When the International Film Series launched in 1941, there were no debates about the merits of film verses digital distribution. There were no videos, no DVDs, no Blu-rays and no digital files. Film was film. You could touch it and scratch it and cut it and paint it and what you did would impact the image.
Despite a handful of technological innovations, the basics of projection didn't change much for the first 100 years of film history, says Pablo Kjolseth, executive director of the IFS, Boulder's arthouse calendar film program, where each night a different film plays on the big screen, sometimes in digital formats and sometimes on film. Now, Kjolseth worries projection technology is designed to fail every five-to-ten years, just like iPhones and other newer technologies. Planned obsolesence threatens smaller film series like his. See also: International Film Series Offers a Trifecta of Terry Gilliam
"Back in the heyday, during the 60s and 70s, there were hundreds of calendar film programs across the nation. Now it's down to somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen. We feel lucky to be one of a small number of art house calendar film programs that still exists. We also feel really lucky to still be able to show archive prints on a 35 mm projector."
In light of last year's IFS fundraising campaign to raise $80,000 to help the organization pay for an upgrade to high quality digital projection, Kjolseth's enthusiasm for old-school 35mm projection might seem odd. But he's not an either-or sort of programmer. He loves both formats.
Digital allows for cheaper distribution of international content and gives up-and-coming filmmakers a chance to compete in the marketplace, he says. Most of the IFS calendar consists of digital exhibition.
But if he had to choose, he'd prefer to see movies projected on film every time. "I can't tell you what it means to me as an old-time cinephile to actually see these prints. There is a density to the image that is fantastic.
"If you're going to show an older film, which we like to do, I think you're doing it honor by showing it on film. At a museum, you don't go to see a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. You see the real Mona Lisa."
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With 35 mm projectors falling to the wayside, replacement parts will soon be scarce. "We've got a dozen 35 mm projectors, from theaters, that were donated, that we've got in storage. The reason for that is so that we can keep them around for parts, so we can keep showing repertoire and archival prints into the future, for as long as we can," he says.
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To honor the days when film was film, IFS has launched the Actual Film series, where they will be showcasing 35mm prints of classic and contemporary movies. This week's Actual Film movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The series continues every Thursday night, through November, in the basement auditorium, Room 1B20, at the CU Visual Arts Complex.