Between Cinema and Television

in 10th Geneva International Film Festival

by Ramiro Cristobal Muñoz

There was a time when it seemed that people would have to choose between cinema and television. This triggered off a grave alarm in the cinema milieu because it was thought, with the kind of logic that the circumstances required, that people would choose the easy way, that is the free-of-charge screen at home, rather than carrying on with what already started to seem an old-fashioned habit of going out and paying for one’s ticket at the cinema. This remained for the nostalgic few or simply for those who still did not have the necessary means to pay for the new 20th century technology.

So it was for several years. Television became, more and more, a mass consumer article and many cinemas closed down due to lack of audience. After some time, however, it was found that both kinds of media could subsist and prosper, each on its own, and even find a common ground in which to influence each other in a positive way.

A splendid illustration of how far this fruitful collaboration can stretch is the Cinema Tout Ecran (CTE) Film Festival, which has been taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, for ten years now. On this occasion the director of the festival, Leo Kaneman, said: “The essential point in the weighing up of this 10th anniversary is to have proved in an unquestionable way that some of the films made for television have the same quality as those made for the cinema. And, on the other hand, to hell with boundaries. At the Festival, the films are judged on their artistic level only, without taking their origin into account”.

To this evident truth one should add that, in many cases, the contribution of these two kinds of media has dignified the common product. Television’s mass media condition compels filmmakers to produce a worthy product, all the more if their name is already known in filmdom. Also, the possibility of having the films shown at the cinemas makes TV filmmakers do their best to achieve an artistic and script level acceptable to an audience that pays for their seats at a commercial cinema. The tribute of this year’s (2004) CTE Festival paid to the British film director Stephen Frears – a man who made television films for twelve years – is an example of this situation.

Examples of this influence, which sometimes comes by indirect paths, were numerous at the CTE 2004. The Iranian film Khabé Talkh (Bitter Dream) was a simple documentary for television, about the employees of a cemetery, which became a fiction film in the most natural way: by letting the characters behave as they do in their everyday life and do what they normally do. Likewise, the Franco-Congolese film Nus (Naked) is a documentary about the Congolese immigrants in France, but it becomes fiction when the camera lingers on a particular couple and on their difficulties in adapting to their place of refuge. Something of the kind could also be said about the Chinese film Soap Opera, a “television” look at the criminal violence taken out of the newspaper columns and made into film with simple acting.

The money devoted to productions, procured by television, is fundamental for the film industry and, finally, films are the “main course” of TV channels throughout the world. In the words of the President of France Television, Marc Tessier, “This Festival is a bridge between television and cinema”. It is indeed, but it is also something more: an important research laboratory where, under the critical eye of the audience of specialists, cinema and television are measured and compared.

Ramiro Cristóbal Muñoz