US film market eyes digital future

Web, digital cable and satellite distribution for homes, computers and handheld gadgets will take movies to every corner.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2006 12:56 IST

Independent filmmakers and businesses catering to them at the Sundance Film Festival are looking to an ever-increasing use of digital technology to boost movie production and broaden audiences in coming years.

Many filmmakers at the festival that ends on Sunday say Web and digital cable and satellite distribution for homes, computers and handheld gadgets will be able send their movies to every corner of the United States and internationally as well. Generally, independent movies have been confined to art houses in large cities.

Filmmakers expect that the new technology will loosen the grip that Hollywood's major studios have on film releasing, and the experts point to new cameras that record on video disks and to projectors that play digital movies as helping lower industry costs.

Still, they caution that while change is coming, it will be years before celluloid film is a thing of the past, old projectors are put away in museums and consumers truly enjoy watching a 2-hour movie on their cell phones.

"The fact is, this is more of a democratic technology, and that's great," said "Fast Future Generation" director Marvin Jarrett. "But I don't want to watch 'King Kong' on it, yet."

"Fast Future," is Jarrett's documentary of the rock group Good Charlotte while they were on tour in Japan. He is among several filmmakers, including Nick Cassavetes, at Sundance this week, who were showing a movie that could be downloaded on a T-mobile cell phone with a screen about 1.7 inches x 2.2 inches (4.3 cms x 5.6 cms).

T-Mobile is the US No. 4 wireless carrier and is owned by German company, Deutsche Telekom AG.


Jarrett's sentiment was shared by many people at Sundance, which is the top US festival for independent films. They see mobile technology as a way to reach the masses with movies, especially short films that often have no market and are a first-time filmmaker's first step toward a full-length movie.

Moreover, digital satellite and cable TV systems are just now being used to distribute films directly to homes.

This week at Sundance, IFC Films unveiled its "First Take" program in which it will offer 24 movies with titles like "CSA: The Confederate States of America" and "Three times" directly to consumer homes via a digital video-on-demand service.

Earlier this month, cable TV's Starz Entertainment Group unveiled its Vongo service to offer movies via the Web. "One thing it gives us is the opportunity to showcase product we might not have before ... it's a good opportunity for some of these indie films," said Starz CEO Robert Clasen.

And the changes rippling through independent film do not stop at distribution. In recent years, cheap digital cameras and videotape have helped reduce the cost of making films.

But at this year's Sundance, Sony Corp unveiled a new camera that records information directly onto a disk that is similar to a DVD, which helps speed production time and lowers costs for things like transferring tape into a computer.

Moreover, new digital projection systems and computer networks accompanying them will allow major theater chains to re-program their venues to screen a red hot independent movie like "Crash" if a big-budget studio film flops.

First Published: Jan 28, 2006 12:56 IST