Cannes is just an hour away from my home in the south of France, and I always follow news of its film festival, held at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, with interest. The festival took place last week and according to the BBC, ‘the future state of cinema [was] one of the most hotly-debated topics’.
The Cannes Film Festival excludes films that have not had a theatrical release (i.e. been shown in cinemas) and have been streamed online within the last three years. That means films made by streaming companies like Netflix are not shown at the festival. Naturally, the streaming companies, which will soon include Apple, Disney and Warner, think that’s an outdated approach.
‘Could streaming really cancel cinema?’ the BBC article asks. It strikes me that this echoes a question that has been prominent in the world of publishing for the past few years: ‘Could ebooks be the end of print books?’
Will digital kill real-world? Will the likes of Netflix make cinemas redundant? Will ebooks cause bookstores to close?
One would hope not, for that would do great damage to communities. Just as we need commercial centres in towns – shops and restaurants – not merely giant online stores and food delivery services, we need cultural places where we can come together.
Filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu told the BBC: ‘I am a true believer that to watch a film is not to see a film, and to see [something] is not to experience something, and cinema was born to be experienced as a communal experience.’
Watching a film on television doesn’t match the experience of watching it in a movie theatre, just as reading an ebook doesn’t match the experience of reading a print book. Inarritu used the example of listening to Beethoven in his car; nothing wrong with that, but, he says, ‘it would be disastrous if there was not an opportunity to hear a whole 100 person orchestra playing in a concert hall’.
Imagine no concert halls! No date night at the movies! And imagine no bookstores where you can browse and discover new treasures, and be around like-minded people, and enjoy the reverent calm and the scent of the printed pages. That sounds very much like a dystopia to me.
All of these digital innovations are exciting, and they have their place – but surely that is alongside what is already working in our world, not replacing that which we love and need.
Of course, if we are to keep movie theatres and bookstores – and concert halls and opera houses and art galleries and every other place in a community where we may come together and experience culture – then we must use them. What better excuse to book cinema tickets and buy a new novel today?