Cinema is dead, long live cinema. What remains of cinema after the rise of digital platforms?

At the last virtual meet-up of the ”la Caixa” Foundation fellows, professionals from the film industry debated the current complexities and challenges of this sector and shared some of their experiences.

13 February 2024

Cinema is in crisis. It doesn't matter when you read this. 

The feeling that we're at a critical time, a watershed, is shared by many. 

Will we continue to watch films in large cinemas or only from the sofa at home? When we talk about Cinema, with a capital C, do we mean the film itself or actually the whole experience, anonymous but also collective, of discovering a story and characters?  So began an interesting discussion between leading professionals from the industry at the last meet-up of "la Caixa" Foundation fellows. And this article looks at some of the film industry's complexities and challenges, as well as the experiences of its professionals. 

The fellows who attended the meeting: Mireia Vilanova Broto, José Antonio Prats López, Jan Latussek, Daniel Sánchez López, Alfonso Sánchez Moya, Galder Irusta, Guillermo F. Flórez, Irene Gil Ramon, Jorge Torregrossa García, Helena Vilaplana Carnerero, Lluís Rodríguez Carnero, Martín Rosete, Noelia María Muíño, Nadia Hotait Salas, Miguel Cavadas Docampo, Hector Prats i Castro.

The impact of platforms and algorithms

 It was Jorge Torregrossa, director, among others, of the successful series El cuerpo en llamas, who began a lively discussion on the cinematographic experience and digital platforms. He pointed out that less commercial films, which used to survive mainly thanks to festival and awards circuits, are now becoming more mainstream: «It's very noticeable in Spain's box office results. Commercial films - which are produced in hundreds of copies and supported by an international distributor or big production company - are suddenly performing worse while small films, auteur films, are becoming much more profitable». 

Guillermo F. Flórez, a filmmaker specialising in producing documentaries, explained that «platforms have altered not only how we consume films but also how we talk about them».  In fact, the conversations encouraged by digital platforms are different from those that take place after going to the cinema. Nadia Hotait, producer and director of development at Lolafilms, has noticed a certain duality in platforms: on the one hand they offer a global space for a wide range of voices but at the same time encourage the individualisation of digital interaction. 

However, are these conversations more ephemeral, shorter? To what extent are they dominated by the giants of the media industry based on the audience statistics provided by platforms? 

While there was no agreement regarding the depth of such conversations, which in many cases depend on each person's social media and habits, there was some consensus on the influence of algorithms. Many participants were highly critical, believing that algorithms play a key role in limiting or deciding which new films we see. And we know that many platforms use them to «shackle viewers to their exclusive content, limiting the diversity of film choices» according to Martín Rosete, director and producer at Mister Marshall Entertainment. Although platforms like Filmin are geared towards providing a more extensive catalogue of films, in general the common feeling is that algorithms, which were first created to help viewers explore what was available, might now become gatekeepers of what we watch.

How healthy is Spain's film industry?

Opinions were unanimous when we talked about Spanish cinema: in recent years there's been some progress both in the number and quality of productions, as well as in the government support provided.  «Legislation has helped the industry to advance quite a bit» commented Guillermo Fernández. Regulation of the sector can drive the progress of the industry as a whole, even in a scenario where digital platforms continue to gain ground.

There's no doubt that, when we think about the film industry, one of the unknowns is whether, despite everything, cinemas will continue to exist and for whom. And our experts' answers were mixed because, although it can't be denied that watching a film in a large, full cinema is a unique experience, digital platforms also offer tangible benefits and a better balance between big productions and more intimate projects. Still, if we could only choose one, «I'd go with a film in the cinema» said Jan Latussek, highlighting how cinemas stimulate reflection and emotions. «I'd choose the platforms" commented Daniel Sánchez López, Dani Salo AEC, because in many areas of Spain, even if there is a cinema, the actual range of films they show is very limited. Jan's a professional photographer, videographer and audiovisual producer and Daniel is a director and filmmaker in Seville. 

Long live cinema

The title of this article exudes a certain optimism about the future of cinema and this was also the overall tone of the conversation among our experts. 

Yes, there are obstacles to accessing financing and opportunities and digital platforms don't necessarily help. However, the experts pointed out that the production model is changing and this could be an opportunity to explore collaborations, to foster diversity and innovation.

We still «allow ourselves to be swayed by the inertia of the needs of the film industry upstream» reflected Galder Irusta, independent film director and playwright. But surely we should be thinking about the possibilities offered by digital technology, rethinking traditional structures, because in principle platforms can help us to reach niche audiences that encourage more alternative productions.   
Yes, cinema is in crisis. But at this new crossroads we can redefine cinematographic narrative and production, we can strike a balance between majestic cinemas and easily accessible digital platforms. Maybe after this crisis the seventh art can finally be an art for everyone. 

Our fellows' recommendations

Le otto montagne (The Eight Mountains), by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch

Galder Irusta recommends this Italian film directed by a Belgian couple that's available on Filmin. Galder tells us that it's a beautiful film, very simple: «it's about two boys, one from the city and the other from the country, who meet as children in a village in northern Italy. The film tells the story of how their lives evolve and their friendship intertwines, also through the mountains».

Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People and Filmmaker: a Diary by George Lucas

Jan Latussek recommends Francis Ford Coppola's 1969 classic. That year it won Gold at the San Sebastian Film Festival and was a great attempt to make cinema outside the system. While making this film, Ford Coppola was followed around by George Lucas with a 16 mm camera, thus creating Filmmaker: a Diary by George Lucas, in the form of a documentary.

The Beginner's Guide, by Davey Wreden

This videogame is a narrative experience, following the story of a boy who visits unfinished games while a voiceover explains the story behind the characters. Noelia Muíño recommends it to us: «I loved this game. It's very personal in spirit and reminded me of friends of mine and their psychology». 

Tomboy, by Céline Sciamma

This fictional film is recommended to us by Dani Salo AEC. Made in 2011, it tells the story of the childhood of a transgender person: «I think it's a very important and beautiful film, with an incredible sensitivity and cinematographic narrative». 

Pink Saris (Gulabi Gang), by Nishtha Jain

Daniel also recommends this documentary: «It's about a branch of feminism in Rajasthan» he explains, «where, to combat machismo or patriarchy, women wore pink saris, covering their faces and even using violence against abusers. This created a political party that won elections throughout Rajasthan».

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