In this exclusive interview we talk to Tom Sherak, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (best known for their Academy Awards, also referred to as “Oscars”). We look at the role of film in society and how it has grown to become such a ubiquitous art. We discuss what makes a ‘great’ movie, some history of film, the economics and future of the industry, and how the internet and other technologies such as CGI and 3D have affected the movie business.
Film has a uniquely powerful ubiquity within human culture. In 2009, across major territories, there were over 6.8 billion cinema admissions (compared against a world population of roughly the same number) creating global box office revenues of over US$30 billion. The convergent nature of film creates consumption across a number of channels. In the same year combined DVD and Blu-Ray sales in the United States, Canada and European Union alone were US$32.5 billion (amounting to over 1.1 billion units sold). When you start to then consider revenues and audience figures from those who consume digitally, via television, repeat view content they already own and view through the highly illegal but vast black-market in films, the figures become truly staggering.
The direct economic impact of film is clear, but the effect to the wider economy is also significant. The UK House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee– in a 2002 report on The British Film Industry stated, “…Of the 23 million people who visited the UK in 2001 — spending approximately £11.3billion — VisitBritain (formerly the British Tourist Authority) estimates that approximately 20% visited the UK because of the way it is portrayed in films or on television. The flow-on effect from film (i.e. the use of services and purchase of goods by the industry) is thought to be that for every £1 spent on film, there is a £1.50 benefit to the economy.”
Cinema has become a powerful vehicle for culture, education, leisure and propaganda. In a 1963 report for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization looking at Indian Cinema and Culture, the author (Baldoon Dhingra) quoted a speech by Prime Minister Nehru who stated, “…the influence in India of films is greater than newspapers and books combined.” Even at this early stage in cinema, the Indian film-market catered for over 25 million people a week- considered to be just a ‘fringe’ of the population.
Contemporary research has also revealed more profound aspects to film’s impact on society. In a 2005 paper by S C Noah Uhrig (University of Essex, UK) entitled, “‘Cinema is Good for You: The Effects of Cinema Attendance on Self-Reported Anxiety or Depression and ‘Happiness'” the author describes how, “The narrative and representational aspects of film make it a wholly unique form of art. Moreover, the collective experience of film as art renders it a wholly distinct leisure activity. The unique properties of attending the cinema can have decisively positive effects on mental health. Cinema attendance can have independent and robust effects on mental wellbeing because visual stimulation can queue a range of emotions and the collective experience of these emotions through the cinema provides a safe environment in which to experience roles and emotions we might not otherwise be free to experience. The collective nature of the narrative and visual stimulation makes the experience enjoyable and controlled, thereby offering benefits beyond mere visual stimulation. Moreover, the cinema is unique in that it is a highly accessible social art form, the participation in which generally cuts across economic lines. At the same time, attending the cinema allows for the exercise of personal preferences and the human need for distinction. In a nutshell, cinema attendance can be both a personally expressive experience, good fun, and therapeutic at the same time. In a rather groundbreaking study, Konlaan, Bygren and Johansson found that frequent cinema attendees have particularly low mortality risks –those who never attended the cinema had mortality rates nearly 4 times higher than those who visit the cinema at least occasionally (Konlaan, Bygren, and Johansson 2000). Their finding holds even when other forms of social engagement are controlled, suggesting that social engagement specifically in an artistic milieu is important for human survival.”
So how has cinema grown to become such a preeminent part of human culture?
In this exclusive interview we talk to Tom Sherak, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (best known for their Academy Awards, also referred to as “Oscars“). We look at the role of film in society and how it has grown to become such a ubiquitous art. We discuss what makes a ‘great’ movie, some history of film, the economics and future of the industry, and how the internet and other technologies such as CGI and 3D have affected the movie business.
Thomas Sherak, whose remarkable career has seen him at the pinnacle of motion picture marketing, distribution and production, is now serving as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is also consulting for Marvel Studios and Relativity Media.
Previously, Sherak was a partner at Revolution Studios. In its seven years of operation, Revolution Studios released more than thirty films, including “America’s Sweethearts,” “Black Hawk Down,” “XXX,” “Anger Management,” “Daddy Day Care,” “Hellboy,” “13 Going On 30,” “White Chicks,” “The Forgotten,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Are We There Yet?,” “Rent,” “The Benchwarmers,” “Click,” “Rocky Balboa” and “Across the Universe.”
