Why I am very worried about the future of our culture
Some months ago, I don’t remember who asked me to screen my film “Happy New Year, Jim” in his class, and they did. A day later, many 1 star or half a star reviews appeared in the Letterboxd page of the film. I wondered why, since my film has always been very successful with young juries, students, young people in general. In Ajyal Film Festival, for example, I had a very long and super interesting and moving debate with children from all over the world, and in Castrovillari the film won the prize of the Young Jury. And it doesn’t end there. I mean, the film was really thought for young people. And I think it really capivates them, especially people under 18 years old. At least that’s what happened from what I could see with my own eyes.
So why, the same film, shown in a class by a teacher and shown in a festival in a curated and welcoming atmosphere had a completely different result? It relates to the relationship between video content and context, which is something that has changed a lot in the last few years. Netflix, Amazon, platforms in general but also some foolish people believe that you can watch films while you cook, in the metro, at school on an awful cheap screen, and that can lead to the death of the experience. These young children that put a bad vote to my film are not lying: they had a bad experience because the film was shown to them in the wrong context and with the wrong intentions.
What capitalistic cinema wants you to believe is that you can consume the product wherever you want: that you don’t need to leave your house, shower, get into a dark room and then enjoy the film in its best conditions, but that you can use the cinematic medium while you drink beer in your house on a couch with friends, or you can use it to sleep – like an ex girlfriend of mine did – because what matters is not the film but the subscription. As long as you keep the subscription it doesn’t matter if you watch 5,10,25% of the work or the whole of it. So all of their marketing strategy actually has the goal of keeping you subscribed and never had the goal of showing you great films.
This also means that one day, if the process of watching films happens to become, for example, mainly made of gossiping and having fun demolishing and putting 1 stars reviews on Letterboxd, Netflix producers will make films that can allow you to have fun doing that. Some sort of shareable memes you can laugh at. Because that’s what keeps the subscription “alive”. Cinema can become, under this management and logic, the same thing that television has become with the advent of Auditel and audience statistics. It doesn’t matter what the content is or if the content actually contributes in a good way to a better society: what matters is the number of viewers that watch an Ad.
In this epoch, directors could become like gladiators in the arena, slaves to the entertainment system, and the audience could be pushed to get more and more sadistic, more and more superficial, because that sadistic process could be a social ritual that, with cinema out of its center, can produce the necessary “fun” that keeps the subscription alive. I remember a similar experience watching Lory Del Santo’s “The Lady” on Youtube some years ago and to an extent it is the main drive behind watching memes. Many memes are in fact people that fall, spectacularly break their neck, put themselves out there for public humiliation, or are plain exhibitionists who would make the whole reality around them uncomfortable to make a video for you to see and laugh at.
This wrong turn for Cinema as a whole system is actually around the corner, as Netflix – like many platforms – has already understood long ago that it’s impossible to industrialise real art, it is impossible to make an assembly line for good films. Plus, the advent of Gen-3 text-to-video AI, which is 1 or 2 years to come, will make this process even more dangerous. Since basically the death of every good ritual is addiction, and the death of cinema is actually addiction to entertainment, and addiction is the first and foremost drive of capitalistic culture, these platforms will most likely try to cultivate in us an addiction for their product to keep that submission alive. How will this addiction take shape? Will it be based on publicly mocking films and directors or will it be a memeification of films? It’s likely. And Letterboxd is helping gather data for this eventuality.
What will the platforms do before succumbing? Do you think that they will die without trying this way that I’ve just described? I don’t think so. And I really think that the next 10-15 years will be the most idol-centered, hypercapitalistic years of cinema we’ve ever seen. And it is our duty as film directors and authors to try and hijack this mentality before it’s too late, resisting the will to be in the spotlight, to be that idol, to be at the center of that industry, and resisting with all our might industrialisation logistics for cinema.