What do you think is the definition of Cinema?
If someone asked you this question, a countless number of images would undoubtedly materialise themselves within your very head. Images that span entire generations would engulf you like a gigantic screen in a dark movie theatre; our favourite hero fighting a ferocious foe, two star crossed lovers vowing themselves to one another, a moustachioed man and his comedic antics, a thrilling adventure through space and time, and so much more that my mind simply cannot comprehend.
With all these characters, places, and times, it is perhaps indeed difficult to truly understand and have a clear cut definition of what cinema is.
Fortunately for us here at the Puttnam School of Film, we have Lord David Puttnam himself, who graced the halls (or lecture room) of the school once again, equipped to answer any and all of these burning questions. With his signature smile, wink, and zest, he dove right in, refusing to beat around the bushes.
“At the heart of it, film is all about identity.”
These ten words, though simple in their own nature, put the whole hall in a silence. Ears were now at attention, and it was clear that this seminar was not going be any different from the captivating displays Lord Puttnam had shown before.
Smiling, he continued by referencing a film he watched as a young boy. There was a particular scene he mentioned, in which a soldier blew the final bugle call for a fallen comrade, tears falling down his face as the rest of the camp watched in solemnity.
“I remember that scene distinctly,” he said “Watching those tough men cry and show emotion taught me that it was okay to cry. It was okay for someone like me to cry and express my feelings inside. Looking back at it, it was so important for me to have seen that as a young boy.”
Lord Puttnam’s association of identity with cinema was getting much clearer.
“You know, if you think about it, Cinema is a room full of people in the dark, watching your work, and waiting for you to explain to them who they are. They want to be exposed. They want to discover”. I beamed with inspiration at this remark.
Regardless of how elegantly and enthrallingly said this quote was, I couldn’t help but feel so daunted by the responsibility of filmmaking implied by Lord Puttnam. I raised my hand and asked him “How do we help others understand who they are, if we ourselves are struggling to seek our own identity?”
This was a question to which he smiled, and simply said “You don’t have to have answers for your audience, in fact I’d be more interested in your questions and contradictions. Do not be afraid, never be afraid. It is okay to explore along with them.” I could not help but be uplifted by his point.
If one thinks about it, Lord Puttnam’s claim that film is all about identity holds many truths. It is a truth that spans a wide spread amount of implications, and can indeed be daunting for a crop of filmmakers such as that of the Puttnam School of Film.
But if dissected and simply looked at, it is one of the most endearing and intimate ways to look at film. In essence, what Lord David Puttnam suggests is that film is not just about the story, but it is essentially about the people; both in the story and out. In its core, cinema propels itself to not necessarily define but rather to seek definition. If cinema did indeed have all the answers, what need would we have of it now?
“There is such a great importance and a need for identity in film. You need to be connected to your generation. You must help them release their dreams and who they ought to be, and in turn helping yourself.”
Before departing, Lord Puttnam crossed his arms, stroked his beard, and gleaming, reminded us that “Films are generous. Filmmaking is an act of generosity. They’re your gift to the world.” This perhaps makes all the more sense now, since he has made it clear that because film is about identity, it must be an unselfish, unapologetic medium. It refuses to give in, and pushes to create and foster an identity within itself and its audience.
Going back to my question in the beginning:
What do you think is the definition of Cinema?
Well, Cinema, dare I say, is about people. It is the story of their love, heartache, sacrifice, vengeance, loss, laughter, anger, joy, and so much more. But more importantly, with regards to Lord Puttnam’s words: film is the story of us.
It is the story of the “us” that sit doe-eyed in front of a glimmering screen that engulfs the dark cinema, watching a spectacle with our friends and family beside us. It is the story of the us who seek an answer as to what our identity is, who we are and who we are meant to be.
Film is the story of us. It is the story of you. I guess the appropriate question now would be: What’s your story?
Images by Lor Hui Yun who has been Chief Photographer of the Editorial Committee for past 2.5years .
Aron Castro is a second year student. An admirer of the likes of Tornatore, P.T. Anderson, and Miyazaki, he’s even more excited by the filmmakers he has yet to discover. Outside of film school, he indulges in good meals with good company, as well as “friggin awesome” television series like Breaking Bad, True Detective, and House of Cards.