So long, celluloid

Film at the IFS will not go gently into that good night

Cuban zombie film Juan of the Dead
David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly

Don’t get him wrong. Pablo Kjolseth loves the aesthetic qualities of celluloid. But as the director of the International Film Series (IFS), he is keenly aware that the future of moving pictures is digital. 2013 will mark a key moment in the history of cinema; it is the last year major Hollywood studios will make prints on 35 mm film. From here on out, Kjolseth says, most everything will be ones and zeros.

“The writing has been on the wall. It’s been on the wall for awhile,” Kjolseth says. “But it’s only in the past year that they’ve basically put our backs to the wall. This year, 2013, is the last year they will be making film prints, the studios. Then it will be gone. It’s not even going to be there.”

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, 35 mm film projectors, for it tolls for thee. And Hollywood is manning the clapper. Studios sped the demise of film by offering multiplexes discounts on movie prints if they got rid of their 35 mm projection equipment, Kjolseth says.

Going forward, in order to keep showing new films, the IFS must invest in new equipment to keep up with the times. And no, it’s not as simple as placing a Blu-ray disc into a projector. The new projection standard requires something called a Digital Cinema Package (DCP), and movies are distributed on special encrypted hard drives that require a massive equipment investment to project. The IFS is looking at a bill between $50,000 and $80,000, Kjolseth says. (The IFS has already raised $23,000 towards that end; to donate, visit and click on the “help keep the IFS alive” button.)

Look no further than the IFS’ upcoming season to see the signs of the times. Last semester, 75 percent of the scheduled films were available on 35 mm prints; this semester, it’s only 40 percent. The IFS’ continued partnership with Alamo Drafthouse Cinema provides steady access to Alamo’s extensive 35 mm library, but the bulk of the rest of the films will be shown digitally.

The IFS has a simple breakdown this semester. On Tuesdays, documentaries will screen in Muenzinger Auditorium, including the acclaimed Samsara on Feb. 12 and the global warming documentary Chasing Ice on Feb. 26.

Wednesdays will be home to obscure art-house films, like the fantastically weird Holy Motors (Feb. 13) by French director Leos Carax and the tortured mish-mash of animation styles Consuming Spirits (March 13).

Thursdays host selections from Alamo’s library, like the Cuban zombie flick Juan of the Dead (Feb. 7) and a documentary on horse-ass crazy drummer Ginger Baker, Beware of Mr. Baker (Feb. 21). Fridays through Sundays will host screenings of “festival favorites” such as the French movie about an unlikely friendship, The Intouchables (Feb. 1-3), and Ang Lee’s latest Oscar bait, Life of Pi (March 8-10).

“This semester, what it boils down to, I keep trying to toss stuff against the wall to see what sticks,” Kjolseth says.

Special guests to visit include Hoop Dreams director Steve James, whose new documentary No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson screens Jan. 29; and Margaret Matheson and Boulder resident Tod Davies, who will discuss a documentary on female superheroes and feminine empowerment called Wonder Women on Feb. 5. Matheson will discuss a film she produced, 1995 Oscar winner for best foreign language film Antonia’s Line, on Feb. 6; someone to-be-determined involved with the making of Chasing Ice will appear on Feb. 26; and South Park Animation Director Eric Stough will give a Q&A on how one of the show’s funniest episodes in recent memory, “A Nightmare on Face Time,” was made.

Technology might be changing, but the IFS will remain committed to celluloid, Kjolseth says. The move away from 35 mm is a crime against history, he adds.

“Here’s the crime; here’s the reason why that’s a huge shame: If you look at the films of the past, if you look at all the movies that are made, there is a huge number of movies out there that are not ever going to be restored digitally,” Kjolseth says, noting that while certain classics (Rocky, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.) get restored, they represent a tiny fraction of the films made throughout history. “Part of our mission is keeping the past alive. That’s the legacy of cinema. So for someone like me, when I hear that studios are incentivizing multiplexes to get rid of their 35 mm projectors, that, to me, is bullshit. It’s criminal. But the studio doesn’t care. It’s all about the bottom line.”

The International Film Series runs from Jan. 29 to April 21. Visit for a complete schedule and more information.