Prior to joining Revolution Studios, Sherak was Chairman of Twentieth Century Fox Domestic Film Group. In addition, Sherak served as Senior Executive Vice President of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Previously, he was Senior Executive Vice President of Twentieth Century Fox. At Twentieth Century Fox, Sherak oversaw the distribution and post-production of such films as “Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “True Lies,” “Speed,” “Independence Day,” “Broken Arrow,” “Dr. Dolittle,” “The X-Files,” and “Star Wars: Episode 1–The Phantom Menace.”
In 1990 Sherak was named Executive Vice President of Twentieth Century Fox. Previously, he was President of Domestic Distribution and Marketing for Twentieth Century Fox from May 1983 to September 1984, and again from June 1986 to July 1990. In that position, he supervised the company’s domestic distribution, advertising/publicity/promotion operations and the non-theatrical film division. He has overseen the marketing and distribution of such films as “Romancing the Stone,” “Commando,” “Aliens,” “The Fly,” “Broadcast News,” “Predator,” “Wall Street,” “Die Hard,” “Working Girl,” “Die Hard 2,” “Home Alone,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Die Hard: With a Vengeance.” Sherak joined Fox from General Cinema, where he was Vice President and head film buyer.
He is an active board member of the Southern California Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Fulfilment Fund of Southern California. Serving as Chair for the MS Dinner of Champions gala event for the past 18 years, Sherak has helped raise just under 40 million dollars for multiple sclerosis research and programs. He is a former Chairman of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and formerly on the Board of Directors for the Motion Picture and Television Fund as well as the Southern California Variety – the Children’s Charity. Sherak has also previously served as Treasurer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sherak received an honorary doctorate in the arts from the Academy of Art University in May 2010 and holds a degree in Marketing from New York City Community College. He is also on the faculty of the UCLA Producers Program.
The Concept of Film
Q: What is the role of film in society and why has film become such a strong part of the arts?
[Tom Sherak] Film is a reflection of society, both present and past. I think the film and it’s innovations sometimes has to catch up to society but sometimes it leads society too. Movies are stories, movies are people who come out with ideas about something they want to say, something they want to tell someone. Movies are a form of communication and that communication, those stories, come from societies- not just where society is presently and what it’s doing now- but where society has been. It’s been that way for as long as movies have been around!
Movies are different things to different people, that’s what is so incredible about them. To me personally, movies are about escapism. Movies are about sitting in a theatre, watching something- watching a story unfold with people I don’t know- watching that happen and emoting an emotion knowing that for those two hours, when I walk into that theatre, I don’t have to worry about what is going on outside. I lose myself in what I’m watching. Movies can educate too. They tell us things we never could have known. They tell us things we might not know, and they give us a way to explore the past, the present and the future.
You asked why movies have become so popular, I’m going to tell you why, it’s because the images move… They’re not static. I could stare at a Van-Gogh for hours, but I sit in a theatre and the images move. As the frames move and tell a story, it is that movement which emotionally connects you. To me, this is fundamental about why movies have become global. Every country has stories to tell, about their past, their culture now, and views of what the future will look like through their eyes. What hadn’t happened for many years, and what started to happen relatively recently was a couple of things. Firstly, movie theatres began to be built all over the world- not just here in the USA. In many parts of the world, the phenomenon of movie theatres is only ten or fifteen years old. These theatres give people a place to go, to escape, to learn.
Before that, society had the stories, but they didn’t really have the places to go and enjoy them like that. India, for example, wasn’t making six hundred films a year fifteen years ago. All of a sudden, the business part of film allowed people to invest and make movies- and also have somewhere to make their money back, in theatres! Then the internet came along…
The world is changing now faster than you and I change our socks! It’s constantly changing, and that constantly changing world is going to induce more movie-making. If you go on YouTube, you can see the most talented young people all over the world who take a camera and start to film ideas they have and put them online. They’re going to be the future of the industry. The internet has connected the world together so a person in Vietnam can put a movie on the internet which can be instantly seen all around the world, you simply couldn’t have done that before. Movies have become a world-wide feature- and as it relates to what movies tell us? I don’t know that I knew as much about, for example, Cuba as I wanted to- I’m talking socially not politically. We (the Academy) sent an outreach program to Cuba, and believe me- we learnt SO much about society from their movies. I believe, personally, that movies allow people to be taken places they can’t get to on their own- be it travel, or culture, or learning.
