The digital revolution

Last summer as I festival globe-trotted, I began to really understand the shrinking timeline of the digital cinema transition. Festival after festival featured new restorations of some of cinema’s finest moments, not in glorious 35mm, but in (gulp) DCP (digital cinema package).

The filmmaker Michael Cimino.

One such instance was a highlight from Venice, a screening of Michael Ciminio’s epic Heaven’s Gate. The filmĀ  has a legendary status in the history of cinema, that nearly exceeds its content. Cimino’s infamously over-budget project is oft-cited for shifting the auteurist tides of the studios, but to quote Cimino in his introduction at the festival, “Being infamous is not fun. It becomes a weird occupation in and of itself.” In its original release, the studio butchered the film, leaving it an impish 149 minutes. Consider the screening in Venice something of a belated triumph for the beleaguered director.

It was a great pleasure not just to see the director’s intended 217 minute-version, but also a near sell-out crowd, whose applause erupted upon first credit and concluded some five minutes after final roll.

Imagine having your life’s work kept from the eyes of the public from some 30-odd years and to finally have it screened in its entirety (in a sparkling digital restoration, no less). Needless to say, the screening brought tears to Cimino’s eyes, and many to the audience’s as well. It felt like we were living an event that would go down in film history. It was certainly one that you imagine staying with the film’s deserving director for the rest of his life.

After viewing this gorgeous restoration, I quickly sent off an email to the studio inquiring about screening the film at Northwest Film Forum. To my chagrin, the only available copy for projection was in DCP. That was the first in what are now dozens of restorations and new release I’ve had to pass up screening at the Film Forum because the films were only available in the new digital format.

We launched a new DCP Kickstarter campaign this week because, by the end of 2013, the global digital transition will be a reality. And while we will continue to screen glorious 35mm prints whenever they’re offered to us, those offers are becoming increasingly less abundant. So as the programmer of Northwest Film Forum, it’s from the bottom of my heart that I ask you to help me (help you) see some of these great films. I desperately want to share that Cimino restoration with you, and only if we reach our DCP goal will that be possible.

I’m very grateful for all the support we’ve seen in the first few hours of this campaign. Can you help us today?


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