Translated from Spanish by Gabriela Arenas
Mid-March. After sharing a few days of joyful cinephilia in the city of Córdoba with friends from all over the world, quarantine restrictions are declared for the whole country. From now on, the cinemas will remain closed.
A resistance to the panorama of despair emerges through social media and other forms of virtual communication. Socially-distanced film clubs are organised, films hitherto impossible to see become available. The world’s film archives upload incunabula material. Filmmakers share their works everywhere. Saying, celebrating, that they have “freed” them.
Hard drives are filled, information circulates with more vertigo than ever as film traffic knows no rest. In the compilation of material, hours slept means hours lost. Some institutions, still stuck in the old-world order, set limited timeframes to see all they have uploaded. Old habits die hard.
Days become a succession of images without respite. We go from watching a Nathaniel Dorsky film (finally!) to Judd Apatow almost without noticing. Our minds superimpose scenes from one film unto the other, forming new associations that were unthinkable only months before. We experience an extreme form of contemporaneity in which filmmakers who have worked concurrently for years yet never crossed paths (due to programming with little ingenuity, issues inherent in their works’ distribution or the way in which critics interprets them) now share the same plane of action. There are no longer designated spaces to see one thing or the other. The films coexist, appearing without any accompanying context or connotation. They are, finally, nothing more than movies.
We’re living the life of the ideal spectator. Film appears on every tab we open. It arrives via emails, online posts, in WhatsApp messages. Films begin to have a strange value; they bloom between stones. We don’t care about the canons or the relevance of this or that film. Everything seems possible to find. The history of cinema returns more extensive than ever. There is so much to discover!
During the nights when we can sleep, we dream of seeing a movie in a cinema. The dream, as if it were filmed by Tsai Ming-liang, shows us images of a possible future. Abandoned cinemas. Some spectators scattered among seats, dimly lit by the projector. They look like caves, the commoners’ palace that has turned into catacombs.
We wonder if we’re being fair with what we appreciate so much. Everything seems the same, everything seems interchangeable. In a way, art becomes cheap. Not because we don’t pay for it (which we do, of course), but because it starts to be worth less to us. We’re no longer surprised by the treasures that appear. We don’t care where they come from, who made them or how they got to us. Total availability resembles a ghost that haunts us.
End of June, beginning of July. While a little more inclined towards quotidian tasks, we continue programming what to watch. We think of possible cycles, attend to everything we ever promised ourselves to see. Time turns against us: we have a lot but don’t know where to start. We end up watching the first thing we find. We doze off easier than before.
Our rhythm is slowing down. We’ve moved from bulimia to anorexia. The world, once so calm, now seems to demand everything we didn’t yield to it. Cinema, previously freed, returns to its usual channels. No one seems to have much time for the frenzy of discovery anymore. We fall back into network algorithms, first come first serve. We all talk about the same thing, as if instead of an infinite number of films there were only ten.
The usual problems persist. Filmmakers lack the resources to finish their films. Industry professionals work the bare minimum, if they are lucky enough to even have anything to work on. Cinema facades shelter the homeless, adorned with outdated posters.
The festivals manage, little by little, to return to their regular beat. With less programs, fewer guests and none of the effervescence that characterises them. An eerie version of what they once were. Some take advantage of cyberspace to break down barriers, allowing filmmakers to foster an intimacy with their audience (even for a few minutes) in a chat via Zoom. Social media continues to act as a thermometer: measuring success, complaints, what is missing and what is left over. From the perspective of the new normal, we can say that some seem happy.
First days of October. We are about to publish a new edition of La vida útil. It will be the second released this year and the second released during quarantine. It was an edition created almost entirely in another world. It’ll be released into the new normal that we’ve already become accustomed to. I believe critics should recount the experience of living alongside films. We’re living through an extraordinary year and will never look at the seventh art in the same way. I wonder what will happen in future films. When a character returns home from work, will we see them wash their hands? Will science fiction imagine the future as adjacent to our past?
I remember one of Godard’s ideas from around the time Film Socialisme was released, that may serve as a hopeful epilogue: “I’d like it to be distributed as follows: you take a boy and a girl, or two or three little groups. You give them copies of the film then drop them out of an aeroplane by parachute. They have a map of France and don’t know where they’re going to land. They figure it out, go into cafes, do a few hundred screenings. Then we watch what happens, they know the terrain. They understand what audiences think of the film. The next year, you show it in some small film festivals. After that, you wouldn’t even need to release it, you would have made all your money back (…) In lieu of this, we’re distributing films in a world for which they haven’t been made.”1
- Vincent Remy, “Jean-Luc Godard à Daniel Cohn-Bendit : “Qu’est-ce qui t’intéresse dans mon film ?” Télérama, 14th May 2010. ↩