The arts are not just one, they are all connected- and movies have become a huge part of the arts.
Q: What are the impacts of current-affairs, politics, social issues and corporate interests on film?
[Tom Sherak] This is one of the great things about movies. Some movies take sides- you can agree or disagree with the content. Some movies take sides and create a conversation, and that conversation can be in any area; be it political, social, or even within specific disciplines such as fashion. Movies can create controversy, and tell difficult stories. Movies have always either taken a side, remained central, or projected something forward.
During the Second World War movies in the USA created a feeling of valour and heroism in what we were doing and you saw this in films that came out at the time such as the Purple Heart. It was during this time also that John Wayne became a huge star, having progressed to this style from the westerns. We needed to lift our spirits basically…. There is an old movie-saying, which the distribution and marketing people love… During a recession, business gets better! It doesn’t slump! If you look at the numbers of the movie business you will wonder why that happens. It’s because people want to go and get away, and they want to be able to feel different. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the movie content. I’m going to give you an example… Many years ago, when I was at Fox, I was involved with a movie called the War of the Roses starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. It was the story of a horrible divorce between the Roses. It was a brilliant movie- Danny DeVito is a brilliant Director and Actor. Michael and Kathleen, of course, speak for themselves. That movie was previewed ten times before it opened. Audiences walked out yelling and screaming “how dare you make a movie like that?”, “that movie didn’t work!”, “that movie made us mad!”, “who made that movie?” they weren’t happy people! Now you have a movie that didn’t test very well, and you wonder what happened?. The movie came out at Christmas… The press saw what Danny what trying to put into the movie – and all of a sudden whether you liked the movie or didn’t… and believe me many people didn’t like the movie… you had to see it to talk about it! It became part of culture all of a sudden with people asking each other, “did you see the War of the Roses? did you see what happened?”, “what would you have done? would you have killed the dog? would you have killed each other?” – and that’s what so great about the movie business. You can sit down on a plane with anybody and want to start a conversation. You start by saying hello, and asking what they do- but then, if you really want to continue the conversation? “hey! did you see Avatar?”. It doesn’t matter whether you like the movie or not, but it starts a conversation. It’s one of the few things around the world which we all have in common. Can you give me something else which the world has in common? that we can have an opinion on without being right or wrong?
Movies also create debate, they create conversation, they create an atmosphere. Not all movies of course… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that ‘Never Been Kissed’ causes a debate… but movies are often made by film-makers who want to take a position on a topic, and you can debate it. One of the governors of the Academy is a gentleman by the name of Michael Moore who is to the left of the left! Michael Moore makes movies from a point of view, and whether you agree with him or not, whether you like him or not, it doesn’t matter- his movies create debate, and that is a good thing.
Q: What makes a ‘great film’ ?
[Tom Sherak] There’s a couple of caveats here. What makes a great film is that it stands the test of time… That you can look at it years later, and still enjoy it. This Friday, at the Academy, we’re going to look at a film which is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, Raiders of the Lost Ark! We’re going to see it digitally re-mastered, on a big screen. We’re going to see a movie that, when it came out, was not just a big hit… but emoted something. When you sat in the theatre it delivered adventure, suspense, fun- true escapism. Thirty years later, we are still enjoying that movie. Other great movies like this include Godfather, Rosebud, Gone With the Wind, and so many more.
To me, the ultimate prize for a great movie is whether it can stand the test of time, across generations.
If we look at what goes into that.. It always starts with a good story, a writer who puts that story down on paper, and then a collaboration between every other guild that goes into making a movie… The Director, actors, cinematographer, make-up artists, visual effects specialists, and more.
Movies are collaborative, and to make a great movie you have to begin with the story and writing, but then when the Director takes over and brings his mindset- casting the actors, and building that team? It’s that which MAKES the movie. No single person makes a movie, it’s a collaborative event. As an aside, it’s obvious that not all movies are successful. Some movies are just not that good… that happens right? Nobody goes out to make a bad movie, nobody starts that way! Who is going to invest in a movie that they don’t think will work? Everything starts out the same, and it starts to break-down at some point and maybe the result doesn’t turn out the way you wanted… It happens a lot. You can find so many people who are incredibly talented and creative who have gone on to have great careers, that started off with movies which didn’t work. Look at Jack Nicholson’s early work with Roger Corman for example, where he played a monster! All the crafts in the movie business are learned on the job, they are not ‘schooled crafts’ and often you have to fail to succeed.
