The demise of 35mm film has been so widely reported by now that it's easy to believe film has been completely supplanted by digital cameras and projectors. But that's not quite true. News broke last week that 35mm negative stock had a new lease on life, as a coalition of Hollywood studios made a financial commitment to keep it alive for a few more years, and there are even places where you can still see a movie projected in 35mm, if you know where to look. We don't want to overstate the case — film really is on the ropes in a digital era. But here are some reasons filmmakers and film fans alike still have a shot at making the most of the last days of film.
Hollywood's finest won't let it go.
Famous filmmakers have convinced Hollywood studios to keeping Kodak's film factory running. The Wall Street Journal
last week revealed "secret negotiations"
between Kodak on one side and Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Disney, and The Weinstein Company on the other to keep Kodak in the film-manufacturing business. Basically, the studios are committing to purchase set quantities of film stock over the next several years on behalf of directors who may use it. Among the filmmakers lobbying for the deal were Quentin Tarantino, Judd Apatow, J.J. Abrams, and Christopher Nolan, all of whom have continued to work in 35mm. In fact, Tarantino is promising to shoot his next film, The Hateful Eight
, in 70mm, and that's Nolan at the top of this page, on location with an IMAX camera for his November release, Interstellar
. And Martin Scorsese yesterday released a statement in support of the Kodak deal
. "Young people who are driven to make films should have access to the tools and materials that were the building blocks of that art form," he said. "Would anyone dream of telling young artists to throw away their paints and canvases because iPads are so much easier to carry? Of course not."
It's not just for Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese.
Sure, J.J. Abrams can throw a little weight around and get the greenlight to shoot Star Wars 7
on film. But 35mm remains viable even for indie projects. With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign and support from Panavision's New Filmmaker Program
, which loans 16mm and 35mm camera equipment to low-budget projects, Washington, D.C. filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari was able to direct Difret
on location in Ethopia, shooting 35mm film and sending it to India for processing. The film premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic category, and it is making the rounds of festivals with Angelina Jolie's name attached as executive producer. Not bad for a tiny film.
Film prints aren't extinct — just an endangered species.
It might seem like every cineplex in the land has transitioned to digital projection, but there are some hold-outs. At the end of 2013, according to research firm IHS
, there were still 2,969 35mm-only screens in the U.S. In the New York metro area, Cinemart Cinemas
in Forest Hills, Queens, is reportedly one of the last film-based theaters, leading some filmsick movie buffs to make the pilgrimage specifically to see a movie in 35mm. You'll also be able to see film projected in all its glory in November, when IMAX books 15-perf 70mm film prints of Nolan's Interstellar
in "somewhere around 50" theaters, film site Collider reported in June
. If you love film projection, enjoy it while you can — passion projects won't keep IMAX-format projectors running indefinitely, and distributors have been itching to discontinue 35mm entirely.
Film archives have a (much) longer life than digital archives.
Movies need to be archived somehow, and filmmakers who rely on digital masters as their "archive" may be courting disaster. As the Academy wrote in its Digital Dilemma 2
report issued in 2012, "Suitable long-term preservation and access mechanisms for digital motion picture materials have not yet been developed." Converting that color digital master to black-and-white separation film is a good way to get it into an archival format, and with that in mind, Kodak recently developed two new archival film stocks. As Kodak film exec Andrew Evenski reminded us late last year
, "film offers a standardized, human-readable format that has been in existence for well over a century, and methods for retrieving content from a 35mm frame will exist well into the future." Even the recent digital-transition documentary Side by Side was eventually committed to film stock
for the archives.