The cinema of the future has nothing to do with V.R. or silly looking viewing goggles. The cinema of the future is not one that has multiple screenings rooms, popcorns and nachos. It is also far from frightening abstract thoughts that claim that “the cinema of the future is in your mind.”
The cinema of the future has more in common with the way in which cinema of attractions of the earlier days was shown. It encourages interactions and promotes the magic of cinema. It is aware of the fact that every film is an extension of an individual’s life. Even a bad viewing experience would be memorable. Even a middling film might have a scene, a shot, a moment imagined within the context of its duration, that could potentially mark the life of a spectator forever.
However, the film, as a lone object, is not enough. The single film, in the history of cinema, can only be the phoneme of an everlasting echo.
A venue’s film program is also not enough. The films that are screened throughout the entire history of one single venue, from its opening to its (forever) closing, is almost irrelevant. It helps, indeed, it is needed, but it is nearly imperceptible.
The film program should be considered as a starting point. The promotion of a cinema establishment, of its screenings, special events, festivals and so on, is a more commercial affair. It is necessary insofar as it enables people who are not aware of the establishment’s existence to find out about it, intrigue them, lure them in…But it too, is not enough.
The moment the filmgoer steps foot in the cinema establishment is the moment in which the expectation of a viewer can potentially be let down, irreversibly damaged. Lots can go wrong even before the screening starts.
The tendency has been, since possibly forever, for the viewer to enter the foyer and be coldly greeted by deafening indifference. The indifference resonates in the methodical procedure that follows. Walk in, get your ticket, get your popcorns, sit down, watch the movie, get out. Come back anytime. Or don’t. This tendency must be reversed.
The cinema of the future does not need a popcorn stand. It needs a café, or a bar. It needs to comply to safety regulations, and needs to be screened. But the quality of the service does not need to be that of a five-star restaurant. The people serving the tea, or coffee, or beer, do not need to have “essential” experience of how to serve coffee. They need to know who Ozu, Pasolini and Kiarostami are, or at least be aware of their works, as much as they need to know how to operate a blender (if not more).
It is essential for them to watch every movie that will be screened in the cinema-house. The film is the starting point, but the conversation before and after the film is more important than the coffee. The café, like the foyer, must be the place where people talk about movies. Cine-clubs must be organized.
Open-mic events must constantly take place in the café. These could be film talks, but also, poetry readings, open mics, presentations, political and cultural debates. The cinema venue of the future must look upon its place in the arts as a meeting ground between the arts invented before it (painting, poetry, music, still photography) and the arts invented after it, some of which we can’t even begin to imagine. At the same time, the cinema venue must be aware that cinema is only one atom in the molecule of art. The cinema venue’s responsibility is to encourage a dialogue in the arts, and to act as an intermediary or an interpreter.
The cinema of the future would seek to promote film going culture by publishing its own periodical, online and on print. The periodical would be a journal of the events that happened, which will include transcripts from the events of the café as well as articles inspired by the films screened and the various painting and photographic exhibitions that will be in it.
The cinema of the future is all-inclusive. No one should be left out. Weekly screenings for moms with their babies, for owners with their pets, for the homeless, etc. must exist. Anyone who cannot afford to buy a cinema ticket, can still attend a screening as long as they can work off their debt or write an article on the movie they watch.
The cinema of the future must be all-inclusive. It must always make sure that a large portion of its screenings are accessible to the blind, the hard of hearing, the mentally challenged.
The cinema of the future must be all-inclusive. Children are always welcome, not because “audience development” is important, but because children are important. Children should be allowed to attend screenings of such films as The 400 Blows, Kes, The Kid and so on for free. A child attending a subtitled, arthouse movie is a wonderful thing. The cinema of the future should be aware of the positive impact that a film can have on a young mind.
The cinema of the future must be all-inclusive and should not only be an intermediary in the arts but also in its own community – local and global. Film education is important not only in the classrooms, but in the orphanages, in the prisons, on the streets. It must be an expression of humanity.
It must have its own archive. Every month, at least, a group of workers in the cinema should walk around the town with a camera and film everything around them for 24 hours. The films should document the life, buildings, environment and atmosphere of the city. These films should remain unedited and stored appropriately. Cinema does not only have the task to tell stories (in fact, telling stories is only a tiny part of cinema’s role), but also to use the camera as a tool against things disappearing.
The cinema of the future should, ideally, not have more than one screening room. Two is really the most screening rooms it can have. More than two is blatant exploitation of the art. A concentrated, focused cinema screening program would be much more beneficial and would help promote the buzz around screenings as well as the buzz around the culture of cinema through the conversations and events taking place in other parts of the venue.
It is also important to reiterate that a cinema with more than one or two screening rooms is greedy. A demand for more films should be created. The people must have a choice between different cinemas. The wealth, cultural and monetary, must be spread out across the town. The city would be all the better for it. It is not a cinema venue’s role to compete for cultural supremacy of a city: the concept itself is obnoxiously totalitarian.
This is why the cinema of the future could never be a multiplex. For starters, the “multiplex experience” can never be anything but cold. Furthermore, its ready-made programming, more often than not, is made up of films that can be viewed just as well at home. In other words, it is much easier to watch an Avengers movie at home than it is to watch any film by Jean-Luc Godard at home. You can be on your phone all throughout an Adam Sandler comedy, but you’re going to want to experience the pleasure of being submitted to the genius of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
But it is not enough to simply screen a film. It’s important for the film to be preceded by a visual introduction. Every screening should be introduced by a critic. I believe the future of film criticism can is in the screening room itself, and that the film critic of tomorrow can be just as indispensable as a commentator was in the early days of film screenings. The introduction could be incredibly captivating and also very creative. Why not introduce a film of Fistful of Dollars by talking about Yojimbo? And again, why not introduce Ran by talking about Kurosawa, Zeffirelli, Polanski, Bondarchuk and Luhrmann and how they worked on adaptations of works by Shakespeare?
I am aware of the fact that I have mentioned only older films so far. But that is because contemporary films are hard to predict when envisioning a cinema of the future. But the program of the cinema of the future must absolutely screen films of the future. Nevertheless, it must not take for granted the history of cinema: it must screen as many classics, celebrated and forgotten, as it can. It must also, of course, screen silent movies with live music accompaniment. And often.
I am also aware of the fact that distributors and sales agents are a major drawback for the booking of certain theatrical screenings. But bureaucracy must not be a reason not to dream something that is absolutely plausible. The idealist cinema programmer or administrator would not find dealing with such issues. Furthermore, the concept of a cinema (or various cinemas) doubling as a distributor is not entirely implausible. There are many films that remain largely unseen because of the fact that cinema programs depend on the judgement of people whose main concern is money. (To date, many world cinema masterpieces have yet to be released internationally on a modern format.)
The debate on the cinema of the future could go on and on endlessly. This is also because the cinema of the future should never stick to a rigorous program: it should constantly change and evolve, much like life itself. Cinema is alive precisely because it is dying, as we all are. The thing is that cinema is still in its infancy. The discourse on technological advancements has constantly shifted the attention away from the fact that cinema has only recently begun to tell stories about those it marginalized due to politically and morally wrong reasons. It has only recently begun to show us films made from a perspective beyond that of the white male.
We must protect cinema, our art form of choice, because it is as vulnerable as every single one of us. Ensuring its future will mean ensuring the future of an entire industry in which humans, made of flesh and blood, will not be able to be replaced by machines.
That’s a good place to end this article, and to start dreaming. The cinema of the future should be a vessel for the expression of the joys of existing.