One of the subtle ways the Miami International Film Festival has reinvented itself for its 31st year is presenting a festival that only projects digitally. There is not a single 35mm film in the festival. It marks a new era in cinematic presentation, and, over the weekend, one of the festival's guests presented a master class on the significance of this move.
Chilean filmmaker/author/film critic Alberto Fuguet held court at the Miami Beach Cinematheque (a local, digital-only art house) Sunday afternoon to a small but passionate bunch of aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles. Nineteen-year-old Diego Vicentini, from Boston College, is studying finance but also dabbles in filmmaking on the side.
"I'm curious about this workshop because it's about the future of film," he said.
Actually, Fuguet was more interested in presenting a workshop that looks to bury film and embrace the digital format. Little did Vicentini know he was the perfect demographic for Fuguet, a 49-year-old director who has worked with 35mm and digital and has now embraced digital.
Fuguet, is also at MIFF to present his latest film, a rather experimental documentary in the form of film essay called Locations: Looking For Rusty James. It's a film appreciating Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 movie Rumble Fish and the impact it had on young Latin filmmakers. More visual poem than informative essay, he said he received kudos from Coppola himself who appreciated the tribute, which never even diverted in talking about the legendary filmmaker. It was a mark of respect for a film for film's sake.
Accompanied with a slightly messy but passionate slide show featuring salty language and extra punctuation points, Fuguet kicked off the class bemoaning his experience shooting in 35mm. He had the number one film in Chile in 2005, Se Arrienda (For Rent), yet still did not make money off it (it was poetic that the person running the slide show was the filmmaker behind Ectotherms, a masterful no-budget film debuting at MIFF this year). Despite making a box office hit in his home country that topped the runs of Cinderella Man and The Dukes of Hazard there, he had a hard time finding funding for his follow-up. Despite pitching his next film at film festivals, he could not raise the money to get back to work. It was creatively stifling.
He turned to a digital camera, a Lumix by Panasonic not unlike the one used to take the pictures in this very article. With no budget and a guerilla filmmaking approach, he shot his follow-up film. He sent the resulting 2009 short, "2 Horas," to the Rotterdam Film Festival on a lark, and it was accepted.
The lesson: funding should never be a priority in filmmaking. The art and the passion to express oneself needs to come first. He presented the new venue as the laptop computer. From creating networks, promoting a film, editing and displaying finished movies, he insists the future lies in a laptop computer. He pointed to the fact that the Cinematheque controls its high-definition 4K projector from a laptop, so quality should not be considered an issue.
Fuguet encouraged filmmakers to get over nostalgia for 35mm, a cumbersome medium few aspiring filmmakers have the luxury to shoot in. He cited Martin Scorsese, a longtime cinephile as well as a noted filmmaker, as a supporter of the digital format. He closed the presentation going line-by-line through a letter Scorsese addressed to his 14-year-old daughter, which he had published by the Italian paper L'Espresso (read it here). He also shared his own website that encourages filmmakers to share their work at no cost to the viewer: cinepata.com, which has many films with English subtitles. It actually makes money and allows for funding to support filmmakers.
During the Q&A, one aspiring filmmaker said the future seems bleak for someone who aspires to move to L.A. and make movies in Hollywood. Though Fuguet offered this young woman all the best in her aspirations, he countered that it's the wrong mentality to take. The art must come first, he emphasized, then the money should follow, as well as the avenues to make more films.
"I prefer a bad movie that's personal than a movie made by a corporation," he stated earlier. "It's becoming a Disney thing. Since when has tuning 30 become a crime? There are no movies for adults anymore."
At the end of the talk, Vicentini was indeed inspired and almost breathless with ideas that he had he absorbed from Fuguet's talk. More than ever, he says, he looks to continue his pursuit of filmmaking while continuing his studies in finance.
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"It's good," he said, "because it's hopeful for people like me, who are doing it for art's sake."