As we enter autumn, who can forget the copious "Event Pictures" that made up the summer movie release schedule? With summer smash hits like Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Dead Man's Chest, Transformers, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Bourne Ultimatum, blocks are thoroughly busted. But, now the leaves are turning orange and the temperature is starting to dip-which means it's time for the blockbusters to hibernate as the season of film festivals approaches! With the Calgary International Film Festival just around the corner, the University of Calgary's Faculty of Communication and Culture's Know Before You Go lecture series kicks off with an event asking a very candid question about the movie-going experience itself: Is the Cinema Dead?
"One of the things that I don't want people to think about with the title of my talk is that I'm being morbid," says Dr. Charles Tepperman, member of the Faculty of Communication and Culture and speaker for the event. "There are statistics that have emerged that annually show fewer people go to theatres. The national average is about three times per year… For people who are in their late teens to early twenties it's probably more than that, but for older people it's probably a bit less than that."
With the popularization of MP3 players that you can watch movies on, portable DVD players and even vehicle DVD players, it's never been so simple to watch movies wherever you go. But this experience is a solitary one, leading to questions about the shifting way we're consuming film and whether or not the traditional way of watching films will slowly die out or change altogether. With these questions also comes one other question: what happens to events that require people actually attending the cinema, instead of watching it on DVD?
"The question is 'We have a film festival, but what does that provide?'" asks Tepperman. "If people aren't going to the movies regularly, why should we have film festivals? What do they provide that the regular movie experience doesn't?"
Tepperman thinks the answer lies in a film festival's ability to provide a unique opportunity to watch films; instead of the same films with the same actors, film festivals provide a unique opportunity for people to see movies that they may never get a chance to see otherwise. What's more, people can discover an entirely new type of cinema beyond their experience, creating new fans to films that otherwise would be lost in the hustle and bustle of Adam Sandler's latest gross-out comedy.
"We have all these kinds of film festivals, not only the Calgary International Film Festival but also proliferations of film festivals," notes Tepperman. "So, there are all these opportunities to come together in smaller communities to say 'I'm really enthusiastic about this kind of movie, and I want to see these films with other people and discuss what I've seen with them.' So, maybe we aren't going to see popular films together anymore, but there are now narrower contexts within which we form
communities around movies."
If popular film isn't putting people in seats, maybe the kind of films you can only see in a film festival will drive interest. Maybe cinema isn't dying, but in cardiac arrest-and maybe film festivals are just the right kind of electric shock to keep cinema going for a long time coming.
"I think the question that we ask, 'is the cinema dead?' is an important one, because we have choices what sort of art forms are important to us as a society," remarks Tepperman. "The film festivals are terrific opportunities to re-engage with cinema as an art form, as something that has all of these parts
that you can go the movies and experience as a group."