Multiplex Mentality vs Festival Atmosphere: War Over The Use of Film

in 5th International Film Festival Bratislava

by Thomas Taborsky

Some people still harbor a certain antipathy towards multi-theatre-complexes. One of their most frequent reasons given is that the charming aura of cinema is lost in the sterile structure of these huge buildings. Cinephiles like these tend to celebrate film festivals as one of the last resorts where film is appreciated in a proper way. The fact that in Bratislava, an International Film Festival takes place “in Hell” must morally deal them a severe blow.

Still, in some ways multiplexes are more qualified to host film festivals than any other cinema structure. For example, having five or even more screening rooms on one floor within less than 100 metres distance of each other is a dream-come-true for every festival director. And, as Hans Hurch, director of the Viennale, would put it, one does not have to fight to get one’s theatres together. Also, having guests, directors, personnel and film copies in one place enormously reduces transportation costs.

On the other hand, multiplexes were never built to accomodate the needs of a film festival, but rather to efficiently earn money by showing films to people who want to see a movie; showing them – nothing else. But let us experience a typical screening in one of these factories of vision. Whenever the projector is not on, some kind of music creates a hypermarket atmosphere. The theatre itself is equipped in a spartan way: a second projector is no longer necessary (In fact, some cinemas are beginning to show digitally-downloaded commercials with an additional LCD projector, which will alter the way advertising in cinemas is done completely, but that’s another story). The screen is just a bare one on which a Cinemascope format movie fits exactly. This led to the end of the mask blackening the space above and below the actual frame. In multiplexes of the present, curtains are a luxury reserved for screening rooms meant to host premieres. Thus, you can see the frame limitations on the left and the right when you watch a Widescreen movie. Also, multi-theatre-projectionists have to watch over up to twelve or even more screening rooms; correcting a problem concerning focus or the unexposed strip of film between the frames which is on screen when a movie is falsely projected, has become a matter of minutes rather than seconds. Even the skills of projectionists have diminished in general. Those working in multiplexes are used to getting the movies directly from the copy plant. Care about the material is an idea most foreign to them. Also, having to stick reels of films together frequently used before may cause them problems, as it did in Bratislava at a screening of severals music videos by Aki Kaurismäki: two of the films were projected upside-down, backward-forward.

But the biggest difference between a multiplex and a festival screening is in the way it is coordinated: festivals rely on human supervision, multiplexes rely on matrix stickers. Most importantly, they tell the system when to turn the lights back on. That is done at the start of the end credits, in order to get the audience out as quickly as possible – Who cares who’s done the movie, anyway? At film festivals, the lights go on when the movie is over.

At that very moment, music starts playing again at the multiplex… “Well, what about a nice discussion with the director of the movie?” – But first comes pop music, then comes the microphone. We are in Bratislava, at Palace Cinemas in Aupark shopping mall. Accepting UCI’s offer to provide the screening rooms is just another round in the fight between two cinematic philosophies: strive for cineastic appreciation by means of optimal screening conditions on one side and the entertainment business on the other. This battle will definitely be continued.