essays of German media critic Tilman Baumgärtel on the disadvantages of
digital filmmaking, which came out last month in Inquirer
Entertainment, has sparked a lively discussion among filmmakers
involved in the medium.
Baumgärtel, in the story titled “The
Downside of Digital” (9/24/06), contended that while digital movies are
currently regarded as a way of out the local film industry’s “usual
fare of often formulaic productions,” it might “actually be bad for
The critic, who is also a professor at the UP
Film Institute, said among other things that digital films “just don’t
look as good as 35-millimeter.” He warned that the technology
“encourages sloppiness” and “breeds its own mannerisms.” He warned that
this could “lower the audience’s audio-visual standards.”
long run, Baumgärtel argued, digital films would “make Philippine
movies less competitive internationally.” He proceeded to point out
lapses and errors in some of the digital films he had watched.
Jon Red, in another essay (“The Maker, Not the Medium” 9/28/06),
countered: “The digital medium should not be blamed for filmmaker’s
faults. It’s the wrong practices in digital movie-making that should be
Red admonished Baumgärtel to direct his comments “to the hand that pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
Inquirer Entertainment sought the reactions of other digital filmmakers.
ONGKEKO-MARFIL ("Mga Pusang Gala,” “Angels,” chair, Erasto Productions;
board member, Independent Filmmakers Cooperative of the Philippines
Tilman Baumgärtel did say he was being a spoilsport and a
devil’s advocate to the current euphoria over digital movies... Let his
criticisms be a challenge to all.
(On the view that digital
simply does not look as good as 35-millimeter:) Digital is not static.
It is evolving. Both the technology and the practitioners can only get
better. Mastery comes with practice, opportunity, sustainability.
actors and other personnel being “interns”:) A major producer for a
digital project found my request for 10 shooting days too long. She
said, “Please, I don’t want an art film!” Not all major producers are
like her. But yes, digital filmmaking could be bad for Philippine
cinema, not so much for form—because I am sure it will improve—but [for
the possibility that] the same attitudes and sensibilities [may
continue to] dominate. The victory of digital cinema for now is
presenting new sensibilities to the public via such films as “Maximo,”
“Kalimugtong,” “Kubrador” and many others.
(On “digital coming to
mean as art house cinema—without art house cinemas”:) Now, there’s the
challenge! For all stakeholders—filmmakers, educators, cultural
institutions—who aim to make good films but who should make it a
sustainable business for all, artists included, to come together to
build the infrastructures necessary to develop such an alternative
circuit. I do not even want to call it arthouse circuit—it sounds so
elitist, so alienating—just an alternative circuit for digital cinema
to develop its artists and its audience, and [eventually] boost the
EMMAN DELA CRUZ (“Sarong Banggi;” chair, IFCP)
is a very young art; we’re only a century old. The films we’ve seen
since the Lumiere brothers (Louis and Auguste Lumiere were pioneer
contributors to the birth of film in 1895) until the digital explosion
now are but “guesses” as to what this art form can do. Let’s stop
bickering and enjoy the possibilities.
Much flak has been thrown
at digital filmmaking, but very few have written about what has been
done so far. It gave Filipinos renewed power to own their images again.
True to Pinoy ingenuity, we’ve created bigger things from so little.
Digital has done for filmmaking what piracy has done for awareness: It
gave so much freedom for the Third World film viewer and filmmaker. The
downside is not the medium, it’s closed-mindedness in approaching it.
