Is it a losing battle between the old and the new, do we let go of the celluloid and welcome the new age digital cinema?
Over the next few years, manufacturers of celluloid film stock are likely to stop producing it completely.
Most cinemas have already shifted to digital content and the rest would have to follow suit. This would sound the death knell for films as we know it.
Digital formats are very convenient to distribute, as the files just have to be uploaded to cinemas with a click of the mouse.
This obviously cuts on the cost of processing negatives in laboratories and making multiple prints of films on celluloid.
In addition, digital formats are more convenient for visual special effects and the rapidly growing 3D technology.
The economic benefits of digital technology have gradually led to the edging out of the long-familiar spools of film that were mounted and run on traditional projectors in cinemas.
Photographic colour film production for non-digital cameras was stopped earlier by Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2012.
What about film distribution
Digital files would end the traditional system of film distribution, which was physical rather than virtual.
Earlier, a cinema owner who owned more than one cinema in a city would sometimes schedule film shows in a staggered manner, to allow consecutive reels of film to be transported back and forth between two venues, saving the cost of an additional print.
One could sometimes spot a bicycle arriving with the spools, as people waited for the film to start or continue, after a forced break due to the film being stuck in traffic.
It’s easier to store digital films
Digital film is much easier to store on high capacity hard drives. This is a real advantage for film archiving, in terms of space and safety.
Reels of stored film, though still perhaps the most stable format if a low temperature is maintained, have often been destroyed in fires in the past.
This happened at the National Film Archive of India at Pune in 2003 and, previously, even at the French Cinematheque.
Incidentally, death by nitrate film stock (which preceded celluloid film) was used ingenuously by Quentin Tarantino. In Inglourious Basterds, a deliberate fire was started in a cinema to suffocate and kill a large contingent of trapped Nazis, including Hitler and Goebbler, creating a fictional alternative history.
Film enthusiasts would recognize this as an act of cinematic revenge against the German authorities in occupied France, who had actually ordered the destruction of all films made prior to 1937 and archived in one of the largest collections of film at the Cinematheque Francais, which was pioneered by the legendary cinephile, Henri Langlois.
Is digital a nightmare too
There are instances of digital media being destroyed by fire. Sony lost an estimated 30 million DVDs in a fire in its main optical disc distribution warehouse in the United Kingdom during the London riots in 2011.
Add to this the risk of hard drive crashes, as well as the eternally changing digital formats, and you have an archivist’s nightmare.
There are many other problems with films in the digital format. For the creator, it means the loss of the magic of seeing an image being created in a dark room, just through photochemical reactions between solutions, emulsions, silver grains and gelatin.
Even with high definition, digital formats are yet to reach the perfection of celluloid.
For the viewer, digital projection often means dimly lit images (sometimes due to lenses for 3D projection not being removed before 2D screenings, as pointed out by film critic Roger Ebert in one of his blogs), incorrect aspect ratios (most commonly, a horizontally ‘stretched’ image due to 4:3 ratio format films being projected at an aspect ratio of 16:9) and loss of resolution or bleaching of colour (due to projection from an excessively compressed digital file).