Category Archives: Draken

Festival Dreams

The next Göteborg Film Festival is almost upon us.

The last festival I worked was three years ago almost to the day. Over the years, I ran literally thousands of shows for them, most in 35 mm but a select few in 70 mm and a couple of them in 16 mm. I was and remain a film projectionist. I did finish up with some videos, though, when they installed that Barco thing in the booth some years back. I quit when the format became the norm. In my last year, every single feature I ran was measured in pixels, so there was no longer a point in continuing. It was good while it lasted, though, and I don’t regret a single minute of it.

Every year, some weeks before the festival would begin, I’d have at least one dream about the festival and my projection booth. Sometimes I’d climb the stairs only to find that they’d rebuilt the booth or turned the projectors to point in the opposite direction, and sometimes they’d have relocated the whole theatre. I recall several dreams where the transport people – the guys and gals who’d carry the physical prints from one venue to the next – would turn up when I was about to start a show and ask me all kinds of questions about where print A was or if I had yet rewound print B or inspected print C that should actually be replaced with print D. They’d show up right about when I was pulling the curtain, interrupting me, disrupting my flow, bothering me. And inevitably something would go wrong.

I’ve dreamt a thousand variations of the basic theme. I’m about to start the first show; something happens to throw me off.

And here’s the funny thing: I still have those dreams, three years after leaving. And they’re still based on the same concept:  I still work at the festival and as I’m about to start the first show, something goes wrong. I guess this is how important the festival is to me, and how much I still miss it.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a desire to run a single digital show again, ever. Not even fleetingly. Clicking Play is the very antithesis of everything I believe in terms of film projection. But I do miss the time when I was running actual film prints in a darkened booth, one after another, up to seven or eight features a day plus a number of shorts, trying my very best to provide the best show I could for each and every one. I miss leaping down the projection booth stairs to the auditorium to listen and to fine-tune the sound level. I miss inspecting the prints. I miss planning a show days in advance. I miss being one with my projection equipment.

And so, I guess, I have these dreams. I had the best profession in the whole wide world and it’s now all over.

T-2 Days and Counting

The annual Göteborg Film Festival is almost upon us, with only two days left when I write this. 11 days of film and, for me, 11 days of clicking Play because it’s all digital now, with the exception of one (1) film.

I’ve written about the advent of digital film before, but also about the death of a profession, and while I briefly considered another stab at these two subjects, I quickly came to my senses; I feel that I’ve said pretty much everything I have to say on the subject. This year’s festival is merely a confirmation of those two blog posts, and there is little reason to reiterate any of it.

So I’ll write about the death of a cinema instead. More specifically, my cinema, the Draken, until recently the last surviving Cinerama theatre with its original appearance intact, until last summer mostly unchanged by both the ravages of time and pitiful small-screen multiplexes. It survived them both, although Svensk Filmindustri, Sweden’s only cinema owner of note, did have plans to convert the theatre into a double-screen abomination in the early seventies.

What it didn’t survive, in the end, was the long-planned “renovation” by its owner, Folkets hus, a k a Sweden’s working class movement. The original 1950s chandeliers were thrown away and holes cut into the marble walls to lead the way to toilets forced into the space under the auditorium. Light riggings were carelessly hung up in the auditorium  itself and computer-controlled fluorescent lights with only nominal dimming capabilities were allowed to replace the old auditorium lighting.

And in the large upper foyer, the maritime-themed painting that used to be the pride of the cinema has now been replaced by a motorised conference screen. My cinema has now been reduced into a pathetic two-screen cinema. Or, rather, conference hall. Well done, Folkets hus.

Those closest to you are the ones that can hurt you the most.

The Final (?) Take on Film Markup Language

As some of you may know, I sometimes project films at the Draken cinema when I’m not busy doing XML stuff. Also, as I’ve noted before, film projection is moving from analogue to digital and it’s all happening very, very fast. The commercial cinemas, multiplexes all of them, now run films on hot-swap hard drives in servers coupled with ugly digital projectors, and the one remaining 35mm cinema, an art house, is rumoured to close soon.

So today, after a call from the city council’s school cinema group, I started thinking and realised that while I did consider the advent of all things digital when I first wrote Film Markup Language, even updating the DTD to include some rudimentary support for 2k and 4k projection for my 2010 presentation on it in Prague, it’s too late to actually modernise the DTD or the spec for what’s actually going on today.

See, the digital thingies do use XML. It’s inconsistent and looks like some weird kind of committee hack, though, the kind of XML you might find in Java config files, but it’s XML and it seems to be enough. So, Film Markup Language is dead for all practical purposes.

It’s kind of sad.

Digital Shows, FML and XML

Ran my second DCP show at Draken, earlier. The film is stored and handled by a Dolby server running a modified Debian Linux with XCF as the window manager producing a lightweight interface with only the bare necessities, but very, very functional necessities. There is drag and drop to handle show components, there are ready-made cues, and it’s all reasonably well designed. Every time I use the touchpad/keyboard combo to build or run a show, I’m struck by how similar to my Film Markup Language concepts everything is. I presented my ideas at XML Prague in 2010 but after that, I couldn’t make much headway with the hardware so the project sort of died.

Supposedly, the shows are indeed handled using XML files. I was planning something very much like Dolby’s interface so I’m dying to know if their XML is anything like my DTD. The components are all there so I’m half hoping it is. I bet they don’t use XLink, though.

Digital Images

Draken, the home of the Göteborg International Film Festival and my frequent point of existence, finally got a digital Barco projector and a Dolby server for handling digital features. As you may or may not know, cinemas around the world are moving to digital images while industry icons such as Kodak are crumbling, and in a matter of months or perhaps a year or two, 35mm film projection will only happen in film archives and art houses.

And, perhaps, film festivals. As I write this, only a week remains to the opening night of the 35th annual Göteborg International Film Festival, and at least half of the features I will screen there will be in DCP format. Yesterday, I ran my first all-digital show with the new equipment and today will be the second.

To people like me, this feels like the end. I’m hoping it’s not but I can’t help thinking that as a projectionist, I now belong to the museum together with the 35mm projectors and old cinema sound processors.

Göteborg Film Festival

For 11 days every year, I take time off XML and the IT business to show films at the Göteborg Film Festival. I’ve been involved in the festival since 1987 and showing films at the Draken Cinema (for the festival; I’ve worked at the place for longer than that in other contexts) since 1990.

In just over two weeks, it’s time for my 21st consecutive festival at the Draken.