Guillermo del Toro in Cannes: the current state of cinema is unsustainable

At Cannes, del Toro compared this pandemic turning point for cinema to the advent of sound in the 1920s. So where do we go from here?

Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro is in Cannes this week speaking at a symposium on the state of cinema and how it can emerge from the pandemic despite setbacks and implosions.

“There are many answers to what the future is. What I know is not what we have right now. It’s not sustainable. In many ways what we have belongs to an older structure,” del Toro said, later adding that in many ways we’re in a moment that resembles the advent of the sound in the 1920s. “The change is so profound. We find that not only the delivery system is changing. It’s the relationship with the audience that changes. Do we hold it or do we seek and be adventurous?”

He spoke with directors including Michel Hazanavicius, Paolo Sorrentino, Lynne Ramsay, Robin Campillo, Gaspar Noe and others at a press conference Tuesday, where the filmmakers addressed issues of streaming and who gets to see which films, when and how.

The pandemic has seen countless theater closures, viewers watching movies at home, art films worse than before, series television reigned supreme and IP roared back with a vengeance while theaters clamored to recover losses.

Del Toro, a lifelong film lover and collector, lamented the disappearance of physical media and how curation is now lightning-fast falling into the hands of algorithms, preventing the joys of holding a piece of cinema in their hands and discovering it for themselves.

“We are losing more films from the past faster than ever before in the present. It seems like we’re not, but the mere disappearance of physical media is already making companies curate what we see for us more quickly,” he said. “The future is not ours, so we are not committed to ourselves, but to the future, to the people who will come after it.”

Far from despising streamers, Del Toro thanked Netflix for allowing him to narrate his version of Pinocchio, set against the rise of Mussolini and a project passed on to other studios. But he wondered, “Things are being done, but are they being seen?” (His “Pinocchio” is due to stream in late 2022.)

Nevertheless, the question arises as to what a “film” “is”. “We have to question ourselves. Are we arguing about the size of the screen or the size of the ideas? Are we arguing that cinema can only exist as specific film material, or is it something that captures us with images, music and sounds and transports us to a place where no other art can live?”

PINOCCHIO, director Guillermo Del Toro with Pinocchio character, 2021. Ph: Mandraketheblack / © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Guillermo del Toro

Netflix/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Del Toro also pointed to the plethora of movies and TV shows available to audiences, and how the struggle to include everything, amidst algorithms pushing us in one direction or another, also goes behind the scenes with its creators feel is.

“Everyone works. Everyone makes a TV series, a commercial, a video, a feature film. We produce more than ever and can watch less than ever. Everyone in this room has 20 movies, 10 TV series, 50 commercials to catch up on, we’re all behind. In a way, we have a train that’s going faster and we’re all running outside the train and trying to get on at some point,” he said.

He questioned “harmful” terms “content” and “pipeline” — a must in the rapidly expanding streaming universe that, if Netflix’s recent fallout is any indication, could be headed for a heat death of its own — to explain where we stand ended.

“These describe oil, water or waste water. Whatever they describe, they do not describe art. They don’t describe cinema because they speak of impermanence, something we just have to wash through. It has to keep moving. In my opinion, a beautiful work of audiovisual storytelling should take its place next to a novel, a painting. We’re not talking about paintings. We only talk about paintings when we are in front of them. A painting is always new.”

He added: “Where we are as cinema and what state we are in is the responsibility of distributors, exhibitors, filmmakers and creators. We have to question where the communication is broken, where we can patch it up.”

But despite the ravages of the pandemic, del Toro touted the resilience of storytelling as a tool essential to our survival — and it’s a mindset that could pave the way forward.

“It took a pandemic to shake everything up. We survived the pandemic because we had three things: food, medicine, and stories. The three things have carried us for so many months and years. We understand that we are in the art of doing a thing of the utmost importance. At the same time, the pandemic, where we are as filmmakers, where we are as a culture, hasn’t just happened to us. We participated very actively to get us to where we are now. Film as a phenomenon, as a cultural phenomenon, has shifted its meaning,” he said.

“The future will show itself whether we want it or not. It just shows up. It slaps us in the face or pats us on the back, whatever it wants, but time will tell.”

Eric Kohn contributed coverage.

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Chris Estrada

Chris Estrada is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Chris Estrada joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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