EIFF 2004 Diary: Day Nine

HD vs 35mm debate rages at "fringe film festival".

by Douglas Bell

Doug at the EIFF: day 9

Doug at the EIFF: day 9

The High Definition Festival, the digital Fringe of the EIFF, began its first of five days in the gargantuan Chambers Street museum. Even having asked directions three times, I still got lost (I recommend swanning in the back entrance. Look assured.)

The program works as an excellent compliment to the main festival. But it will be interesting to see whether the two events have to compete in the future as more films are shot on HD.

A lengthy discussion/debate on digital quality, chaired by Julian Mitchell of High Definition Magazine, made for interesting listening and kick-started the program of HD shorts, features, and seminars. A high level of interest, meant good attendance.

The debate boiled down to three points:

1. HD Technology has reached a certain image quality, which is high enough for broadcast, but has not yet reached the defined standards of 35mm. 35mm will still be around for a very long time, was the consensus, but HD is lowering the barriers to filmmaking and the tide is set to turn.

2. There was discussion on whether a DoP can attain the same depth of field as on film (HD, being digital, has to be applied differently due to the laws of physics...basically, there is less distance between the lens and sensor chips than is the case for film cameras.)

Chris Atkins, producer of 16 Years of Alcohol, made an excellent comment on this point by asking, "How out of focus do you need to go, to isolate your subject?" His opinion is that HD ruins much of the mystique around filmmaking, which many filmmakers are reluctant to lose. It opens the door for amateurs to film high quality stuff and so is suffering from some kind of snobbery.

3. The cost of HD is likely to be the major pull-factor in converting film worshippers - particularly independents. As it's shot on tape, there is little wastage and post-production costs are greatly reduced. When your actors need ten takes for a scene you can just keep the tape rolling, at much less added expense. Not so with film, unless you have studio funding.

I don't know why this keeps happening to me, but comedy terrorist Aaron Barschak continually crops up wherever I go, appearing at the screening of the magnificently funny Feedback (shot on High Definition) in his boxer-shorts this time. For once he wasn't there to promote himself, but still managed to cause a stir.

Feedback follows a number of troubled characters from a variety of backgrounds, who come together by coincidence. Each one of them is introduced in their everyday lives, and as things go wrong, you witness a transformation of Saving Grace proportions, and equal humour. I sat in front of HD-convert Richard Jobson, who exclaimed with laughter at the end of the film's second round of applause, "That was the maddest thing I've ever seen!" What is most unusual about the movie is why it's not been distributed yet.

I had a lengthy discussion with director Paul Wiffen, who crossed over to directing from sound, having worked for Apple. His enthusiasm for HD started when he was short of the finances to afford film for feature work. He hasn't looked back since.

"It'll take five years to catch on," he said. "There are people who would say that it'll take twenty years - they said the same about sound fifteen years ago, and we've been working digital sound for ten years now."

For those who want further evidence of the capacity of HD, check out the Nicole Kidman movie Dogville and the director's extras on Once Upon A Time In Mexico, titled, "Film is Dead". If director Robert Rodriguez is shouting good things about it, people will surely start listening sooner rather than later.

I got a chance to examine JVC's JY-HD10, one of the first prosumer HD cameras, and quiz the cameraman. Not only does it look and feel magnificent, it really does push the quality to another level. The Sony HDCAM SR camera, is also due out soon and is sure to turn some minds around.

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