Screen editor Matt Mueller discusses the shifting sands of the digital age and looks ahead to CineEurope and the Annecy animation festival.

“May you live in interesting times” is an expression that seems richly appropriate to the film industry these days, even with its double-edged connotation (the saying supposedly comes from a traditional Chinese curse).

There is, justifiably, deep concern about the long-term sustainability of business practices (pre-sales, co-productions) that have underpinned global independent film and national screen industries when up against the shifting sands of the digital age, including deep-pocketed streaming-giant ‘disruptors’ and digital natives who don’t always appreciate the long-term damage illegal downloads might cause to their future viewing options.

Add to that the potential impact of proposals such as the digital single market, which threaten to undermine the entire foundation of European film, and these are indeed interesting times, turbulent times… But what this very smart industry and the highly creative people within it have proved time and again is that they are able to respond to any challenges in a robust fashion. 

From the advents of sound, television, video recording and beyond, the industry has always adapted and become stronger in the process. As some of the features in our latest issue demonstrate, while there is much respect for tradition, there is always the willingness to change and evolve — to solve the problems that seem insurmountable at the time.

Challenges are not only technological. The diversity debate, which has galvanised recently around the paucity of female film-makers behind the camera, is reaching a fever pitch whereby, in the UK at least, changes to the public-funding models and the tax-relief structure (as the ultimate ambition) feel necessary. In fact, they are already happening in many cases, and credit where it is due: Creative England is already at a 50% split between male/female grant recipients and the BFI has long been at the forefront of the issue with its diversity standards. I know the BFI is committed to doing more in future, as Amanda Nevill hinted in Cannes when she discussed the issue of childcare for independent film professionals. 

This month sees several festivals and conferences that will reflect the rapid pace of change in their programming and events, and all are covered in the pages of this issue. The opening film at Annecy International Animated Film Festival is The Red Turtle, not only the first Studio Ghibli collaboration but the first time the venerated Japanese animation studio has deployed digital techniques (and, as its former president Toshio Suzuki tells us, even Hayao Miyazaki is trying his hand at 3D these days).


The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle

On the back of the two major documentary festivals happening this month, Sheffield Doc/Fest and Sunny Side Of The Doc, Citizenfour director Laura Poitras reveals how the digital age is empowering a new breed of advocacy documentary, both in short and feature form, one she is taking advantage of with her new initiative Field of Vision. 

We prepare for CineEurope, the annual Barcelona conference and trade show for European exhibitors, which is set to delve into topics such as how cinemas can use audience data to innovate and how they can engage so-called Generation Z. 

Our ScreenTech special tackles the issue of how data is being deployed, expanding the question to include distributors, and assesses the advances in presentation technologies that are making the premium movie-going experience ever more experiential as a way to lure audiences away from their smartphones, tablets and increasingly advanced home-entertainment systems. 

Enjoy the issue, and have your own interesting times this summer.