I've been spending a lot of time at the Philadelphia Film Festival this week. Earlier today I went, with some excitement, to see a well-reviewed French action film called In the Arms of My Enemy. Imagine my disappointment when, upon arrival, I discovered that they did not in fact have a print of the film. Instead, they would be showing it to us from a DVD, which would be projected onto the screen.
I'm not talking here about what most people understand "digital projection" to mean in the exhibition context -- a high-definition image generated from a hard drive up in the projection booth. I mean a DVD player hooked up to (roughly) one of these, magnifying the image to movie-screen size with all the expected loss in quality. In this case, the projector wasn't even up in the booth; it was sitting on a cart on the floor, behind the first few rows of seats and in front of the auditorium's stadium seating portion. I decided to stay, though I know more than a few people who would have turned around and demanded a refund. The result was as expected: the image was bleak and muddy, the colors muted, the resolution depressing; if a scene took place in darkness, forget it. The movie was pretty good from what I could see, but I couldn't see much.
This wasn't the first time this had happened to me; I've stumbled upon projected-DVD showings of festival films, super-limited-release films, and -- most disappointingly -- older films I had been looking forward to seeing on the big screen. (When I discovered -- upon arrival at the theater, of course -- that I would be viewing Wait Until Dark off a DVD, I nearly became homicidal.) Sometimes this happens because of last-minute print problems, and that's understandable -- the 11th hour choice is to show it on DVD or not show it at all. But in the vast majority of instances where that's not the case, I'd really appreciate some advance warning. The kinds of people who go to film festivals and repertory screenings aren't the kinds of people who are indifferent to this sort of thing. It's a basic courtesy. Had I known about today's film, I probably would have stayed home.