Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reflections on one year of Chino Kino

It was a year ago today that I started Chino Kino with a post about the just-announced 2010 Academy Award nominations. Since then, I've chugged away with nearly 400 posts about film, theatre, music and various arts. But mostly film. It is, after all, implied in the name of this blog -- "Chino" is Spanish for Chinese or Chinese person, and "Kino" is a German and East European word for Cinema.

Last year, I made the move to Montreal, but continued to cover the film scene in Toronto and the rest of Canada, as well as internationally. We are very lucky in Canada to have such great access to the world's finest films. But I do think that film in general is going through some difficult and interesting times.

Filmmaking is in many ways getting better, and independent filmmaking is booming thanks to cheaper equipment. Many have said that documentary film is in a golden age. So to is international cinema, as A.O. Scott pointed out recently. But sadly, audiences have not been keeping up. And although the box-office numbers have been healthy in spite of the recession, they are inflated because of IMAX and 3-D surcharges. This disguises the fact that even audiences for mainstream Hollywood fare are fading.

The film world faces the same bleak future that the music industry has. We are faced with a growing number of people who simply do not view illegal downloading as stealing or in any way unethical because it's so easy to do. Nor can they tell the differences in quality between a crappy, colourless, badly-framed, highly-compressed pirate copy and a bright, big-screen projection. As the picture and sound quality keeps improving, the ability of most to appreciate it conversely and ironically diminishes.

Film faces an even more dire situation than music since it costs so much more to make the average film than it does the average CD or music release. If it becomes impossible to recover that cost, how will films ever get made? If they do get made, who will distribute them?

Consider that Norman Jewison has said that “film is the literature of our time.” I like to compare it to opera, or what Wagner called Gesamtkunstwerk -- total artwork or all-embracing art. Even more than opera, film encompasses most if not all the arts.

For two centuries, opera was extremely popular and well-attended by people from all walks of life. But as opera developed  and grew, the musical literacy of the general public dropped off to the point that people cannot listen to anything longer than the average 4-minute single. Sadly, opera is now considered an elitist art form for snooty old rich people.

Could the same thing happen to cinema? Could a generation of YouTube watchers and illegal downloaders make feature-length films unsustainable? Could feature films be something for an older elite while younger people only watch narcissistic clips of themselves having some amusing mishap?

It's hard to know what lies ahead. To be sure, great films will continue to be made. But I hope they will be able to find their audiences. I hope that audiences are able to be open-minded and financially supportive. Above all, I really hope that artists and filmmakers will be able to make a good living. Because a world without art is surely doomed.

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