Notwithstanding, Frameline's heavy reliance on digital projection breeds specific concerns. For starters, the term "film" as in "film festival" appears to have capsized in order to accommodate alternative exhibition formats, and I'm not so sure this practice should be blithely accepted. Perhaps I'm being old-fashioned, but for me a "film" is on film. Anything else is digital media and should be understood and specified as such. I'll grant that both can be called movies. Has the time come to qualify that Frameline is the world's leading LGBT film and digital media festival? At what point is transparency required? I would say from hereon in.
Earlier this year at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), I was impressed that exhibition formats were detailed in CAAM's festival catalog. CAAM won high points for this gesture towards transparency. There's no denying that filmgoers are consumers and deserve to know what they're getting when they slap down $7-$10 (if not more) for a ticket. I'm disappointed that the San Francisco Film Society and now Frameline have not followed SFIAAFF's commendable lead in this regard. Perhaps they are operating off the mistaken assumption that filmgoers don't care how they see a film projected? Or that they can't tell the difference between a 35mm projection and a digital projection? Or that filmgoers are more concerned with narrative integrity than visual quality? And should that—woefully—be the case, who is responsible for training audiences in visual acuity and format discernment? Nonprofit advocacy groups such as the Film on Film Foundation or the Film Noir Foundation can only do so much. Organizations such as the San Francisco Film Society and Frameline are more in a position to advance such discernments to their respective constituencies by—at the very least—spelling them out in their program capsules. I encourage them to do so in the future.
Perhaps this would not be so much an issue if the equipment necessary to project digital media were state-of-the-art; but, by contrast to the pristine digital projections I've experienced at, let's say, the Toronto International Film Festival or even the Palm Springs International—digital projection at The Castro Theater, the Roxie Film Center and the Victoria Theater (Frameline's San Francisco venues) leave a lot to be desired, if not in the in-house equipment itself, then in the physical product offered by filmmakers for screening.
Case in point would be the two films screened at last week's Frameline press conference. The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (dir. James Kent 2010 UK) and Undertow (Contracorriente, dir. Javier Fuentes-León 2009 Peru) were both sufficiently intriguing narratives to warrant recommendation—the first being Frameline's Opening Night feature and the second its Centerpiece presentation—however, both viewing experiences were marred by poor digital projection that washed out skin tones and leached color from the imagery. Granted, Frameline will offset this deficiency with the value added from the on-stage appearances of talent and the anticipatory and conciliatory vibe of its audiences; but, the dilemma remains: these films are not being seen at their best. Despite its interesting story, I find it highly problematic to recommend that anyone pay $30-$35 ($75-$90, if you're inclined towards the gala) to view Frameline's opening night film The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. At least with its opening night selection, I would have hoped for a 35mm print to launch the festivities appropriately. And should a 35mm print not be available for this title, I would have preferred an alternate selection which would be available in 35mm. Undertow requires a lesser investment of $10-$15, but even so—as its Centerpiece—Frameline should have exerted a bit more effort and considerable more care in the quality of projection.
Truth is that I will probably take advantage of my privilege as press to watch the bulk of Frameline's digital fare on screener. I might as well. As much as I have complained in the past about being forced to watch festival fare on screeners, the more digital the festivals become, the more attractive the alternative of home viewing becomes.
Now lest I be thought of as biting the hand that feeds me, let me be quick to quote from the introductory editorial to the Summer 2010 issue of Cineaste (via Dave Hudson at MUBI) whose thematic focus lands squarely on the at-home DVD viewing experience and the so-called "new cinephilia", but which lends commensurate insight to my concern with digital theatrical exhibition: "[W]hat's important is not necessarily to privilege one mode of movie-watching over another," the editors argue. "Rather, the point is to maintain a sensitivity to how a particular film is affected by the circumstances in which it's viewed—something that's increasingly important as individual films come to be available from a dizzying variety of sources." And, it might be added, a dizzying variety of formats. Here, I must defer—as referenced earlier—that the anticipatory enthusiasm of Frameline's audiences and the collective experience of enjoying a "film" with such a like-minded audience is a strength that helps to offset any weakness in exhibition formats. I would still prefer, however, that—as an audience—we celebrate not only our unique stories but their visual quality as well. For those who care, here are the Frameline films being shown in 35mm:
Close (Pod Bluzka, 2008)—This nine-minute Polish short by Lucia Von Horn Pagana will have its US premiere as part of the Tough Girls shorts program.
Masala Mama (2010)—This nine-minute Singaporean short by Michael Kam will have its world premiere in The Golden Pin shorts program.
The New Tenants (2009)—Joachim Back's 21-minute short is part of Frameline's popular Fun In Boys' Shorts program.
Going South (Plein Sud, 2009)
Grown Up Movie Star (2009)
Hideaway (Le Refuge, 2009)
I Killed My Mother (J'ai Tué Ma Mère, 2009)
Last Summer of La Boyita, The (El ultimo verano de la Boyita, 2009)
Mädchen In Uniform (1958)
Man Who Loved Yngve, The (2008)
Purple Sea, The (2009)
Spring Fever (2009)
Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, The (2009)
Cross-published on Twitch.