Failing is not as horrible as you think, as long as you learn something from the failure- so that you can take things to the next step. Talent will always come to the top, and failure will always go to the bottom.
Q: How does film sit alongside other arts such as music, theatre and the visual arts?
[Tom Sherak] Movies inspire, they have a way of setting tones. All elements of art are interconnected, they are very similar. It used to be that you go to a museum and you see an art exhibit and it was someone who was well known- you had lines to see the exhibit. If someone wasn’t well known, it would start small and grow. Movies are like that- but the difference is that movies can both take the lead in creating other arts, and following arts (by which I mean they are able to take a piece of art, and tell the story behind it). When you paint a picture, you just paint that picture! A movie can take that picture to a whole other place… with a story. I think that capability is what separates film, to a degree- from the other arts.
The movie world is set up in a lot of different segments. You have the business world of movies, the art world, the esoteric, the metaphoric. This diversity gives movies their unique directional ability in arts.
Q: What is the role of events such as the Oscars on films, society and the industry?
[Tom Sherak] The Oscar is a major part of the Academy. Not the only part, but a major part nevertheless. The Oscar rewards excellence, that’s what it does. It’s the ultimate prize for people in this business, in all the things we just talked about. In that one year that it’s given, to the movies that are released, it rewards excellence. Why is that important? It’s important for the organisation to give out these statuettes in an area where hundreds of people are creating- to say that within that one year you, as a winner, are at the absolute top of your field, and we are rewarding you for that. Why does that affect culture? We all have movies in common. It doesn’t matter whether we like the movie or didn’t. I’ve always believed that we, as humans, would rather see people rewarded than thrown out with the wash-water. People love to see who wins!
As an organisation, we don’t think of it as ‘who won and lost’ yes, someone is going to get the award and it simply reflects the fact that in that year, in the eyes of their peers, and with the world watching, they stood out above the rest. The international market for these awards will keep growing too- which is no different to the international market for movies themselves. International box office for movies has now surpassed the domestic market, and as more people watch movies, more people want to watch together on the night those awards are given out. So here we are giving out awards for excellence that not only touch the person who gets the award, but also all the people around the world who watched the movie.
Aside from something like the Nobel Peace Prize- and please believe me I am in no way even remotely comparing the Academy awards to the Nobel- I can’t think of many accolades which become part of how you are introduced.. After you win, you are always referred to as the “Academy Award Winner…”. You have that accolade for the rest of your life, and it becomes an internationally recognised sign of excellence.
Looking at Technology:
Q: What has been the impact of technologies such as 3D, Animation and CGI on film?
[Tom Sherak] It’s important to remember that our organisation is the Academy of Arts and Sciences, not just arts. The Science part of the mix is just as important as anything else. The technology of movies, from the beginning has been important. This thing called ‘sound’ revolutionised films. Remember, we started with silent movies- and then sound came along and took movies to a place that the telephone took society, wow- we have sound!
The Academy is on the forefront, with its technology council, in creating technologies in the new digital world. Everybody thinks digital is easy- they think you make the movie, you stick it in a drawer on a little disk, and there you go- it’s done. The disk, however, doesn’t last forever. Did you know, for example, that film- as in physical film- lasts a lot longer than disks? You have to, therefore, figure out a way with digital- no different than the challenges we first faced with film- as to how we can store that forever. The Academy has dealt with these challenges in a landmark report on the ‘Digital Dilemma‘. Technology, however, changes every day- and moves further and further ahead. I will give you a quick personal example. I had to go get an MRI. Previously it took around 45minutes to do the scan. I went to do the same MRI three weeks ago in a brand new machine at UCLA, the same scan now takes twenty minutes.
