The Director of the Screening
When I think about my involvement with the movies, I realize that it’s all about love. Being ‘in love’ with the moving pictures and helping them to ‘move’ makes me what I am—a movie projectionist. Now, let me tell you something more about this peculiar love affair with the cinema’s parts, films and all that is beautiful and not so beautiful in this kind of ‘relationship’. . .
In this digital era, every day there are fewer operators who can project films on 16 and 35mm. Taking into account that the overall population in Macedonia is about two million and there are only 12 projectionists among them, I must say that we are an endangered species. In past decades there were cinema theatres in almost every neighbourhood and the number of projectionists was larger, but with the emergence of VHS, DVD, Blu-ray technology and piracy, the closing and collapse of cinemas and the cinema is gaining momentum.
Some time ago I accidentally wandered through the old neighbourhood where I spent my childhood and passed by the place that once was the Butel cinema, where back in 1988 I watched my first film. It was Sam Firstenberg’s American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. I was six then, and my friends, all of them living in the same apartment building with me, were there in the cinema that day. We were about 15 children and we all went to see the movie together. Naturally, at the end of the screening, everybody wanted to be ninja, I especially. These days the old movie theatre is out of business, but the building is still standing there. I didn’t become a professional ninja . . . but I did become a projectionist.
Modern technology facilitates our life, simplifies human physical activity down to just one click for the projection of a film. But that’s not always the case. For my part I can say that when screening a 35mm film, 80% of the work involves preparing the film itself, and only 20% in projecting it. Now, after several years of this professional work experience, when I go to watch a movie in a theatre, I have another perception of the film and how it is presented.
There are some anecdotes in the biography of every projectionist who works every day with film—the kind you remember as long as you live they’re so funny. Once, the last five minutes of the film print was so damaged that I had to devote much effort to preparing the film for screening, but due to its poor condition it was impossible for me to complete the screening. I turned on the lights in the theatre, climbed the stage and apologized to the audience for the incident. A man from the audience approached me and said: ‘Well, if you are not able to screen the climax of the film, then you should tell us how it ends’. I was lucky the same film was on the repertoire the previous day, so briefly I told them how the rest of the film went.
Another situation that will remain in my memory is when a film print arrived in the theatre one hour before the screening. This usually happens when you have some important events, film festivals and so on. Because of the short period between screenings, we had no time to do a technical rehearsal and to see the movie from beginning to end. And then, during the screening, we realized that the film reels were shuffled. For the viewer sitting in the darkness of the cinema it looked something like this: at the beginning of the screening, one of the main actors was killed, followed by a funeral and other rituals, but five minutes later, along came the same ‘deceased’ character, very much alive and kicking. . . . This is always a very awkward situation, especially if it happens for a film premiere or when the director is present in the audience for the screening.
I think I may say that if the filmmaker ‘directs the film’, the projectionist ‘directs the screening of the film’. During the screening, the projectionist can make the film look flawless, or by recklessness he can physically destroy the film.
So the next time you go to the cinema to see a movie, think about the significance of the work of the operator who projects 35mm films and the importance of his presence during the screening of the film, beside all the technology and mechanisms that surround him.
© copyright caboose 2012
Tihomir Kashmicovski was introduced to film and film prints for the first time in April 2004, when he was hired at the Macedonia Cinematheque as a film technician. Two years later, he started working as a projectionist for the Cinematheque’s newly-built film theatre. The first film he projected was Pod Isto Nebo (Under the Same Sky), a 1964 war drama by the Macedonian film director Ljubisha Georgievski. When he started to work as a film technician, his first assignment was to prepare films for screening. Later, when the Cinematheque acquired two new 35mm movie projectors, there was a job opening for a new projectionist. For Tihomir, this was an excellent opportunity to gain his place standing behind the projector. In 2008 he completed training in film restoration and presentation and received a certificate as a movie projector operator, qualified to run 16 and 35mm projectors.