Screen Slate Presents: This is MiniDV (on 35mm)

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At the turn of the millennium, there was much speculation as to whether digital imaging would replace celluloid film as the predominant medium of motion picture production and exhibition. Regarded in hindsight not 20 years later, when film is often cited in terms of whether it might experience a “revival,” the debate seems almost amusingly quaint. For better or for worse, digital has permeated all aspects of cinema. For someone born the year THE MATRIX was released, seeing it on 35mm is a rarefied artisanal experience. As Keanu would say: whoa.

In this light, it’s interesting to consider a brief transitional period around the early aughts, when maverick moviemakers first embraced the mantle of digital tools with consumer or prosumer-grade standard-definition DV cameras. It was a brief but intense period teeming with possibility and uncertainty. The promise that, indeed, anyone could make a movie was inextricably linked with news of cameras like the Sony DCR-PC3, Canon XL-1, and Panasonic DVX100 being used for iconoclastic features that made waves in major film festivals. Lightweight cameras, more affordable stock, nonlinear editing, and relatively lower lab bills meant that filmmakers were at greater liberty to experiment with approaches to aesthetics, performance, documentation, and supposedly risky (or risqué) material.

Although they seem to point towards “the death of film,” these features might ironically be regarded as its unlikely last big blow-out. The manifesto of Dogme 95, largely regarded as responsible for initiating the first major wave of digital cinema, stipulates that the final film format must be 35mm. And owing to the near-absence of digital projection in cinemas, these movies were by necessity finished and distributed on 35mm. In this sense, they might be regarded not as purely “digital” features so much as hybrid works.

A full survey of DV as a creative medium encompassing artist videos and independent documentaries is beyond the scope of a single series, so here we’ve focused on features that were widely distributed on 35mm. And final note for tech nerds: in the series title, “MiniDV” is an intentional misnomer; while many titles in the series were indeed shot on cameras using MiniDV cassettes, others were captured on different yet very similar standard-definition formats in the DV family. But however inaccurate, “This Is MiniDV (on 35mm)” seemed pithier than “These Are Various Standard-Definition DV Formats (on 35mm).”