Digital for Independent Films: Emerging Pictures
by Marina Vecchio

Since 2002, they have been working in America on a unique way of interpreting the use of digital technology to support cinema projection. They are called Emerging Pictures and Giovanni Cozzi, who is their President, explained the role played by the company with regard to digital technology in a recent meeting with MEDIA Salles.

“Our mission - states Cozzi - is to encourage a different approach to digital technology from that promoted by Hollywood where, in the last few years, the emphasis has been placed almost exclusively on advantages which – in the production phase - regard mostly special effects and the opportunity of significant gains in efficiency, also extending to the distribution phase. Moreover, as regards projection, the improvement of quality of sound and vision has been stressed“.

However, as Emerging Pictures see it, the potential for digital seems to extend far further: “More content, to more places, more quickly ” is the slogan chosen by Cozzi to sum it up. 

Up until now in the United States, the offer of Art-house Films, which counts on 1,000 screens in cinema complexes showing independent and foreign language titles, has been concentrated in the big urban and cultural centres, first and foremost New York, thus implying that the country’s more outlying markets often have no access to this content or only far later on.

That’s why Emerging Pictures has chosen cultural centres (the main focal point of Art-house Films locally) and cinema complexes in nine medium-sized towns in the USA (Wilmington-Delaware, Scranton-Pennsylvania, Ft Lauderdale-Florida, Lake Worth-Florida, Buffalo-New York, Tulsa-Oklahoma, Tucson-Arizona, Lincoln-Nebraska, Martha’s Vineyard-Massachusetts)), as local partners for guaranteeing the digital screening of independent or foreign films at the same time as their New York release:  “Caterina in the Big City”, “Ladies in Lavender, “War Within” and “Mad Hot Ballroom” are just some of the films that were digitally screened by Emerging Pictures during 2005.

“Our objective - says Cozzi - is to intervene on local markets, using the technological and economic advantages of digital, in order to close the gap existing between the demand and offer of independent and foreign-language films. Emerging Pictures’ goal is 45 networked digital screens by the end this year and growing to 300 over the next two years”.

Apart from making distribution more “democratic”, the enhancement of the film product in terms of its experience value: the presentation of festivals simultaneously in different cities, with the possibility of transforming the audiences into a special jury, presenting awards to authors and organising screenings with the directors present, connected by broad band to large and geographically distant audiences. “We have at the same time – states Cozzi – presented festival syndications and other special film events in over 30 theatres”. These are examples of how the company attempts to take film products beyond their traditional boundaries.

But how does digital technology make all this possible? Thanks to the cost saving generated – this is what Cozzi says – by the combination of using reasonably priced projectors and adopting an alternative system of file compression to MPEG2.  The Brazilian network RAIN, which Emerging Pictures refer to, is, in fact, based on a file coding system known as VC1, capable of compressing a film down to 10 gigabytes, thus saving on transfer costs and, more in general, on the management of it.  According to Cozzi, this cost saving, which is missing with the prohibitive technology proposed by Hollywood, ensures that for cultural centres and independent movie theatres the barriers to the adoption of digital technology are removed, as well as the possibility of these venues aligning themselves with the big cities in terms of the cinema’s cultural offer.