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AT LARGE: Group hug

AT LARGE: Group hug

Several events are taking place at the moment that I find, for want of a better word, reassuring. Namely, the Sydney Film Festival and the World Cup.

These events have little in common, I'm sure you would agree, in terms of either content or scale. They are reassuring because both events had the potential to be reduced by the very technology spawned to support them, and both have nonetheless triumphed.

Just before the World Cup started, I received an ominous-looking letter from my mobile phone network (which is to say, the network to which I subscribe - if it were my network I'd be paying a lot less). Inside was a flyer telling me I could follow the World Cup scores using WAP.

I can't begin to tell you how sad that made me. This flyer gave me visions of poor, lost souls, tied to their phones, reading soccer matches at five-minute intervals and perhaps issuing the occasional "hurrah".

This is not what the phone company envisaged. It imagined grateful customers, always within reach of a soccer score, feeling that they were part of something bigger. It failed to see the isolation it would cause.

However, isolation is not the key word at this World Cup. Big TVs have popped up in every café, every restaurant, every place people gather.

Which brings me to the SFF. Film festivals in general, all over the world, have been in decline in recent years. Part of the reason for this is, ironically, the rise of DVD and video on the Internet. Both of these were meant to be boons to non-mainstream cinema, opening up lines of distribution to film-makers whose work would otherwise never see the light of day.

And the tragedy is, it worked. It's a great time to be a film buff. But it's a lousy time to be an exhibitor or festival curator, because these technologies encourage people to take their film experiences home, to be enjoyed in solitude.

But the other day I arrived at the festival to find several thousand people waiting impatiently to get into the cinema and watch Martin Scorsese's four-hour documentary Il Mi Viaggi In Italia. OK, it's not quite like the turnout for England vs Argentina, but impressive nonetheless.

Home theatre technology be damned - film, like soccer, is a communal experience.

A few people have suggested to me that, as a bleeding-edge technology buff, I ought to be doing something fancy with my upcoming wedding - a webcast, for instance. Pishtosh. My wedding will be even more communal than soccer or movies. If you're not there, you're not there.

Matthew JC. Powell will be there. Join him on mjcp@optushome.com.au.


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