31. 05. 2023

On Cinema and AI ︎

After seeing a seemingly inconsequential post about AI filmmaking I went down a rabbit hole of fear and rethinking about the future of the medium that I wanted to express myself in. I wrote my dissertation about the rise of streaming but in it I embraced the new distribution model, liking it to the possibilities of the New Hollywood of the 1970s, with endless cash that would continue supporting new and established auteurs unique visions in a way that the traditional studio system had ceased to do. I have since rethought that idea.

Three months after handing in my dissertation the pandemic hit the UK and I had to finish my degree in lockdown with a pdf that approximated my graduation film. I was lucky in that I had collaborators that had enthusiasm and the want to make and in October 2020 I managed to shoot my graduation film of our own free will. Still there was disquiet about the future of cinema, theatrical was struggling bad and even today my favourite movies of 2022, Tar, Crimes of the Future, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Bones and All, all failed at the box office. Todd Field after finally directing a movie after sixteen years, is talking about the idea that he may never direct another movie again.

With two shorts made in the close time to University and a handful of other projects practising the form, hundreds of written pages of screenplays and the want to make longer durational bodies of work I have had hope for the medium, great movies are still being released, like the aforementioned movies and more. At the Berlin Film Festival, I saw movies by peers close to my age that knocked me over with their creativity and intelligence and whenever I visit my hometown of Belfast, NI and go to the local arthouse, I’m comforted that there is a packed screening of Jeanne Dielman of a crowd that consists of wide group of people.

But the last couple of days were still filled with doubts, the doubt began when I saw a publication about a director claiming that AI movies were two years away, at this point it’s pure speculation to what form that will take, perhaps it will make an approximation of box office hits like Avatar 2 or the Marvel Movies, or with the right prompt make another Mission Impossible from a computer, once Tom Cruise is finally too old to do his own stunts. It might surprise all of us and make its own version of Moonlight, but it defeats the point.

As an aside, I don’t trust the tech bros in Silicon Valley who speak altruistically about their utopian plans with AI, the same thing was said about Facebook in 2005 and we don’t even know how to solve the social media addiction that grips our society and the various other mental health issues it stimulates. It doesn’t take more than a 25-year-old to tell you that all you have to do is read the CEOs of such companies’ previous writings on success, and previous investments in tech companies to see that they are simply venture capitalists with a Jesus complex that cannot see the forest for the trees.

I’ve taught on and off on cinema and storytelling for the past two years, and one thing that is true is once you strip away the soullessness of some corporate products that are fed into multiplexes it’s that cinema is a specificity of vision, and a tension between a human baring their soul to you through the vast compromise of an expensive collaborative effort. Cinema is not in just the product but in how it is consumed, with a group of people in a darkened room, or in your room, on your own in a laptop. I remember watching Moonlight on my computer screen in my University room in 2016, it changed my life, I quit my biology degree and applied for film school. Superficially I had few things in common with the protagonist of the story, I’m not a gay black man from Miami, Florida but the story was told with so much truth of experience and an understanding of life that I could not help but be affected in the ways that my personal story was similar to that of the character. Through its specific and human lens, it allows for millions of people to introspect about their own lives, and to let it affect them, overwhelm them.

I remember seeing a Rothko overwhelm my physical body in a darkened room, remember feeling understood reading my favourite books. I loved the feeling of being surprised. Will we get that with a simulacra?

27. 04. 2023

Belfast, Northern Ireland