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Digital Projection Mishap Derails Premiere of De Palma’s “Passion” at New York Film Festival

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One of the most contentious topics these days among film critics is the movie industry’s current push to phase out the “film” part of the equation entirely and switch completely to digital projection. In practice, this has probably already happened at your local suburban multiplex, where they’ve most likely already switched from film to what’s called DCP (Digital Cinema Package).

All of the major movie studios have it made it clear that by the end of 2013 they plan to stop creating film prints of new titles entirely and will release them only in the DCP format, meaning that new releases can only be screened at theaters that have the expensive new digital projection equipment.

Many prominent film critics, including Roger Ebert and Scott Tobias (film editor for The A.V. Club) and others, are outspoken opponents of the shift from film to digital for reasons ranging from aesthetic concerns to nostalgia to the concern that smaller art and revival houses won’t be able to afford the new equipment. To that list of strikes against DCP we can now add unfixable technical glitches at high profile film festival premieres.

The U.S. premiere of Brian De Palma’s latest film, “Passion,” starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, was to take place over the weekend at the prestigious New York Film Festival. Ultimately, that didn’t happen. The reason? Like something out of a dystopian cyberpunk novel, apparently the crew at NYFF tested the code needed to unlock the digital file of the movie a few minutes before the screening and everything was working fine, but when the same code was tried for the screening itself the file had become “locked” and no one could “unlock” it. As Bob Cashill writes, “That’s not the movies we knew and loved; that’s a plot contrivance on an episode of 24. Maybe they should rename Digital Cinema Package HAL, in honor of “2001”‘s errant computer.”

While of course celluloid film projection has not been without its share of mechanical glitches over the years, no one can remember a time when such a high profile festival screening was called off entirely at any time during the celluloid era. Apparently, NYFF director Richard Pena went on stage multiple times to deliver the worsening news and after a half hour or so told the audience members that they could return to the box office to collect refunds, which according to accounts from those in attendance only about 10-15 percent of the audience actually did. Eventually Pena announced that all hope had been given up of actually “unlocking” the file and everyone left, including DePalma himself, who was in attendance.

The bad news led, understandably, to a fair amount of gloating from anti-DCP critics on twitter:

 

 

 

This wasn’t the only DCP problem at this year’s NYFF either. At a screening of the Mexican film “Here and There,” the subtitles dropped out for a long period of time and no option for a refund, makeup screening, or anything else was offered.

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