The debate over the future of physical film has been simmering for a few years now, with major directors and film personalities carving out a place for the future of celluloid. This weekend, Tim League, film advocate and CEO of independent theater chain Alama Drafthouse Cinema, added his voice to the fray. League has a surprising and perhaps divisive perspective, lobbying in favor of the digital transition as a way to preserve the legacy of physical film.
League’s op-ed in Deadline is nuanced and difficult to summarize, but it boils down to encouraging the widespread adoption of digital projection to reduce costs and continue the modern relevance of the movie theater. But more importantly, physical films are far harder to project than digital files, and mismanagement can result in damage to the 99% of films that only exist in reel form. Classic films have cultural value, League argues, and we should screen them alongside modern movies – but with greater expert care and attention.
This is a much more complex view than the black-and-white defend-the-future-of-film line that we usually hear from preservationists, but it comes from an experienced theater owner and deserves respect. It adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing debate, especially from a business perspective. No doubt these stakeholders will save physical film from vanishing in the future, but maybe it can exist alongside digital film as a meaningful alternative rather than a curiosity.