Some say it all started on March 22, 1895, in Paris, at the "Society for the Development of the National Industry," in front of an audience of 200 people. A 50-second film of a train being pulled by a steam locomotive coming into the station was projected for the first time.
The screening ofThe Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station(English translation), by the Lumière brothers, is fabled to have caused such panic, that the audience became overwhelmed and ran screaming out of the room.
Although the Lumière brothers are not necessarily the inventors of moving pictures, they were the first to appreciate the power of it as a mass medium. They understood camera placement and angles, drama, and documentation. They called their movies “actuality film” – an early form of documentary. The 50-second duration of the film was dictated by the technical limitations of the filmstrip camera.
The technology of a medium influences how we receive it. Sitting in a movie theatre with 200 people, watching a train come towards you is very different than lying in bed watching Steven Colbert’s monologue from earlier that evening on your phone. And then sharing it on Facebook.
The culture of our world exists as a series of discourses, stories, or memes. We filter those streams of information through a variety of situations. In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam mourned the reduction of in-person social interaction. He felt it resulted in the loss of all kinds of “membership benefits.” Social media attempts to bridge the gap electronically, but ultimately, gathering together in a physical space brings a kind of social cohesion that is otherwise missing.
You might expect this is the place where I will extol the virtues of attending Powell River Film Festival, and its ability to build social capital and help us face the oncoming train that is barreling down the track. Instead, I’ll let recent visiting director, Nettie Wild, reflect on her experience: “This festival is the best example of cinema becoming the village well.”
Movies are arguably the best storytelling medium there is. In programming the festival, we endeavour to connect local stories with stories from near and far through film. The impact of the shared event is undeniable – the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Stanley Cup, a concert, or a film – they all have the power to bring us together. We gather to share our passion, our perspective, to root for the hero, and tremble just a little.
Gary Shilling, is the executive director of the PRFF and Friends of Film Society of Powell River