61. Venice Digital

in 61st Venice Film Festival

by Bojidar Manov

The oldest European cinema festival – the Venice Festival (established in 1932) wants to be in step with the time and has grown young again. Following Berlin and Cannes, that already included digital films in their programmes, 61.Venice also created a special competition category Venezia Digitale comprising 10 films and 9 other titles as special events. Thus in the digital programme along with the feature films, documentaries and 3-D animation were presented. The geographic map of the digital productions is varied – films from the USA, Italy, Iran, India, Netherlands, Australia, Argentina, Canada, naturally Japan, and even South Africa. But the general impression is that most productions use digital technology in filming and post-production for purely economic (finance, budgetary) reasons only, and not due to the new expressive possibilities of digital screen language.

Wim Wenders – one of the first most enthusiastic apostles of digital cinema, who has already used this technology in the documentary “Buena Vista Social Club” and the feature film “The One Million Dollar Hotel”, this year presented in the main competition the highly politicized parable about America after September 11 “Land of Plenty” (a 35-mm film copy, of course). He too uses digital camera and post-production in order to make the work of his small crew simpler and easier. In much the same way Tim Robbins with his film “Embedded/Live”, as well as Jon Jost with “Homecoming” use digital technology only for financial and production reasons.

The only absolutely devoted and enthusiastic beyond- the-limits author of digital cinema continues to be Peter Greenaway, who once more after Cannes showed the third part of “The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part III: From Sark to Finish”. His incredible creative and productive energy evidently is inexhaustible; his project, as an intention, is boundless. Along with the film, he presented in Venice his new book Tulse Luper in Venice and the new online game The Tulse Luper Journey, based on the movie.

As is well-known, this is just the beginning of his breathtaking ambitious programme. Greenaway does use the immense possibilities of digital technology in order to enrich the cinema language incredibly, to create – with great imagination – complex multiscreen images, to implant different visual objects (real objects, graphics, numbers and other semantic elements). He evidently works with a sophisticated specialized software, he achieves multilevel polyphonic visual space. Actually, even before the total invasion of digital technologies, he worked in this manner on his early films (“The Draughtsman’s Contract”, “Drowning by Numbers”, “Prospero’s Books”, “The Pillow Book”, etc. ), but then the most important thing was the director’s deeply considered and skillfully embedded idea – the very thing that is lacking now in the “Tulse Luper Suitcases” project. Here the films are built arbitrarily, the plot is determined by chance or whim and the director’s message can be understood only by the more and more self-absorbed director, who obviously indulges his natural creative selfishness to the maximum, paying no attention to the contact with the viewers. The festivals select his films in the frame of this project in good faith or with the intention of showing something exotic, the viewers enter curiously into the dark theater with a digital projector, but the magic contact with art is lost.

On the other hand, the visual harmony and inventiveness of the Japanese 3-D animation series “Final Fantasy” (dir. Tetsuya Nomura) seems much more natural and adequate, because here digital technology only provides the film’s vision, not hampering the viewers ability to follow the narrative, however unpretentious it is.

The Jury of Venezia Digitale was presided over by the most devoted digital cinema director at the moment Mike Figgis, who has already created “Timecode” and “Hotel” (by the way, filmed in the charming “Hungary Hotel”, located in Lido di Venezia ). The winner in this category was the Iranian feature “20 Angosht/20 Fingers” by Mania Akbari. But the Jury’s statement, announced during the final press-conference, is a clear indication of the real possibilities and the reasonable perspectives of digital cinema.