Selling Celluloid at SXSW Supported by the Film Hub North Bursary Scheme
Kathryn Penny (National Media Museum, Film Business Manager) reports back from SXSW 2017. Kathryn was supported to attend the event through the Film Hub North bursary scheme, for more information about the bursary scheme please click here.
I approached the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference with a panel proposal entitled Selling Celluloid: Finding New Audiences for Film. The panel would address whether audiences really cared about watching film on film and why venues and programmers were increasingly returning to celluloid screenings.
The session needed a good mix of speakers to create a lively debate with polemic elements. I would be speaking as the Director of Widescreen Weekend, a festival with a backbone of photochemical film but increasingly introducing digital content and new technologies. I invited Lars Nilsen and Dave Strohmaier to join me on the panel. Lars, programmer at the Austin Film Society was sure to fly the flag of well-presented celluloid film as the ultimate format. Dave, whose work lies in digital restoration, would present some hard truths on the reality of maintaining a mechanically projected film programme. The session would be chaired by Film Hub North member, Lisa Brook from Live Cinema UK.
It was a privilege and very exciting to have the panel accepted in the conference. Nearer to the start of SXSW we discovered that a panel that I though might be a leap of faith for the organisers was mentioned in a number of programme trends emerging from the conference. It was a noted that a theme of “new school content goes old school” was popping up in a number of sessions with more and more event producers using analogue techniques to stand out from the crowd.
So how did the panel go down at SXSW? Well ironically and somewhat poetically, in a session promoting the reliability of photochemical film, the SXSW technician couldn’t get the sound from the opening video out through the digital cable! We found a work around and the session got underway.
The panel discussed their preference for film vs. digital and if audiences knew or cared about the formats they were watching. The session was topped and tailed with video from our friends at The Sun Theatre in Melbourne who installed a 70mm system for the release The Hateful 8 and have been playing sell out shows ever since. It was suggested that celluloid screenings could offer curatorial cut-through for audiences overwhelmed by choice.
When it came down to audience questions it was great to hear from some young projectionists and programmers. They wanted to know how to get audiences in their theatres for celluloid screenings. Lars Nilsen, who works for Richard Linklater, could speak from experience about how a high profile advocate could raise the profile of these programmes.
In the closing remarks the panel were all in agreement on one issue; if we want to continue celluloid projection, we need significant investment in both new prints and projection skills. We are in a great position in the UK as the BFI prepare to invest in 100 new 35mm prints. I eagerly await to see the impact this will have on theatres and audiences.