Changes are coming in the film industry in the new normal
A dramatically altered new normal is coming to the film business – in how and who makes the films and how and why we will watch them. No one can say with certainty today what the future will look like, but it is now apparent it will never be what it was.
You might think this is because of the seismic shift that the global pandemic has forced into our daily lives, including in our cultural pursuits. True enough, but the seeds of change were already sown in film before COVID-19 started its deadly spread, prompting most countries to slam on the brakes and shutter public venues, including movie theatres.
The grip of the legendary Hollywood studios was already loosening. Just look at how streaming services – notably Netflix – had challenged the studios and started beating them at their own game by buying indie films outright or creating originals.
The titles include some of the most exciting films of the 21st century. With Netflix, the list is already impressive: Beasts of No Nation (2015), starring Idris Elba; Tallulah (2016), starring Ellen Page; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), an eccentric Coen Brothers creation; Roma (2018), Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s family masterpiece; Dolemite is My Name (2019), featuring Eddie Murphy in a renaissance performance; and The Irishman (2019), Martin Scorsese’s riveting gangster epic starring a mafia of his old actor pals.
Netflix’s singular success even obliged the Academy Awards to change its eligibility rules to accommodate films such as Roma and The Irishman, after the racially charged embarrassment of denying Beasts of No Nation.
Meanwhile, commercial theatres were already feeling the pinch. Canada’s largest exhibitor, Cineplex, negotiated a lucrative buyout by Britain’s Cineworld. When the pandemic hit, the deal soured. Both companies are now suing one another. Cineplex is in a crisis. Expect some cinemas to close permanently.
Cineplex, and other world distributors such as Cineworld, will survive only by booking Hollywood’s flow of family animations and youth-friendly blockbusters fueled by comic book heroes. That is a limited niche, despite the billions generated so far. The wave will pass.
The truth is that more and more adult film fans, who are already exploring the joys and convenience of streaming, will stay put at home, finding what they want online.
Film festivals are also damned, on a certain level. The excitement had already been draining from the elite festivals, including Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival. The giddy excitement I remember from TIFF’s 1976 launch as the Festival of Festivals disappeared a decade ago. Ditto for Cannes. The allure of discovery was dulled by corporate commercial branding.
Then COVID-19 derailed Cannes altogether in 2020, along with dozens of other festivals. Toronto will proceed, but only as a shadow memory this September. It is a gut-wrenching spectacle.
The future? The music business underwent a total tear-down transformation in this century, not always for the better. Now it is time for even more significant changes in film. And, if that makes stunning films such as Roma more accessible and celebrated, it could be a good thing.
|Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and finally, as the senior film critic, for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.|