It’s 2006, and by all accounts, a very poor year for films. The oft-referred to “box office slump” of this past year has been blamed on many things – everything from poor films offered by the studios, to the ease and comfort of home theater systems, made immeasurably pleasurable by DVRs and TIVO, to “American Idol.” Americans are, for the most part, staying home. The films aimed at the target demographic, those 15 to 24-year-olds are still top earners. Films like “The Wedding Crashers” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” did very well. But here is something to consider. The internet has already opened up our society to the sharing of many things. We can buy and sell our junk and collectibles on Ebay, we can find jobs, furniture and even soulmates on Craig’s List for free and we can read the news all day long on 24 hour cycles if we want to. Never in the history of film has access been so plentiful. Twenty, even ten years ago, it was unheard of to find and watch the Oscar-nominated shorts. Not only was there no easy way to see them but no one seemed particularly interested in seeing them. But during Oscar season, Apple introduced a new version of iTunes that would feature the Oscar-nominated live action shorts, watchable for a mere $1.99 a piece.On a dial-up connection no one would dare download a thirty minute short but with broadband and wireless? Piece of cake. Apple is leading the charge of bringing live media to the user not just with video iTunes (you can now download all sorts of media for your iPod) but portably, on the Apple laptops, all of which are giving users the best possible advantage in watching films on their laptops but also editing software that will enable them to make their own films.This is changing the landscape of cinema because, basically, anybody with a Mac and a video camera can make a film these days. If short films downloaded off of iTunes become popular enough, a whole new industry will be born. That isn’t as far off as you think. If you visit the gossip websites now you will almost always find a video feed on the main page of the blog. High internet speeds mean we are all going to be watching on our computers.Why is this significant? A few years back someone concluded that consumers preferred their TV separate from their computer. No one seemed to be willing to get all of their media at once. Just as the idea that no one would ever make money on the internet has proven false, the idea that people won’t be watching films and video online is ludricous, we now see. There are many websites that feature short films made by filmmakers, like “The 48 Hour Film Festival” www.48hourfilm.com, Atom Films www.atomfilms.com, and iFilms www.ifilm.com. But there is another site that holds thousands of films, some in the public domain, some random people from all over the world have uploaded – all are free for the taking and viewing.The Internet Archive www.archive.org has a mind-boggling array of open source, news reels, feature films, documentaries, newsreels, Siggraph Electric Theater, Youth Media and something called Cinemocracy, described this way:In the early 1940s, the United States government commissioned some of the best filmmakers of all time to create propaganda in support of the war effort. The works of the most famous of those directors, John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra and William Wyler, are the subjects of this collection. In contrast to today’s environment, where many politicians think of Hollywood as the devil and most contemporary political cinema targets our government as irrational and inequitable, in the 1940s, everyone appeared to be on the same side. The films in this collection are examples of Cinemocracy, the relationship between motion pictures and government. These films are from the personal collection of Eric Spiegelman.Along with the historical content, Archive.org also has uploaded films from all over the country, the amount of times they have been downloaded and the viewer’s rating of them. One catchy title lured me in, “Zombie Muffin Munchers,” a black and white digital film by a couple of teens in the middle of the country. One of the characters in the film wears a Korn t-shirt, drives a beater car and sips root beer. He’s being hunted by a sugar-loving zombie.The future of film is not in the movie theater, or so it seems right now. It appears that digital film of any length could be the way we get entertained ten years from now. Then again, that’s what they said when they invented the VCR, that no one would leave their homes. Never was there a time, though, when anyone walking around with a video camera could so easily upload their work and have it seen by anyone who likes the title. All it takes is getting an Archive.org Virtual Library Card. There probably isn’t a Spielberg in the mix but you never know where your next bit of entertainment might be hiding.
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