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NELSON CARVAJAL: Film is dead but filmmaking is very much alive

Press Play By Nelson Carvajal | Press Play February 7, 2012 at 5:34AM

For the longest time, I’ve struggled with labeling myself a “filmmaker.” Maybe it’s a feeling of guilt that I have. The fact of the matter is I’ve never made a movie on film, on celluloid. Actually, I can’t think of a single reason for me to ever shoot on film. It’s ridiculously expensive, requires a slew of extra manpower in order to operate those bulky 35mm cameras and then on top of all that, exhibiting a movie through traditional film projection is becoming less of a reality for independent filmmakers. Thus, I always refer to myself as a “digital filmmaker.” Yes, I make movies (albeit short films, usually containing appropriated mixed media) but they’re all pieces of content that exist because of the streamlined workflow provided by digital production tools. “Filmmaking” is something I do and with as much fervor as any 35mm director has to offer but the big difference is that I am willing to embrace the time I live in. That time is an era where I can say out loud that film is dead. It’s dead to me as an artist. Yes, I love the cinema. I love going to movie art houses and listening to reels of films roar from the creaky projection booth. But for me to also say that I want to follow that route of physical creation makes about as much sense as a person going to a museum and saying they want to give the caveman era a crack at it himself or herself.
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Film Is Dead: Edges Of The Digital Frame (exhibit promo) from Nelson Carvajal on Vimeo.

For the longest time, I’ve struggled with labeling myself a “filmmaker.” Maybe it’s a feeling of guilt that I have. The fact of the matter is I’ve never made a movie on film, on celluloid. Actually, I can’t think of a single reason for me to ever shoot on film. It’s ridiculously expensive, requires a slew of extra manpower in order to operate those bulky 35mm cameras and then on top of all that, exhibiting a movie through traditional film projection is becoming less of a reality for independent filmmakers. Thus, I always refer to myself as a “digital filmmaker.” Yes, I make movies (albeit short films, usually containing appropriated mixed media) but they’re all pieces of content that exist because of the streamlined workflow provided by digital production tools. “Filmmaking” is something I do and with as much fervor as any 35mm director has to offer but the big difference is that I am willing to embrace the time I live in. That time is an era where I can say out loud that film is dead. It’s dead to me as an artist. Yes, I love the cinema. I love going to movie art houses and listening to reels of films roar from the creaky projection booth. But for me to also say that I want to follow that route of physical creation makes about as much sense as a person going to a museum and saying they want to give the caveman era a crack at it himself or herself.

Old Film Camera

For the truly independent content creators of today’s filmmaking scene, film should be dead in their eyes. It represents a dying medium that is not only less attainable (anybody plan on buying shares of Kodak Film these days?) but represents—in a more culturally relevant sense—a visual rhetoric of yesteryear. In fact, I’m excited about the new frontier of independent filmmaking. A new wave of radical digital filmmaking will push the envelope of the traditional narrative. We’re seeing traces of it already; from short films being photographed for the tablet-size canvas to tech pioneers utilizing Transmedia to further involve the audience in the film. It is truly an exciting time to step into the movie arena as an independent content creator.

So, for all these reasons above, I have curated a free video art exhibit called “Film Is Dead: Edges Of The Digital Frame” at the I Am Logan Square Gallery in Chicago, Illinois. For the month of February, people can step into the gallery space and experience underground videos (created by fellow digital filmmaker Amir George and myself) that play in loop across several TV monitors. There are also installation pieces (most notably a funeral setting that puts film in a casket) by designer Lea Palmeno. All in all, the exhibit serves as an opportunity to publicly put film on the cutting board. Yes, it’s a radical gesture but a necessary one. If more and more indie filmmakers are shooting digitally, editing digitally and are distributing their films digitally, I just don’t see the point of falling under the revered shadow that celluloid has created.

Thus, for my most recent promo web video, I thought I’d try to tie my angst and aspirations together into a non-verbal confession. In this video you can see my hand turn on an old film projector. As the soundtrack plays out, you begin to see snippets of the exhibit: monitors, pedestals, and nameplates. More striking are the unflattering images of the physical filmstrips. They’re hanging from walls, with no purpose. They’re clumped together on shelves, next to destroyed VHS tapes and empty canisters. And during all this the relentless sounds of film playing in a projector steer the soundtrack. For me, the video speaks to that guilt I mentioned earlier. Yes, I can worry that I didn’t make a single short film on celluloid. Yes, I can stride forward to the new digital frontier with arms wide open and full of excitement. But always, in the back of my head, in the space between my earlobes, is that constant hum of the film projector. It reminds me of where my passion spurned from, even if it’s no longer the platform that my voice and work will evolve into. Film is dead, but filmmaking is very much alive—and it is constantly reinventing itself.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW which boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System." To read Matt Zoller Seitz's piece on the death of the film camera, click here.

This article is related to: NELSON CARVAJAL, I Am Logan Square Gallery


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