End of the road for cinemas?

In the near future – perhaps sooner than you may think – a traditional evening out to a cinema near you will become far less conventional than you might imagine. It may not even be an evening out, for an experimental program of online film distribution is already under way. In the last decade the Internet has spread rapidly, even in countries which appear to move at a slower pace. Connections have reached such high speeds that viewing multimedia presentations via streaming no longer causes nervous breakdowns among end-users. How can all this alter viewer habits? Can it be done and, if so, for whom? The traditional distribution model is becoming too costly in terms of placement and advertising publicity. Quite often, major Hollywood studios spend more on a film’s promotion than on its production. When it comes to this kind of movie, the most probable scenario is that they will not be moving out of cinema theaters anytime soon. For those who don’t have direct access to distribution, however, the Internet might offer an alternative way of communicating their work to the public. Websites such as and offer short and full-length movies the opportunity to do so – with or without a subscription. Why shouldn’t directors support a new medium which allows for direct communication when it comes to experimental, low-budget films facing a dubious fate in the hands of a distributor? Even trendsetter Madonna stated at the Berlin Film Festival recently that «Filth and Wisdom,» the film she directed, may be distributed on the Internet. When such high-caliber stars, with enormous media access, are giving this outlet some serious thought, the industry’s major players follow suit. The subject of film in the future was raised in a recent interview with major Hollywood producer Joel Silver. The producer of «The Matrix», «V for Vendetta» and more recently «Speed Racer,» Silver believes that the future will be digital – at all stages. «We are always seeking to expand the viewing public and for our movies to converge with it. Cinema will change in the future,» noted the producer. «One way of doing this would be interactive screenings, with audiences selecting the development of the film’s plot. I tried this with a thriller I produced, which was subsequently distributed directly on DVD. In the future, however, this could take place in a cinema theater. If you’re in the market of making films whose aim is to bring in viewers and be commercially successful, then you have to try new things. «As far as the use of the Internet is concerned, in terms of film promotion, I think that films made specifically for this kind of medium will be produced in the very near future. When we produced ‘The Matrix,’ electrical appliance stores informed us that the trilogy helped generate higher sales of DVD players. More recent films like ‘Speed Racer,’ on the other hand, with great attention to detail in terms of image processing, might help boost Blu-ray sales, given that the quality of the image has no comparison with ordinary DVDs. Technology will change everything in the industry. As horrible as it sounds, there will be no celluloid film in the years to come. We will shoot and process films digitally (this is already happening), screen them digitally (something in development) and distribute them through the Internet,» said Silver. Don’t expect empty cinemas in the coming months, however. It will take some time before home screenings become commercially competitive with movie theater screenings. What might happen, and this is already gradually taking place, is that access is becoming more democratic. This is especially true in the case of independent moviemakers, people who have yet to establish links with traditional distribution networks. During this first period and until the rules and specifications are laid down, the discovery of significant works will be time-consuming and necessitate plenty of lower-quality film viewing. In the same way that independent film festivals gave new impetus to film productions – before ending as major studio offshoots – the Internet may offer a new medium of communication to filmmakers who carry on the art of experimenting.