As film reels have made way for digital files, cinema craft has changed. Researchers from the University of Warwick, working with photographer Richard Nicholson are giving members of the public privileged access to a realm most cinema-goers never venture, the projection box.
The team are part of The Projection Project at the University of Warwick, which investigates the evolving art of cinematic projection funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. They are working to document the changing role of the projectionist, following the switch of most cinemas to digital projection.
The University of Warwick’s Projection Project has conducted audio interviews with projectionists recounting their working lives. Recorded around the UK from Glasgow to Bristol, Newcastle to Cardiff, Birmingham to Leeds, London and elsewhere in between those interviewed include projectionists who are still working, have retired or been made redundant by the shift to digital projection. The recorded memories reach all the way back to the 1940s and cover the changes in the industry since then, from highly flammable nitrate prints and the increased safety of acetate film to the abrupt arrival of digital projectors and the sudden redundancy of many projectionists.
The Projection Project has created a virtual projection box; where visitors can explore an interactive website, listen to interviews with projectionists as they discuss their craft, and learn about the equipment used in projection: http://projectionproject.warwick.ac.uk
Visitors will learn from projectionists themselves about what the job entails, the projectionists’ views of cinema and the aesthetics of the ‘good performance’, contributing to their understanding of cinema as both industry and art form.
Their research also looks at the expansion of projection outside of the cinema. Increasingly people are making use of affordable technology taking cinematic projection into all kinds of atmospheric venues as well as people’s homes and out into the streets, sometimes known as ‘guerrilla projection’, ‘light-bombing’ and ‘projection-mapping’.
Dr Richard Wallace, University of Warwick Research Fellow said,
“It is an old projectionists’ adage that the audience should not know that they are there. It is the tragedy of the projectionist that the better they are at the job, the more their labour goes unappreciated. With The Projectionists we hope to make visible some of the magic involved in making a visit to the cinema such a magical experience, before projectionist are gone forever.”
Neil Thompson, projectionist said,
“You think, ‘This film’s cost so many millions to make and it’s me that’s in charge of showing it. I’m the last link in the chain’. I think this is what I think a projectionist is. From a story to a screenplay, then a crew’s got ready, and then they get the actors and it’s filmed, it’s processed, then it’s sent to cinemas for people to see. You’re the last link in the chain so it’s up to you to present it properly.”
The Projection Project team will give a ‘Secrets of the Projection Box’ talk on Sunday 24 April, 3.45pm, in the Birmingham Museum and Gallery Gas Hall, as part of Flatpack Film Festival. In addition a Virtual Projection Box will be set up for visitors to explore.
An exhibition of Richard Nicholson’s photography is also running throughout the Flatpack Film Festival in Birmingham (20-24 April) where Richard’s images which help to capture this pivotal moment are on display for the first time.
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