percent of the world’s cinemas had gone digital, including nearly 98 percent of American movie theaters. And film production—from image capture and the creation of effects to editing and color correction—had, too, all but surrendered to digital technologies. Last year, Paramount became the first major Hollywood studio to announce that it would no longer distribute 35-mm prints—that it would no longer distribute its films on film—and, in any case, the manufacture of 35-mm motion-picture cameras and projectors had already come to an end. Kodak, which had recently emerged from bankruptcy, was the only manufacturer of film stock left. Technicolor no longer processed film. The entire infrastructure of photochemical film had collapsed.

Can the medium be saved? Will the great majority of the world’s moving-image heritage be forever lost? What is the cost of digitization? In the pages that follow, NICOLA MAZZANTI, director of the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique in Brussels, artist TACITA DEAN, and critic AMY TAUBIN confront these urgent questions.