Cinema has come a long way since its first commercial screening in an underground basement in Paris in 1895.
At that time the creators, the Lumiere brothers, were considered true artistic pioneers and their invention, the future of entertainment. But more than artists, they were engineers. They assembled a technology that has been perfected over the centuries with numerous scientific advancements. The audience sitting in the hall watching workers leave a factory flinched in awe.
So, can we say that art goes hand in hand with science, and with the advancement of science, art evolves? How far have we come from that short film exhibited in that basement?
The film got cheaper, cameras got lighter and now people can even make films in their homes with a mobile phone. When you think about it, it is truly astounding that this change has come about in just over a century. Looking back at other art forms, such as painting or writing, it only took an idea to create a piece of art and not crores of rupees and hundreds of people. Thus, we can now speculate what will the future of filmmaking look like as it gets cheaper. Maybe in the future, as technology advances, people can even make a film in their minds and broadcast it to other people’s consciousness through nanotechnology.
Filmmaking has hugely become participatory and democratic over the years. If we assume every filmmaker can be called an audio-visual storyteller then the YouTube content creators and vloggers can also be called filmmakers. This is owed to the emergence of the digital revolution. The French new wave, in the 1960s, was a pioneering movement that solidified independent filmmaking. But even then making a film was expensive. Now people can record innumerable amounts of footage without thinking twice about the cost.
They can edit it on their phones and release it on social media. Feature films can now even be made solely by a person with his/her own budget. He/she becomes the one true creative director and owner of the project. Is this then true auteurship? The auteur theory so discussed during the French new wave was, maybe in fact, not true auteurship. If a filmmaker solely performs all the duties of film production, can he/she be called the auteur of the film?
Now it is even more difficult to differentiate between footage shot on a mobile phone and a professional camera. Thanks to the advancements in digital cameras. Internationally acclaimed directors used this opportunity to try something new. For example, Zach Snyder shot the short film ‘Snow Steam Iron’ entirely on an iPhone or Sean Baker shot the film ‘Tangerine’ on three iPhone 5s models. Not so far ahead, we will even be able to shoot a film through a contact lens that fits in our eyes and edit it in our brain. This idea may sound futuristic now, but perhaps it is not so distant. In 2016, a patent was awarded to Sony for a smart contact lens that is capable of recording video.
Using nanotech we can perhaps edit the recorded footage in our brain. We may even be able to transform our dreams into abstract animations and send them to our friends as multimedia messages through the cloud. The possibilities are endless and the imagination will only be the limit.
The past has also been as staggering as the future looks. While hypothesizing the future it is all so more important to talk about the past. People have been trying to capture images as far as the stone age and the so-called camera obscura was one of the first steps toward achieving this. A camera obscura is a dark room where light passing through a small hole projects an inverted image of the immediate outside on a flat surface.
It is probably the earliest known example of a camera and a projector and it is believed that the palaeolithic cave paintings were inspired by this effect. The earliest written record of camera obscura came much later in the 4th-century Chinese text named ‘Mozi’ ascribed to the Chinese philosopher of the same name. The first clear experimentation on the subject was recorded in the 11th-century book ‘Kitab al-Manazir’ or the ‘Book of Optics’ by Arab scientist Alhazen. In the east, around the same time, Chinese scientist Shen Kuo also expanded on the subject in his book ‘Dream Pool Essays’.
Shen Kuo is said to have used it to exhibit martial arts shows for people in a dark theatre-like room. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci further expanded on the camera obscura to introduce 3D scenes onto a flat painting to copy perspective more noticeably.
Camera obscura was the base upon which the idea to capture a permanent image on a photographic film came about. Inventor Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre developed the first commercially successful photographic process called the daguerreotype. It was widely used during the 1840s and 1850s and made free for all by the US government.
However, it had its drawbacks. The process needed a large dark room. So the photographer had to carry a large cart everywhere he went. Moreover, the mechanism had a long exposure time of 2-5 minutes, this is why people look so grim in old photographs as it was hard to keep up a grin that long. Nonetheless, the free for all invention became the greatest of its time as it allowed everyone, irrespective of race or wealth, to capture themselves permanently, which would have been otherwise a hard thing to fathom.
Since its advent, filmmaking has been one of the most rapidly changing organs in the art space. From the daguerreotype which took 5 minutes to capture an image we now have cameras that can take millions of photographs per second. The newest technological advancements in the craft such as virtual production used to make ‘The Mandalorian’ series are only adding to its expansion. Capturing images and looking beyond one’s periphery started with the cavemen looking at the stars and in the future people can create their own galaxies in their minds and broadcast them to the mass without the use of a handheld device.
The advancements in science and technology are creating a cheaper and more accessible platform for people to express themselves. And in not so distant future, with the proper media literacy and imagination, everyone will be able to suit themselves as a filmmaker in their own right.