Jason Gwynn and Jay Sheldon’s documentary short film, Going Dark: The Final Days of Film Projection, focuses on two men for whom the change in theatrical projection from film to digital is particularly alarming. With studios effectively forcing theaters to convert entirely to digital projection or be left without content to screen, theater manager Clif Campbell makes the only choice he can, to close down his theater. On the eve of the closure, he and projection manager Patrick Jenson reflect on what it means to be a film projectionist, and the reasons why film projection is better than digital, or at least more fulfilling, in their eyes.
As much as the film is a lesson in film projection, it’s also the study of the end of an era, and what it means for those who have become experts in a field that is going extinct. When Patrick reflects over his many years as a projectionist, you can hear the pain in his voice when he laments all the time building up skills that are now effectively useless. As Clif notes, with digital scheduling, there’s not even a need for a projectionist to press a button anymore.
The film also touches on the visceral qualities of film projection, while mostly sticking to a sentimental approach to the benefits of projecting on film. While there is certainly a good amount of technical information to be found within, this is not a film that tries to debate the visual quality difference of digital versus film. Instead, it’s about looking at what will be lost, in a more intimate sense, when the conversion to digital is final everywhere.
For some, it’s the loss of a job. For others, like Clif, it’s the total end of a business. And as many small theater owners face the same choice of expensively retrofitting their theaters for digital or perish, Clif’s story rings on a painfully universal note.
Going Dark: The Final Days of Film Projection is an accomplished study on the state of theatrical projection, grounded in the personal reflections of two people whose lives and livelihoods are most affected. It’s a professional effort, well worth a look, of a sad state of affairs.
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