What is it about the switch of a year that brings out the pundit in us all' Endless column inches are expended on retrospective analysis of what is in fact an arbitrary period of time. It is a pain but the international market has not been evolving in the last few decades in nice tidy 365-day increments.
It is more than possible to draw an entirely different set of conclusions by looking over five years rather than looking at just one. As we have previously argued, when 2005 is compared against 2004, it looks like a disaster; when seen in the context of 2002 and 2003, it seems more like a stumble.
There is equally a temptation to look at big leaps in box office in 2006 against a low 2005 and believe everything is coming up roses. It is of course useful, particularly for marketing, to be able to compare like-for-like weeks at the box office year on year. But even then it is not without its limitations. There have been some nice stories in the wider media over the last few weeks, suggesting that 2006's successes were a case of lessons learned from 2005. But that is only partially true.
In reality, no one can turn around a film from inception to the box office in less than a year. By the time it was clear 2005 was something of a dog, 2006's hopefuls were already in the can. We are all trying to extrapolate trends from the box office that will be true for the business the year after next. There is every possibility that we may have had our fill of Mayan-language human sacrifice films by 2008 and have moved on to Aztec rom-coms.
The obsession with the calendar year is not normally a big issue. Everyone does it, even in those countries which do not share the Western date system. The necessity to stop and take stock of our lives seems to be as old as history itself, but the obsession is now also fuelled by the media. It is a journalistic secret that you may have already fathomed out, there is rarely any real news around the new year but there is lots of advertising, so something has to fill that space and retrospective analysis is a great space filler.
Actually it is normally less analysis than lists of facts masquerading as analysis. It is all about parcelling up the year in a nice neat box and consigning it to the filing cabinet. But we think it is time to draw a line under drawing a line. The industry must keep its focus on the broader trends that develop over years.
The effect of technology and competition from new media are among the most pressing. This week, Apple revealed its new iPod incarnation, which aims to make mobile film a mass phenomenon. It will not be an instant revolution as was seen with the launch of the first iPods, but will form part of a wider growth of new on-demand, mobile entertainment systems that may begin to make an impact even this year. Paramount's deal with Apple presumably means it sees an imperative for getting on board.
Digital cinema is another phenomenon that made big breakthroughs last year but will not really have an impact on the box office for a year or so. It will have an effect on production, however, as studios and independents think about audience demand in two years' time.
Within the calendar year, we are seeing a change in the rhythm of the business. Berlinale head Dieter Kosslick's has attacked new big-money festivals such as Dubai and Rome as disruptive to the status quo. But their emergence reflects the fact that the market and festival structure has been in a state of flux for a couple of years.
There are all kinds of reasons why big cities see film festivals as a great way of marketing themselves, and that in itself cannot be bad news for the industry. But the more significant questions are about the markets in a business that is becoming much more 24/7.
It would have been nice here to have included a top 10 list of why top 10 lists were dangerous, but that would have broken Screen's new year's resolution.
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