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Film Education Amid Pandemic

Victoria Bednarz, Staff Writer

Alone in the Alhambra Theatre of the film mecca that was San Francisco, Professor Gregg Biermann viewed 2001: A Space Odyssey on a large scale screen with good sound and zero distractions. And I, as a first-semester film student, viewed it on my 6 by 3-inch smartphone with water-clogged speakers and the freedom to click pause at my discretion.

The transition from theatre viewing to at-home streaming has been a process long in the making. In 2019, 58.3% of the $101 billion total global entertainment revenue came from non-theatrical viewings, while an estimated $9.9 billion came from movie theatre admissions.

With the Coronavirus pandemic acting as a catalyst for this change, we may be saying goodbye to the ritualized experience of mall movie theaters sooner than we thought. 

Having taught the history and analysis of film for over twenty years, Biermann describes his adaptation to the pandemic as a trial by fire. “I can’t be my usual self, patrolling the screenings and making sure people are paying attention and watching films in the way I think films should be watched,” said Biermann. “People might watch them in a very fragmented fashion, not paying attention to what the image looks like because it’s on a phone or iPad or its in a way that I wouldn’t normally say that a serious screening of a film should be looked at.”

Luckily, Biermann assures that not every film depends on being projected beautifully. “It’s not necessarily an academic issue, but an issue of appreciation,” he said.

In his endeavors outside of school, Biermann is working to build a digital infrastructure for The Filmmakers’ Cooperative, the oldest and largest distributor of experimental, underground, and avant-garde films in the world. As of now, the co-op has about 70 terabytes of film that has been scanned into digital files and is working on sending these files to organizations that want to rent them, since streaming has proven to be too expensive and theatrical showings, too impractical.

So I sat in my bedroom watching 2001 on my terms. The first fifteen minutes of the Stanley Kubrick film is solely a visual of fighting apes on barren earth roughly four million years ago.

Now, that’s not a jab at the iconic movie, but rather at the life of a film student during a pandemic. It’s no wonder I could barely get through the whole film. I was in the comfort of my bedroom with full control over the “remote”, with no professor looming over me making sure I was paying attention. There was no dark room full of strangers that would whisper snarky comments if I took out my phone and nothing that would ensure I was watching on a large scale screen with good sound and zero distractions.

When it comes down to it, the film industry and academics are experiencing a revolution that will forever change the way movies are made, distributed, and watched. Yet, however irreversible the closing of theaters may be and disappointing the release of new movies on streaming services are, there remains a beacon of light for film fanatics everywhere.

“If you’re not in one of the cultural meccas where there’s gonna be a big cinephile community, there’ll probably be fewer opportunities to go to the theatre,” said Biermann. “But one of the great things I think is that you do have access to a lot of stuff if you look for it.”


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