Shtick, Shtick, Shtick
My friend Robert Daudelin [former director of the Cinémathèque québécoise] told me once: Above all else, cinema is projecting film. Anything you project that isn’t film is not cinema. Don’t call video cinema, call it something else. Give digital another name, but don’t call it cinema. I’m sorry, but for me, for it to be cinema it has to go “shtick, shtick, shtick”. You have to hear the film stock, you have to see the intermittent, it has to be twenty-four frames. Digital is anything but cinema. An apple pie and a cherry pie don’t taste the same. It’s the same principle.
You can have some student get out of university and say to me: “I have a degree in this and that!”, but they don’t know what an interneg is! A sound negative, what’s that? It might be time for the Cinémathèque to start thinking about training a young person to take over in a few years. There are two of us here, but one day you have to think about transmitting your knowledge. I don’t want to give my knowledge to just anyone. I want a guy who makes me think he’s made for that. I don’t want to show him the job so that six months later he buggers off. I want to show the job to a guy who’s going to be there for a while, ten, fifteen, twenty years, and then after that he’ll pass on his knowledge. There’s lots of stuff you don’t learn in school. There are ways of working, and if you don’t know how, you can break the film, put in danger the preservation efforts that others did before you. You need someone who at a certain point is aware of the need to train people adequately. And the guy you pick can’t be afraid of working on 24 December at seven o’clock or a Thursday night until two in the morning. The projectionist’s trade isn’t a nine to five job and then you go home. There are all kinds of hours and you have to be ready for that. You have to be devoted to it. It’s not a job for raising a family and having children. You can have girlfriends, but it’s not really a trade for raising children. You won’t last long in the trade otherwise.
The projectionists’ card that the ministry of labour used to issue doesn’t exist anymore. It was good until 2005 and then they stopped issuing the card. So today, if someone wants to become a projectionist, he has to find someone who works in the trade. But there’s another important detail. When I began, in the 1980s, we worked a lot with carbon arcs. There was a lot to know about electricity and mechanics. Projecting films was all well and good, but you also had to know something about electricity in case there’s an outage. You have a show with 400 people watching, you don’t call someone who’s going to get there in two hours. People will be tapping their feet. Unless it’s a major break, you have to know how to get your show going again with what you have in the booth. That, more than anything else, is projection. Today we work with xenon lamps, but back then we worked with carbon arcs and it’s much nicer than a xenon lamp. I’ve compared the two, and a ’scope film with a carbon arc is a lot nicer.
I don’t think of myself as a film buff. I think of myself as a handyman [bricoleur], a technician. Maybe one part film buff and three parts technician. A Bresson film, I’ll screen it for you, but don’t ask me to like it! But talk to me about Aki Kaurismäki and his film Drifting Clouds, that’s a film I love. It’s absolutely fantastic. That’s a filmmaker! It’s a film I’d watch ten times. Recently I discovered a film I didn’t know with Shirley Temple, The Blue Bird. I had heard about it and I was totally fascinated by it.
For the first Sommets de l’animation series we had a hell of a job. There were three of us in the booth. You might have a bit of 16mm, then a bit of 35, then another piece on Betacam and then back to 16. We moved the machines around, you had to change the sound formats, the curtains, the image formats, the lenses. You lost four pounds by the end of the night!
I’m a guy who likes playing with optical stuff, lenses, machinery. I like taking stuff apart, cleaning it, repairing it, making things. I’ve had lots of things happen. Broken intermittents, films that wind up and get stuck. And that’s something you only know right when it happens. You have to work with your ears. When you project a film, your ears are your eyes when you’re not watching, or you’re busy doing something else. Simply a sound that’s different, you’ll know. There’s all kinds of stuff that goes wrong! Xenon lamps that burst, breakers that stop. Once I burned my hand when a piece of burning plastic fell off of the machine. I got a real blister from that, my man! Nearly an inch by a quarter inch. I was hurt a couple of times. But the show must go on. It has to keep rolling.
In twenty years my job will no longer be called a projectionist. They’ll call them Mac push-button technicians! “Button pushers”, that’s what they’ll call them! They’ll find another name and pay them less money. When the Cinémathèque goes digital, I’m taking my retirement! With a beer on the balcony! I don’t know what’s going to happen. And when I’m gone, I don’t know what they’re going to do. But if they still want to project 35mm in the future, they had better train someone and take notes, because it’s not something you learn in six months! The guy has to come spend at least two or three years with us. There’s a ton of gadgets to figure out!
The problem is also spare parts for the projectors. If one breaks in twenty years you have to have spare parts. You’ve got to put some aside. Intermittents, belts, straps, pulleys. We’re not too badly off here, we have a few. But at a certain point we’ll have to sit down with the bosses upstairs and tell them: “We’ll need this and this for the next twenty years”. And it’s all well and good having spare parts, but you also need someone capable of repairing the machine! Will the guy know how to install an intermittent? All the guys my age now, in five years, none of us will be here! We’ll all be gone. Then there’s one machinist in Montreal, Ramirez, who knows how to make parts. He’s 72 years old and his son doesn’t do that. But one day you’ll need a machinist to make parts. These are the little details you have to start thinking about. Hurry up, Cinémathèque, before he retires!
Adapted from an interview conducted by André Habib and transcribed and edited by Yann-Manuel Hernandez, who also took the photographs. Originally published in the on-line film magazine Hors-Champ (September 2013).
© Hors champ / Yann-Manuel Hernandez, 2013
Guy Fournier has worked as a projectionist at the Cinémathèque québécoise since 1989. He saw his first film in a movie theatre at the age of twelve—Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Fred Sears, USA, 1956), with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, which he recently screened at the Cinémathèque—and remembers saying to himself: “one day I’m going to see what’s behind those lights!”
He picked up 16mm film projection while in the third year of high school at a lunchtime film society, eventually handling the screenings and working a manual 16mm projector as well. He learned 35mm at junior college, when he became the back-up projectionist at the La Boîte à film movie theatre. For two summers around the age of 20 he travelled around the small parish of Saint-Luc in Saint-Jean-d’Iberville on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights showing films on a portable 16mm projector. He then spent four years as a technician and projectionist at the Montreal film laboratory Sonolab before joining the Cinémathèque.
An automatic rewinder in the projection booth of the Claude Jutra auditorium of the Cinémathèque québécoise. Photo © Yann-Manuel Hernandez.
A view of the seats at the Cinémathèque québécoise from the projection booth window.
Photo © Yann-Manuel Hernandez.
The sprockets of the 16mm projector. Photo © Yann-Manuel Hernandez.