FILM!

By Stephan Polman

If policy makers and commercial powers were to put the enthusiasm of my generation genuinely at heart, this industry would not be moving into the direction that it is. A recent poll – conducted just 2 months ago - amongst future producers, directors and cinematographers at the Amsterdam Film School, shows that 80% of my fellow students want to shoot their upcoming project on film.

In camera-class we feel privileged that our curriculum principally centers around thorough education with respect to working with film; we shoot super 16 and occasionally on 35mm. Inspiring teachers and guest lecturers encouraging us hands-on to develop our skills in this field. Handing us the means to enter this most wonderful profession by passing on the very same specific instructions that came down through generations before; what can be more inspirational than that?

Using film, we are required to become completely self-reliant with respect to the final image quality, taking full responsibility on the day. We realize how to make all the crucial -, irrevocable decisions with respect to the image right there on set. I find I simply need that challenge.
By now and thanks to the effort that goes into mastering light, contrast and exposure, I am able to trust my eyes and mostly act on instinct. I consider it a privilege to get to know my film stock and what it can do for me.

All of us have come to realize that there are great advantages in apparent limitations. Standard definition video-assist (or no video-assist at all) pleasantly enforces trust between the DOP and the director. Without the presence of a HD monitor on set and all the input that comes with that, a film camera leaves me in a position to create picture look with an enormous degree of privacy. This sense of personal freedom is at all times balanced by a commitment on my part to make sure that the director in the end tells the story, the way we decided.

Reloading the film camera creates a pause, literally allowing me to step back from the camera for a moment and enabling us to quietly discuss our next move. With film, the recording technique isn't a novelty and peace of mind is a natural outcome. The relative upfront cost of film stock makes us skip the unnecessary ideas and act efficiently with the producers budget in mind. Shooting film simply has beneficial effect on the way we work on set.

Our school has been running a program for many years now whereby future applicants are encouraged to sign up for a full month of college to be followed by practical training. This allows for mutual acquaintance, enabling each party to decide better if there is a future for enrollment. We are talking here about very young people and with each year passing by it is becoming clear this generation certainly was not brought up using celluloid film. Their reaction to the prospect of working with analogue film however is overwhelmingly positive. Even though this must be gut feeling on their part and for now they possibly couldn't express their motivation; if film does this to young people, it must be a wonderful thing.

Occasionally I meet students from another Dutch University or Arts College.
Their program unfortunately does not include the opportunity to learn about film. In spite of this, mostly they are yearning for it just the same.

I have every reason to believe that our situation in The Netherlands is far from unique and I dare policy makers and the commercial powers to put the question to student cinematographers at every Film School and Arts Institute around the world.
If it were up to you; do you want to shoot on film?
I think I know the answer.

Film or digital; it is not just about the final result on screen. It is about my education. And a rewarding career made possible through freedom of choice.
Film is special.

Stephan Polman
01/12/2011