A few years back, a Scottish filmmaker by the name of May Miles Thomas made a landmark film called ONE LIFE STAND. The film tells the story of a single mother and her 18-year-old son who have grown apart and find themselves in dead end jobs to make ends meet. She's a telephone clairvoyant; he's been lured into work as an escort (yes, that sort of escorting).
I won't pretend that the film is a masterpiece - it's not. But for whatever flaws I see in it, it's competently made, it's emotionally charged and it's a very watchable movie. What makes it special is that it was essentially the UK's first foray into digital filmmaking, at least on a feature film scale. Written, filmed and edited by the director, ONE LIFE STAND broke new ground in low-budget filmmaking as the cast and crew took to the streets with their digital video camera and got to work.
While I've said the result isn't exactly a classic, that's just my opinion; many others feel more strongly and the film played several festivals, scooped many awards and reaped some wonderful words from critics (apparently The Scotsman branded it a "lyrical masterpiece"). You're probably thinking that you must have somehow missed it at your local independent cinema. That's true, you did... because despite massive acclaim, it never received a theatrical run.
This is unfortunately all too common in independent cinema, especially in a country like the UK where the film industry is a relatively minor one. The first hurdle facing any potential filmmakers is getting the film made to start with. Thomas and friends managed that through sheer determination and guerilla tactics, only to run slap bang into the second major hurdle, which is actually getting anyone to distribute it.
Even now many people are only seeing the film for the first time as a limited DVD production of the movie is being sold exclusively online via the Elemental Film website (http://www.elementalfilms.co.uk/ if you want to check it out). This is an interesting tactic and one that may well set a benchmark for future low-budget indie productions, especially in the UK. But for whatever benefits this method may have, it's too late to get ONE LIFE STAND into the cinemas where it should have been long ago, and it won't help any others receive theatrical releases either.
That's where a current development of Arts Alliance, funded by the UK Film Council, comes in. The programme, to be completed in 2007, is to build the world's first largescale digital cinema network, right here in the UK. Once the equipment has been installed, the costs of such a venture are greatly reduced compared to our traditional 35mm projection that most cinemas currently use.
The film won't be subject to gradual decay (scratches, etc.) like traditional film; it's cheaper to produce a digital copy than a new print; and the quality will be much better.
Actually, that last bit is what scares most people. Traditionalists don't like the idea of good old celluloid being replaced, in much the same way that some people still prefer vinyl over CDs (or if you want to be really up to date, people who still prefer CDs over downloads). I know, because I felt the same way. I mean, after all, one of the biggest fans of the digital revolution is George Lucas, and just look at the guff he's showered us with over the last few years. Is a digital revolution really that promising if it's going to produce films like ATTACK OF THE CLONES?
Then a little while back I attended a screening of Michael Powell's 1937 tale of the Scottish islands, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. I was ready to enjoy the film when suddenly I was landed with the news that this was to be a showcase for the future of cinema... it was a digital projection!
I was curious, but not ecstatic. Digital projection? I paid good money to watch a film, not some pixellated piece of crap designed to show off some pointless new technology. Then the film started...
I hate to tell you this, but it looked amazing. Now I'm converted and can't wait for the UK's digital cinema revolution to arrive. Some cinemas have already converted (usually one screen only), and are ready to use it in order to give more exposure to special interest films (i.e. documentaries, foreign films, British movies, etc.), which is part of the scheme's aim. Plenty more are to follow over the next year or so.
There's a list online somewhere (sorry, I can't be arsed looking it up) of all the cinemas looking to convert and I'm not particularly surprised to see that my local multiplex isn't among them. Why dedicate a screen to interesting films when you need half a dozen of them to fill up your day with Harry Potter screenings? But thankfully a couple of the other cinemas I frequent are in line for this new development and I can't wait.
It's too late for ONE LIFE STAND, but it bodes well for future efforts of Britain's filmmakers. Tell your friends - the digital revolution is upon us!*
*Providing you are within a reasonable distance of a half-decent cinema.