A Dispatch from Cinefest 2011, Part I: The Scent of Diacetate

Friends enthuse daily about the treasures they’ve found on Netflix Instant. Old media salutes new, with print critics prophesying a day “before too long [when] the entire surviving history of movies will be open for browsing and sampling at the click of a mouse.” For some, the day has already arrived. “This instant, sitting right here,” Roger Ebert recently observed, “I can choose to watch virtually any film you can think of via Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, MUBI, the Asia/Pacific Film Archive, Google Video or Vimeo.”

The annual trip to Syracuse teaches a very different lesson. Now in its 31st year, the shoestring festival known as Cinefest (organized by the dozen or so members of the Syracuse Cinephile Society) suggests not only an alternate history of cinema but also of cinephilia. I have seen the future and it is a conference room at the Holiday Inn.