It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. I’ve spent most of my time making movies, rather than watching them, as you can see here, and participating in online film festivals, Zoom sessions and the like with a community of like-minded filmmakers. For the most part, film festivals didn’t really get cancelled – they just moved online.
I think that interacting with others who make and love film – as in several group shows I participated in with VastLab in Los Angeles, The Exploding Cinema in London, The Liftoff Sessions in London, The Undercurrent Gallery in New York, and the outdoor large screen projection of my films by the Urban Screens Collective throughout Australia and New Zealand – has helped to keep me sane, as have long early morning walks in a nearby park, which is thankfully deserted, except for lots of indigenous wildlife.
But watching films online doesn’t really provide solace for me – too much has been lost in the transition to the small screen. Zoom and online festivals are all we can responsibly do right now, but they don’t make up for the absence of an audience, real-life human contact, and seeing a film on a large theatre screen, as it’s supposed to be shown.
As my friend Roy Ward Baker, the late British director once told me, with streaming or DVDs, you can inspect a film, but you can’t experience it. He had just come from a screening of his superb Titanic film, A Night to Remember (1958) at a retrospective of his work, and seeing it for the first time on a big screen after years of television viewings, he was stunned at the impact the film had – “I didn’t remember it being that good” he told me.
That said, the pandemic is real, especially in the United States where the government has completely bungled the response, and so wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and staying home are all essential strategies. There’s no way of telling when this lockdown will end, absent the successful creation of a widespread, effective vaccine, and so for the time being, we simply have to hunker down.
I’ve seen lots of superb films online, both old and new, as everything that was to be a theatrical release moves online, and I’ve also been dusting off my collection of some 10,000 DVDs, and watching two or three films a day. I also correspond on a daily basis with an old friend of mine who is a retired director in Hollywood, and we suggest titles to each other for home viewing.
I think my main takeaway is that, like it or not, this is the new normal. This isn’t going to end anytime soon, and online culture – in all aspects – will increasingly move to the centre of social discourse. We don’t have any control over the timeline for reopening “normal” society – we don’t make the timeline; the virus does. So for the moment, it’s streaming, Zoom, and online festivals.