There is a great divide in the filmmaking industry. Some swear by the advent of digital. Others fear too much technology can ruin the tradition of storytelling in cinema. It’s an ongoing discussion where many feel digital is now able to mimic the aesthetics captured by film. Some see it as a debate regarding the moviemaking status quo. Proponents argue that digital allows independent filmmakers to strive for success with easier means. Anything that is cheaper and easier will be adopted by those working their way up the food chain. It levels the playing field. It democratizes the moviemaking process.
Piero Basso, an instructor in the cinematography program, jumps into the fray against the gospel of digital. He was the Director of Photography for Seven Acts of Mercy which is screening at the Lincoln Center this weekend. As he says, “We shot the movie in film. It’s a medium that is far from being dead, as some digital enthusiasts would like to believe, and it still guarantees you the highest quality possible with a limited budget.” He states that with every new course at the New York Film Academy, students bombard him with questions regarding the relevancy of film versus digital. Sometimes he is tempted to show them his footage as an answer. “No way could I have reached the quality of results I wanted shooting digital with the limited resources the project had.”
Piero seems more critical of the fanatical nature of digital filmmakers rather than the medium of digital itself. There are still differences between film and digital. Differences that matter. Digital is cheaper. There is no doubt about that. But what about tradition? It’s the idea that the medium is simply a means to an end. But can the rush towards convenience compromise that end? The hours one would spent processing–watching, spooling, splicing–a film connected one filmmaker to another in a sacred bond only the artist could understand. The painstaking craft of creating cinematic magic is one that is not merely corporeal. It is an integrative art which pools emotion, sound, visual, and thought into a cohesive whole for the audience. Fetishizing the past can be dangerous, yes, but so can dogmatic evangelism of a supposed future. Ultimately, the answer is to never shortchange your vision. “Film has been our only choice, and we have been very determined to use it at its best,” Piero said. Whatever your choice may be, it’s crucial to understand why. Have you looked at all your options? Is this the best camera choice based on what you want to create? Especially for an independent filmmaker, it comes down to the constraints of a budget and what you can accomplish.
“Seven Acts of Mercy is representative of the way I like to shoot movies and it is strongly connected to what and how I teach here at NYFA,” Piero says. “It’s a low budget film with ambitions for international attention. It is the result of great passion between me and the directors.” The film premiered in the international competition at the Locarno Film Festival 2011. Since then it has competed in other festivals including Busan, Marrakesh, BFI London, Turin, and Tokyo. Don’t forget to support Piero Basso at the Lincoln Center for the Open Roads Italian Film Festival. Click here for more information.
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