Compare and Contrast

MacroCinema is hierarchical, product-oriented, and an attempt to make the world conform to a directorial / studio / corporate vision. MicroCinema is relational, process oriented, and an attempt to make something that reflects and responds to the world as it is at this moment – objectively or subjectively speaking.

MacroCinema attempts to rigidly conform to a schedule and a budget – it is bad to get behind schedule and over budget, and good to be ahead of schedule and under budget. MicroCinema may involve a budget and/or schedule of some kind but these are not its primary considerations, and they tend to be more malleable.

MacroCinema is a business selling a product to customers. As such more customers means more money and is always better – fewer customers means less money and is always worse. MicroCinema is not a business selling a product to customers, it is a focal point for community gathering, the sharing of ideas and art. Though tickets may be sold and bought to these events, the success of the event does not necessarily correlate to its gross box office revenue.

MacroCinema and MicroCinema are not binary and mutually exclusive – they are qualitative terms that can describe different elements of the same process or the same person. An artist can shift over the course of their career from making MicroCinema to making MacroCinema – this is often pejoratively described as “selling out.” Likewise an artist can transition from MacroCinema to MicroCinema – this is often described as burning out, squandering your talent, or failing. However these labels are usually applied by those still pursuing MacroCinema, who may, in due time, also find themselves following the same path.

A project over its own life can start out in one category and end up in another, depending on the changing intentions, resources, or emotional investment of its makers. A project can be conceived MicroCinematically, can turn MacroCinematic due to a new executive producer bringing half a million dollars to the table (along with certain expectations for distribution, etc.), and can wind up tipped towards either category.

On a much longer timeline, this is possible as well – Cult Classics and Passion Projects which were very personal and never successful in their own time can be rediscovered and made broadly popular long afterward. The more common trend is for something to start out in the realm of MacroCinema, in intention or in fact, and subsequently be largely forgotten and lost in a matter of years, decades, or centuries. In a hundred years, all Cinema may be considered MicroCinema – a niche interest group like Ham Radio enthusiasts today.

MicroCinema is not new – though the term only emerged in the last ten years or so, as far as I know, to describe small theaters catering to film enthusiasts, generally with fewer than one hundred seats. Experimental Film and Home Movies, going back to the beginnings of the moving image and the Lumiere Brothers, arguably all fall into the category of MicroCinema. George Méliès, DW Griffith and Charlie Chaplin, also arguably, would be some of the very early practitioners of MacroCinema.

None of this is about ideological purity. A project, a scene, or a shot in a work of MacroCinema can be MicroCinematic. Often these are the very moments most celebrated in a film, where messy accidental brilliance sneaks into an otherwise rigidly planned shooting schedule. Microcinema as an organizing principle revolves entirely around these moments, while MacroCinema resists them at all costs until they happen, at which point they are embraced.

Likewise MicroCinematic resources can be deployed on behalf of MacroCinematic intentions – at best this can lead to fun (kids making delightfully earnest action movies with 10-year old drug kingpin antagonists, for example), at worst it can lead to deep frustration and depression, disillusionment, bankruptcy.

The sensibility of Jill Soloway, Louis CK and the Duplass Brothers are definitely MicroCinematic, though the latter are trending steadily towards MacroCinema – bigger stars, broader releases. Even the work of Judd Apatow, to the degree that it relies upon comedians improvising together, retains MicroCinematic tendencies – perhaps that is the particular genius of great comedians, to make intimate, awkward and embarrassing personal moments visible and accessible to huge audiences.

The rise of streaming television is in one sense a trend toward MicroCinema – with Netflix and Amazon producing their own shows, for example. But I would say that it could more accurately be described as MacroCinema struggling to adapt and survive by appropriating as much of the sensibility and ethic of MicroCinema as possible while remaining commercially viable. We’ll see how that plays out.

On a much longer timeline, of centuries or millennia, I believe that it is MicroCinema, perhaps counterintuitively, that is more likely to endure. Mass produced products of culture have a remarkably short shelf life, generationally speaking. Literally thousands of profitable, popular films from the 20th Century, including many Oscar winners, have been essentially forgotten within decades of their release. Dances with Wolves won at least half a dozen Oscars in the 1990s – how often do you think it comes up in conversation these days, besides as an example of the highly questionable cultural appropriation / white savior movie trope (a shining example, by the way, of Narrative Violence, in my opinion)?

The idea that the internet will make every bit of culture available to everyone in perpetuity is a comforting myth of the present, I think – the wish for ubiquity and immortality manifest, the desire to live on in more than a few strands of DNA in our great-great-grandchildren. We have all probably dug through boxes of old photos in the basements of our grandparents, with only mild, temporary interest in the sepia-toned faces staring out at us. Why on earth would our own traces be any different, whether contained in boxes or on hard drives or on some server in a remote corner of the cloud?

If neither MacroCinema nor MicroCinema will necessarily endure, if famousness and popularity and power inevitably fade (and much quicker than we expect), then perhaps all we really have is this moment, happening in front of us and perhaps our camera, this small group of people gathered together to experience some art and appreciate their shared attention, in this tiny 45-seat venue, on this summer evening.

That, to me, is the essence of the concept of MicroCinema. For the moment.

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