Christopher Nolan, a cinema purist, is now facing a scenario of cross-species infection turning into a pandemic. This global phenomenon rendered the ideal environment for old cinema practices to become a public safety issue. Researchers are now more focused on collecting data to predict any future probability of such a situation. Previously, cinema was about sharing an experience in social groups, but the new normal is about prevention.
In all this chaos, where assembly of people has been declared a crime, online video streaming, which was just a room on fire before, has now engulfed cinema distribution methods along with big studios anxious about missing the sailing ship. The dilemma they are facing is how to cut the weight without affecting their infrastructure and revenue stream.
When the film ‘Tenet’ was released, the financial returns alerted the studios, as the returns on Asian markets were bigger than profits made in the American market. A Chinese production, ‘The Eight Hundred’, made close to half a billion, while a Hollywood blockbuster like Tenet made $350 million on a budget of $205 million. Asian markets embraced streaming but also recovered from the pandemic earlier than America. Hollywood generates 65% of the profit from global sales but during the lockdowns remained absent, coupled with its practice of releasing films to theatres in the home market.
Hollywood, in its collective psyche, is attached to the idea of a cinema space. Black Maria is an early example of a dedicated space for moving pictures. Thomas Edison developed it in 1892 for the production and exhibition of the pre-Studio system films. It was in existence for not more than a decade; It was a training ground for some of the most influential cinema pioneers, for example, Edwin S Porter, the director of `The Great Train Robbery` who worked as a cameraman at the Edison Labs. These laboratories defined the aesthetics and content of the initial form, alongside defining initial norms for studio film productions, which developed into broader cultural and practice models of cinema.
Christopher Nolan is a critic of the streaming method of cinema dissemination. In a pre-pandemic world, his films brought in confirmed high profits, although Warner Bros kept the numbers hidden from box office analysts
People who made classical Hollywood could do so with the help of a global pandemic of 1918. In other words, Hollywood was born from disruption and is now slowly losing to streaming services, which were still some years behind from completely changing the theatre-going attitudes, but now have gained traction within some months. It first became evident at the Warner Media announcement of all 17 titles released onto the HBO Max streaming service on the same day of their physical theatre releases.
Christopher Nolan is a public critic of the streaming method of cinema dissemination. He has pronounced HBO Max the worst streaming service. In a pre-pandemic world, his films brought in confirmed high profits, although Warner Bros kept the numbers hidden from box office analysts.
Meanwhile, in Asia, after the release of ‘Tenet’, viewers noticed some subtle attraction between the two male protagonists, some of whom were digital artists who started making art on the fan theory of a possible love relation between O’Neil and the Protagonist.
An analysis of Twitter revealed clusters of a network that majorly emerged around the Twitter handles of these artists who belong to East Asian countries, except one French woman. Although the largest ego-centric network was not related to the queer fan theory, it consists of information retweeted from Japan-based online cinema reportage site @cinematoday.
The largest cluster of the network graph was around several East Asian artists who were producing digital fan art for the film. Activity around these handles is more than the official Twitter handle of the film set up by the studio. The official handle connects to the largest cluster through degrees of separation. @02png, @haruione, @mlle_libellule, @v_latte_nnm, @Kataruruni, and @izes38 were all artist handles with only @02png and @kataruruni obtaining high follower numbers on Twitter — 26.2k, and 47.6k — although others have a similar follower count over the visual social media site, Instagram.
The government should recognise these young off-beat cinema makers and their capabilities to communicate with international audiences. It will allow Pakistan a place in the world cinema that it deserves, considering the rich heritage of literature we possess
@Tenetfilm had the highest number of mentions, n=19. @anilkapoor, a Pakistani-origin Indian actor, had the second most mentions at the expense of Dimple Kapadia, the Bollywood actress who performed in the film. The textual analysis of the graph revealed topics of discussion. A word cloud generator showed ‘robertpattinson’ and ‘neiltagonist’ as the most scaled after `tenet`. `robert pattinson`, with a space, was also in the visibly scaled-up words. It reveals that the social capital of Robert Pattinson, the actor who played a supporting role in the film, brought attention to the niche cluster that became the biggest in the graph due to his popularity. He also had several fan accounts which disseminated many of the artwork with their accompanying hashtags.
World cinema is not limited to cinephiles and academics anymore. Specialised streaming services like Mubi are on the lookout for arthouse cinema with subversive films telling stories that do not deal with a touristic representation of society.
Initiatives from young filmmakers like those at TheArteKari are producing original works in Sindhi language dealing with social issues like unemployment and ensuing mental health issues, or folks at CinemaGhar making cinema-grade narratives for social media streaming, addressing interpersonal relationship dynamics affected by societal factors.
Theatre actor Ali Rizvi has recently produced a short feature titled ‘Madaari’. The screenplay he authored deals with the issue of how political parties in Pakistan exploit the insecurities of young Pakistani men to trap them into the web of political violence. Although, films like ‘Madaari’ will find it impossible to have any screen time in Pakistani cinemas because several variables come into action before allowing such stories cinema space. ‘Madaari’ has a large market in other South Asian and African countries plagued with similar issues. Taking inspiration from the case study of ‘Tenet’, a government initiative that invests into a network construction to promote such films to suitable audiences is inexpensive to construct and maintain. It also creates a niche fan base in different countries, developing a demand for off-beat Pakistani films sharing the intra-subjective reality of commoners and cinephiles alike in different nationalities.
In the past, Pakistani media professionals have complained about the big budgets of Bollywood and the vast screen count they possess. This defeatist attitude has become paranoia that the Indians have a monopoly over Netflix in South Asia based on the original complaint of big budgets and larger screen count. This propagation of false and depressing outlooks by the veterans of the media industry is tragic. However, young filmmakers and intellectuals are proving these difficulties are navigable.
‘A Train Crosses the Desert’, a Sindhi language film produced by Goethe-Institute Pakistan, has made rounds at Asian Film Festival, LA, Hollywood 2020 (USA), Muestra Itinerante De Cine Mx (MICMX) 2020 (Mexico), LIFFT India Filmotsav – World Cine Fest 2020 (India), and 8th International Silk Road Film Awards – 2020 (Turkey). The lead actor Tariq Raja said, “the film was offered to me by the director Rahul Aijaz three days after I had to deal with the transportation of my neighbour to the hospital who was at the last stage of stomach cancer. After listening to the script, I realised how death is the most common experience shared amongst humans but why we rarely talked about it in cinema in a manner that does not normalise it like in those Bollywood romantic comedies.”
The government should recognise these young off-beat cinema makers and their capabilities to communicate with international audiences. It will allow Pakistan a place in the world cinema that it deserves, considering the rich heritage of literature we possess, in both Urdu and the languages of provinces. We have so many stories to tell the world through the medium of cinema by empowering such filmmakers. Facilitation provided by the state will allow them to exploit the digital space to reach far-off audiences and eventually break real or imagined monopolies motivated by geopolitics to achieve a soft image of Pakistan through the power of cinema.