For those of us who remember taking pictures and making films the old-fashioned way, capturing special moments was possible thanks to Eastman Kodak. However, the 132-year-old company announced its bankruptcy in January, which meant that the familiar yellow boxes no longer hold any significant value.
Kodak’s struggle – and ultimately its failure – to adjust to the market shift from film to digital meant that its cinelabs (film processing labs for motion pictures) around the world were running out of business. Lebanon was no exception. On January 31, 2012, Lebanon’s only film processing lab shut down.
In 2001, Kodak provided Lebanon with its very own cinelab, which was managed by The Gate, a Lebanese post-production company. Before then, production houses had to send their films to France, the UK, or Turkey for processing.
But the shutting down of the Kodak cinelab did not bring about the expected uproar from Lebanese filmmakers, directors and producers. Opinions were mixed: some saw the shift as a loss for cinema’s artistic value, while others saw it as a way of keeping up with new trends that would eventually pave the way for emerging talents due to the low cost of shooting in digital.
The Gate’s general manager, Boutros Tarraf, told NOW Extra that film is a capital-intensive medium and continuing to process films necessitated maintaining high revenues. He acknowledged the fact that digital has yet to match the qualities provided by film, yet “clients are demanding digital technologies because [they] are much cheaper… That being the case, it was impossible to keep the business of film processing running, and so we shut down the cinelab,” Tarraf explained.
According to Tarraf, 2009 was the year of the shift, and by the end of 2011, it was no longer a secret that film sales had significantly dropped. “Before the decline, around 2007 and 2008, the average of [film] production would be 50,000 meters a month. In 2012, the average is around 4,000 meters and only on project basis,” he said.
Commercial and music videos producer Lilliane Rahal, who’s been working in the industry for the past seven years, backed Tarraf’s take on the Lebanese film processing market. “I’ve noticed the shift in demand [from film to digital] over the past two years. When the ‘RED’ digital camera was introduced, it yielded good results. When Canon 5D came along, it [revolutionized the film industry]: it was very practical and it reduced the budget. [Now] it is used in [making] most commercials, music videos and documentaries,” she stated.
Still, Rahal noted that there are some clients with larger budgets who prefer to use film. “There are people in the market who are after a certain quality of picture… They consider film an artistic medium. In such cases, the question is not which format [is cheaper], but rather, which format is best for the project.”
Cinematographer Muriel Aboulrouss explained that her decision to shoot Lebanese films “Falafel” and “Stray Bullet” on film depended on the nature of the movies. “Falafel was [mainly shot at night]. There was a lot of darkness and street lights… Stray Bullet takes place in the 1970s, so it needed to be grainy and textured,”she said. However, Aboulrouss added that she doesn’t mind shooting with mobile phones if it serves the purpose. “A story is a story, and any format or technique [that helps tell the story] should be used.”
Director Ziad Barazi told NOW Extra in that the demise of film is not because new technologies are superior, but rather that they afford more opportunities for talented people to show their work, especially those in third-world countries.
“Film is still unparalleled in terms of dynamic range and what can be captured when compared to any digital camera available to us today, but I don’t believe that the shift is a complete loss for art,” he said. “The new technology will give way for the increased production of art, and directors will have a better chance to fulfill their visions and share their points of view."