When you get to our business and look at the technology of visual effects, 3D, and so forth. These are all things that help create an illusion, to help us escape. Some people, in this sense, have questioned whether 3D is a fad. When I grew up as a young man in the late fifties and early sixties, 3D was just coming out with films like ‘House of Wax’. I think at that time, it was a fad. It came, people said wow, and then it went away for a while. All of a sudden, it has come back- and has been used very effectively by people such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and his Dreamworks studio, and Jim Cameron who has created a whole new look in the format. Is it a fad now? I don’t know if that is yet answered. I know that if you look at all the televisions coming out now from Japan, everything is 3D capable- so somebody believes that this technology has a lifespan. We haven’t yet had the ‘product’ to catch up with the platform, but it’s on its way. I believe that eventually we will have 3D technologies which will not require glasses, that would have been unheard of ten years ago. Once you don’t need the glasses, does that mean more people will want to watch 3D? Time will tell…. Right now, this technology is still very much in infancy. Theatres are converting screens to 3D and Hollywood will have to continue putting out 3D movies to fill these screens. For me, one of the things that makes the movie business as exciting as it is – is the impact of innovation on our economics. When you innovate something, and it works, it has a direct affect on economics around the world – meaning that, if I created a new kind of 3D like Cameron has – or if 2D to 3D conversion takes off – and exhibitors around the world put in screens because people want to see it? that creates real economic growth. Movies, in the USA, are the number one exported product! That’s an amazing thing, and creates economics here and around the world! So if we look at the idea of technology and what technology does for the movies? technology allows movies to take stories to places where they couldn’t have gone before, and that technology helps escapism- which is why, ultimately, you go to the movies.
Q: What has been the impact of the internet, social media and allied technologies on films and the business of movie making?
[Tom Sherak] I believe that movies do well, and make money, by word of mouth. I know advertising is a big part, and of course having the right movie to start with, but word of mouth is powerful. Bad word of mouth can kill you, we all know that. Movies have the shortest marketable life of any marketable product. Did you know that you can make a movie for $65 million, spend another $20 million marketing it in the USA and another $30 million marketing internationally and that movie could be gone within two weeks? No other product that I can think of has such a short life, with that kind of investment required.
If, for example, I created a new soap- and I put the soap on the shelf in the supermarket and it doesn’t sell- I can move it to increase visibility- it still doesn’t sell, so I lower the price- I become competitive in getting people to try the product- I have the time to do that. With a movie, you have one chance. That’s why the movie business is such a dangerous game to get involved in. You have a very strong heart and constitution to know that it can go that quickly. How many times have you seen a movie open, and then looked to find where its playing, and see that it’s not playing any more- it doesn’t play because if it doesn’t work immediately! they take it off the screen. The theatres don’t own the screen, they have partners- and those partners are interested in making money- so what’s the sense in keeping movies on the screen if they aren’t making money? So the word of mouth of a movie becomes very important.
In today’s world if a movie is going to reach an audience- they have to realise that their audience, particularly younger people, spend up-to 18hrs a day connected to the internet. This means that comments about the movie get onto sites straight away. So if someone posts, “this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen..” and everybody feels the same way? that will kill the movie… instantly. This happens often. If a movie goes on, and is controversial- with fifty percent loving it, and fifty percent not liking it… that creates controversy… and it [that movie] has a chance in the marketplace.
We have become a world that communicates via the internet. It used to be that I would pick up the phone, or I would see you somewhere, we’d be outside! But now? all that word of mouth, where we communicated, and movies had the chance to grow and breathe? has gone. Now it’s a case of, “you’d better get-em, or you’re not gonna get-em”. The internet has provided the good and bad of that because once a movie review is out- it’s out…. Don’t forget that previously, you read a review in a paper, next day- you throw the paper away. Once a review goes on the net? it never goes away! That’s part of how culture is now. Studios, fifteen years ago, tried to figure out how to avoid the internet. Now they have to figure out ways of how to incorporate the internet into everything they do, because it is that powerful as a tool of both selling and killing. It’s had a direct worldwide impact- it’s a global event. People in Russia will read about what’s happening in movie world in the USA. You will have noticed that a lot of big movies are being released internationally before being released in the USA, it never used to be that way, ever! The consideration was always that for movies which translated for international audiences… if it didn’t work in the USA, it wouldn’t work internationally. Jo Lewis, the boxer, once said, when you get into the ring there is no place to hide. When you make a movie now? there is no place to hide. The world is gonna’ know about it the instant you show it now. Movies used to be worked on, developed and changed. Now? Once you show it, it’s out there.
