There is more to digital cinema than just Star Wars: Episode II at Cannes this year, with the festival planning a multitude of digital screenings.
The operation will kick off with Attack Of The Clones, which will be the first film ever to be screened digitally in the Grande Theatre Lumiere at the festival. But that will be followed by some six other pictures in official selection.
"We are not claiming that digital film in its current format is the only future of cinema, rather we are offering a taste of something new," Thierry Fremaux, the festival's artistic director told Screendaily. "The festival is keen to offer a journey through today's digital landscape."
The May 16 screening of Star Wars, will also be marked by the presence of the film's director and digital pioneer George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum.
"The Grand Theatre Lumiere will highlight the qualities of this new technology which serves the fabrication of images and the imagination of directors. I hope to have discussions on the subject, start dialogues with those interested in digital and offer spectators the possibility of discovering films in the best possible condition," said Lucas in a prepared statement.
The main feature will be preceded by a screening of festival president Gilles Jacob's digitally-made picture Histoire De Festival.
In the out-of-competition section Dreamworks' animated feature, Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron, directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook, will also receive the Lumiere Theatre digital treatment. But in a throwback to the cinema of the silent era it will be accompanied by live music from Bryan Adams and Hans Zimmer.
Alexander Sokurov's main competition picture The Russian Ark will allow audiences to compare the relative values of digital projection with a conventional celluloid print. The film was originated using an array of digital cameras in a single day of shooting in December last year.
No less than four of the films in the retrospective section will be shown using digital projectors: Canal Plus' Max Et Les Ferrailleurs and Pepe Le Moko and Warner Bros' Goodbye Mr Chips and Singin' In The Rain.
"The reasons why they're being screened this way vary from film to film, but typically reflect the materials from which they have been restored," said Van Papadopoulo of the festival's technical department. "But the results simply have to be seen to be believed." The version of Max Et Les Ferrailleurs to be screened this week is version re-edited for DVD release by legendary French director Claude Sautet. It has never been shown as a 35mm print.
"The technology of film remained relatively unchanged for nearly 100 years, but has now taken a major leap forward, and as such opens up new possibilities," said Fremaux. "The Abbas Kiarostami film Ten which was made using digital cameras, shows how digital technology can be used to describe the world as it is, while Star Wars uses it to enlarge man's fantasy."
Meanwhile, Boeing Digital Cinema unit said it expects to have 23 digital cinema systems running in theatres around the US by May 16, when Star Wars: Episode II gets its release.
Frank Stirling, executive director of Boeing Digital Systems said he expects to have as many as 40 systems in theatres by the summer and possibly 100 by year's end. The number is far short of the some 2,000 Lucas hoped for three years ago when Star Wars: Episode I debuted.
At that time Lucas promised that by the time Episode III is released he would strike no 35mm prints at all.