Ari Folman on the future of cinema, filmmaking and why he’s done with 35mm

In the first part of my interview with The Congress‘ director, Ari Folman, we discussed the specifics of how that film was made and his secretive working process with the highly talented Robin Wright.

Now, in this second part, Mr. Folman shares his thoughts on the current state of cinema, what the future might hold, and also why he’s done with 35mm.

Would you say you’re generally a technophobe or a technophile? Somewhere in between? Do you worry about future technologies?

I love it but I’m not a technophobe or a technophile. In terms of technology I’m a disturbingly normal guy. I am concerned about the future of cinema with technology. Because I think it’s not about being good or bad, it’s just going to be a completely different profession and different cinema.

I think that the Lucases and the Spielbergs always win. As long as they live. Think about it, the cinema in the golden ten years of directors in Hollywood between sixty-nine and Star Wars. This was cinema very much influenced by the French New Wave. Then came Lucas and Star Wars, then the big studio films and technology has progressed a lot but cinema didn’t, in many ways. The sequels, the prequels, the X-Men the Spider-Men. It’s the same thing.

…because everyone has a screen at home and you already have Netflix and the boxes and you can consume everything at home. In countries where it doesn’t [already] work very fluently it will in two or three years.

So, in order to go out and watch a movie it has to be really attractive. First it must cost like a theatre ticket and then you will get the whole package of extraordinary effects. 4D, 5D, I don’t know how many Ds there are. You will be in the movie. This is what cinema is going to be like, I think. And the beautiful Jim Jarmusch movies are going to be screened in museums. I don’t say if it’s good or bad but I think this is where we’re going. All the rest we can really consume at home now.

A lot of people feel that, though there seems to be a groundswell of people rejecting this and going back to the cinema. Perhaps I’m too optimistic.

I have a story to tell you about that… I used to do propaganda before elections for a very left wing, liberal party here in Israel. That was like fifty years ago. It’s left-wing and liberal and there is just one more party on the extreme left. And I realised that all my friends were moving towards that party. For good reasons, by the way. I moved afterwards and stay there to this day.

So I went to the leader of the party and I told him that everybody was neglecting the party, they’re all going very left wing now. He asked me, “Who is everybody? Who is the movement you are talking about? Your friends? How many are there?”

I said, “I don’t know, maybe twelve.” And he said, “Okay, maybe there are three thousand.” And there was the election and he was obviously right. I think you as a journalist who writes about cinema, you meet your friends and they are buying vinyl as well. They’re collecting records as well. But man, people don’t collect vinyl anymore. They download from iTunes or Spotify. This is it. This is life.

I wish you were right by the way, don’t get me wrong. I’m very romantic about cinema… but I am aware of the fact that maybe in fifty years time someone is going to find the recording of our conversation and is going to say,”Listen to those two jerks talking about the end of cinema. They’re talking just like in 1927 people talked about how sound was going to ruin cinema, with The Jazz Singer.” This is it, we can’t beat technology. It’s going to be completely different.

You struck a 35mm print of The Congress, right? But were the live-action sections actually shot on 35mm?

No, I’ll tell you the truth. Which I think is very interesting. I very much wanted to shoot this film on 35mm. I had a Polish cinematographer, a very talented young guy. He came from the tradition… And I wanted to shoot on film. That was three and a half years ago. And we went to the woods near Cologne and we took a 35mm Arri camera and we took the Arri Alexa, the digital camera, and we shot small phases from the afternoon till it was completely dark. Next day we screened it in a screening room and honestly I couldn’t recognise [which was which].

The only thing that I could see was that the Arri Alexa could shoot right into the night. So, this was the deal and we did it with the Arri Alexa, which I don’t regret at all. Then when I finished the movie, three years later with the animation and everything, I checked a print of the animation and I realised that because the animation was classical animation – hand drawn, hand made – it looked much better on a 35mm print with projection. Because I think with classic animation – which this is a tribute to the 1930s Fleischer animation – part of the animation is this blink of the projector. It makes it look better. So, I got very enthusiastic and decided that I was going to screen the film in Cannes from a print. And they got very enthusiastic because no-one screens in Cannes now from a print. And they said, ah we’ll make a big issue.

And then I saw the live-action on the projector with a print and I thought maybe my glasses were not clean enough or maybe there’s a problem with the projector. And the guys from the lab in Berlin laughed at me and they said that all the directors have the same problems. Because we adjusted so fast to the DCP projection that once you go back to the 35mm, sometimes you can’t take it. It doesn’t look good enough. And I gave it up. There’s no print.

I don’t miss film at all. No. I want to be very frank with you. I could tell you that… I am so tired of hearing discussions of old directors talking about how they miss it and how they long for film. I honestly think that the Arri Alexa is an unbelievable camera. A friend for the director on set. You can just shoot all day, man. It’s the best.

And the RED as well. It’s amazing. Today you can buy a 4K RED, the RED Scarlet for $7000. You can shoot RAW and do all the adjustments in post. I think this is a blessing. It’s fantastic. For independent filmmaking, it’s fantastic.

For me it’s like, I will always look at the horizon in a very optimistic way because even now when I’m about to do a huge animation movie and everything, I still know I can take that camera and I can make a movie for nothing. i can still do it. And part of it is that technology allows me to do it. This is fantastic. And I am very up to date with all those cameras.

Now I am deep into that animated project but I think there is going to be a gap until we raise the money – that’s a huge project, the Anne Frank project. And I’m then planning to do a live action film.

The Congress is out in UK cinemas from the 15th of August and in the US from the 29th of August. Thanks again to Mr. Folman for his time and answers.