Looking at piracy- it is the stealing of somebody’s ability to make money from something they created or were involved with. In my mind, this is a horrible illegal act. There’s a whole generation that thinks, ‘if it’s on the internet, it’s ok to have’. If something goes on the internet illegally, it’s NOT ok to have- it isn’t! So you have to try and stop piracy any way you can, to protect the rights of those people who have created the product. The internet has created this image that you can distribute things if you have them, it’s ok, it’s the internet. The fact is – it isn’t ok! The property rights of the people involved in movies, who make a living from the movies, have to be protected. It is incredibly difficult to do. Piracy is all over the place, and you have to bring people to justice who act illegally- there are laws there for a reason. You cannot become a lawless society. You have to have laws to protect people’s rights, these people created these things and they should be allowed to bear the fruit of what they created. Pirates take away from that. Many years ago, I came up with an idea. We were having a lot of problems with people selling videos the day they came out. They were not top quality, you maybe will miss a couple of scenes, but there was still a video, with your movie on- being sold cheap, like a dollar or something. And people would stop and buy the movie, because it was cheaper than the theatre! We were trying to shut them down. Law enforcement can’t just work on the movie business, they are doing a lot of other things. So how do you shut them down? I thought maybe I should go and make a deal with them, with the crooks! Maybe I should say, “look, I can’t stop you, so give me fifty cents on every video.” And then I realised that wouldn’t work, it was a bad idea… I was just kidding if I thought I could do that! The other thing you have to know, is that piracy affects many other businesses. You have to do something about that. Can you be totally effective against it? never… You are seeing it right now with the recent hack attacks. You cannot be totally protected- it’s impossible. But either way, you have to deal with it. If there was a plug on the internet, I guess you could pull it- but that’s not the case. You have to understand the environment, and have to understand that because of the internet- which has taken civilisation to a world it could simply not have reached- you have to protect yourself as best you can knowing that there’s no way to do it completely. Go look at Sony and all these companies who have, unfortunately, been hacked- the bottom line is that if someone wants to hack you, or pirate a movie, they will- but you have to deal with it the best you can.
Through Mr. Sherak’s experience we can see lucidly, the power of movies and how, through the synergistic impact of moving-image, sound, narrative and other elements- they can create a powerful sense of emotion and engagement. Movies can communicate concepts, ideas and stories. They allow us to be cognitively transported to a different time or a place, and experience life through different eyes- gaining new perspectives, inspiration and understanding. Mr. Anthony Minghella (1954-2008, an accomplished film director, and ex. Chairman of the bfi) states in this regard, “…fiction becomes this sort of cultural bank balance that we can draw from. We canmomentarily be a young woman, an old woman, a black person, an Asian person, a Chinese person, and look at the world and argue a position that is not our own for a while — inhabit a position that is not our own.”
McCarthy and Wright in their 2004 paper “Technology as Experience” describe the philosophy behind this suggesting four ‘threads’ of experience- sensual, emotional, compositional and spatio-temporal. These strands, they argue, operate as one during the ‘dialogue’ of a viewer with a film. Their view is supported by many others. Todd Oakley, an academic at Case Western Reserve University, in his 2004 paper “Toward a General theory of Film Spectatorship” also describes how, “Film spectatorship—or at least the most interesting aspects of it—is a conscious activity (Currie 1999): making sense of film is significantly the same as making sense of the real world (Anderson 1996); the spectator uses perceptual and conceptual systems developed for interacting with a three-dimensional world to interact with and make sense of a two dimensional world; therefore, there is no specific, encapsulated, cognitive module for experiencing the movements and gestures of fictional characters projected on a screen, nor are there specific cognitive modules for aesthetic experiences generally…”
This understanding, however, is not new. Since the emergence of man’s first cave-etchings- it has become clear that we possess the ability to communicate emotionally and cognitively through art- which, in context, functions both as and aside to language. The ancient Greeks, for example, inscribed “The Healing Place of the Soul” above the door to the library at Thebes (Riordan & Wilson, 1989), and used drama as a method of dealing with emotions. This cathartic property of storytelling allows us, through metaphor, to access areas of human experience which otherwise cannot be accessed through “rational thought “Of all of our inventions for mass communication” said Walt Disney “…pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”
Film, therefore holds a truly unique place in the story our civilisation. It is an art, a language, a medium for education, inspiration, and so much more. It provides employment for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and enjoyment for countless billions more and provides a living record of the human condition and imagination at any given point in our story.
Against this backdrop, however, we must not forget that more than anything- film is a hugely entertaining medium, and allows us- briefly- to escape our lives and venture somewhere else. That, in essence, is the true attraction.
I will allow Mr. Sherak to conclude with his wonderful invitation…. “See you at the movies!