MIKE SANDEJAS (“Tulad ng Dati”)
dream. Some of us dream of creating movies, like a painter yearning to
paint. Digital video creates an opportunity to fulfill those dreams.
argument should not be film vs digital. Technical is a given. I agree
that film is superior. But to dismiss digital features as inferior
would deter several filmmakers from continuing to experiment and, thus,
halt their growth and evolution. As it is, when many viewers hear the
word “digital,” they shy away from watching these features.
a choice, filmmakers would want to use film stock and pay for
everything the way they should be paid but that is just not possible
for a lot of us. There are those who prefer digital over film, but
that’s like choosing Coke over Pepsi or vise-versa. Nothing’s wrong
Some countries are capable of still using film despite
low budgets because of government support. This is something we are
just starting to realize through Cinemalaya, NCCA, CEB and FDCP. But it
is still very different from the full support given by South Korea to
its film industry. Kodak has been very active locally in promoting the
use of film but this is not enough without government involvement.
are problems outside of the technical in both mediums. As far as film
aesthetics is concerned, it’s not the car, it’s the driver. The medium
shouldn’t be blamed.
(On big studios taking advantage of “cheaper
personnel” from the indie ranks:) That’s economics at work— a deeper
problem that would take another discussion.
I appreciate Mr.
Baumgärtel’s opinion; he could be helping an ongoing weeding-out
process. Those discouraged by his views will just fall by the wayside.
RICO MARIA ILARDE (“Sa Ilalim ng Cogon,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll 2K5,” “Ang Babaeng Putik,” “Z-Man”)
author makes several valid points regarding the inadequacies of digital
video as compared with 35mm film. The main flaw in his argument is that
he selects his samples from just a few films, mostly shot on the
mini-DV format, when in fact, digital video now encompasses several
formats ranging from the aforementioned miniDV to HDV to DVCam, all the
way to HD (high-definition video).
Two of last year’s Metro
Manila Filmfest entries, “Exodus” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll 2K5,”
were both shot in high-definition video, and later transferred to 35mm
film. Artistic merits of the films aside, to my mind—from an aesthetic
standpoint—the two samples immediately debunk Mr. Baumgärtel’s
arguments, because these two films rank among some of the
slickest-looking Philippine feature films of the last 10 years. Don’t
believe me? Then I challenge you to compare the glossiest Filipino
feature shot on 35mm that you can find on DVD (during that time frame
of 10 years) and then do a shot by shot comparison on your video
player. The results will astound you, guaranteed.
have a saying: “You will fight the way you train.” Basically, what it
means is that you need to go all-out in training and try your best to
simulate—starting with your mind—the intensity, the ferocity, and the
physicality of a real fight. The rational being, that when the real
thing happens, body and mind are so attuned to the training instilled,
that the martial artist reacts intuitively to the situation. An analogy
you could make is that the film camera is a sword, while a digital one
would be a wooden staff. The objective would still be one and the same:
“Strike hard, strike swift, and do not be struck back in return.” A
master with a wooden staff would still be far deadlier than a novice
with a sword. It’s the same with filmmaking. [No matter the medium] a
lousy filmmaker will make a bad film, a lazy director will turn out
uninspired work, an inept camera person will shoot ugly images.
PAOLO VILLALUNA (“Illusyon,” organizer, Pelikula’t Lipunan and Pink Festival; board member, IFCP)
digital format is not absolute—and like everything in the universe,
including the celluloid format, it has a downside. Jon Red is right:
Baumgärtel’s article should have lambasted the triggerman, not the gun.
digital format in itself is a revolution—just the fact that it has
taken away the monopoly of filmmaking from only those who can afford it
is a testament to that revolution. That is not to say that all digital
films are good, because half of them actually aren’t. But I’d rather
live in a world where the “digital” option is available; it creates a
wider margin for new filmmakers and new ideas, thus developing a
healthier cinema for us.
Most important, we should remember that
bad and good films are made regardless of format! Baumgärtel has to
ponder: Would (Lars Von Trier’s) “Dancer in the Dark” be a better film
had it been shot in 35mm? No. Would (Paul Haggis’) “Crash” be a lesser
film had it been shot in mini-DV? No. There are films that are so good,
they transcend formats. That should be our discourse: how to make good
films, not whether film is better than digital. As the cliche goes:
That is moot and academic.