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Filmmaker’s Nightmare: NYFF Screening of De Palma’s ‘Passion’ Hits a Digital Snafu

Filmmaker's Nightmare: NYFF Screening of De Palma's 'Passion' Hits a Digital Snafu

With technological evolution comes hiccups. The exhibition and film festival community tell horror stories about the vagaries of showing DCPs (digital cinema packages). While not widely reported, the September 29 NYFF premiere of Brian De Palma’s “Passion” hit a disappointing snafu when the DCP of the film refused to play.

Unfortunately, De Palma was in person for the screening that never was. Reportedly festival director Richard Pena, soon to retire after 25 years of running the fest, came on stage to report that the DCP had worked mere minutes before showtime, but that due to a missing code the hard drive had locked itself down.

At Telluride, Greta Gerwig was in tears in the lobby of the theater where “Frances Ha” had started twice without sound (MOS, as German directors supposedly coined it). Eventually the film did proceed. At another NYFF screening intermittent subtitles plagued the DCP of Mexican film “Here and There.”

Cue the digital hand-wringing. As frustrating, discouraging and worrying as instances like this are, the digital revolution would be unlike any other technological transition in history if it didn’t have potholes to navigate. Patience, people — surely there were some thoroughly botched screenings in the early days of talkies that left audience members wondering why cinema couldn’t stay silent forever.

Check out our TIFF interview with De Palma, who, interestingly, shot “Passion” on 35mm film.

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Possible scenarios:

An encrypted DCP requires a key (in the form of an XML file) to play the DCP within a certain time frame. Key expires, DCP won't play. With "Passion," the key may have expired in error. "Here And There" intermittent subtitles sounds like an encoding error on the DCP. Perhaps it was a server error for both films, assuming they played at the same venue at NYFF. The "Francis Ha" sound issue might have been the projectionist's error. This is all pure speculation on my part.

I further speculate that the two lovely ladies in the picture will indeed kiss each other and might enjoy it as much as I will. :-P

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