Is It Time To Rename ‘Film’ And ‘Filmmaker’ With More Relevant Terms?

Classic Hollywood Collage

Classic Hollywood Icons : (clockwise from top left: Rita Hayworth,  Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Dandridge, Paul Newman, Gloria Swanson, and Marlon Brando)

 The rise of Hollywood during the silent era followed by the Golden Age (1920’s – 1960’s) established Motion Pictures as a solid, lucrative business. Filmmaking became an industry and directors, including the rest of the creative team were considered as skilled workers, not artists.

‘Film’ was named after the medium it used, ‘Photographic film’. This seemed to be a logical nomenclature till now, because it was difficult to imagine a different name for it. A motion picture is an extremely complex phenomenon, which not only involves the exposure of celluloid medium (or film), but also requires a prerequisite seclusion of its audience to a controlled environment (Cinema/Film Theater), creating an intersensory experience (audio and visual), and is temporal in nature (recorded past events disguised as unfolding present). It would have been an impossible task to find a fitting name for films which will represent all these characteristics comprehensibly. Hence calling it simply ‘Film’ was both convenient and sensible. But can we still call films by the same name? Does it still make sense or are we holding on to a relic of the past?

Let’s look at the term ‘Filmmaker’. This is an obvious Hollywood creation. The word means a person who directs or produces films. So by definition it does not exclusively mean a director. I think usage of both the terms, ‘Filmmaker’ and ‘Director’ are problematic. ‘Filmmaker’ is a generic term. It is a term closer to ‘Dressmaker’, ‘Shoemaker’, ‘Potter’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Blacksmith’ or ’Mason’, someone who makes ‘things’ or  ‘products’ for mass consumption. The word ‘Filmmaker’ is no way closer to ‘Painter’, ‘Sculptor’, ‘Poet’ or even ‘Dancer’. This is due to the fact that early and classic Hollywood never considered film as an Art form and filmmakers as Artists. Filmmakers never enjoyed the exalted heights reserved for Artists of other forms. Even though in modern times, Cinema has evolved into a serious and arguably the most relevant Art form, we have continued to use  this lackadaisical term ‘Filmmaker’ to refer the Artists behind it. An Artist does not make, he creates. That is the principle difference between an ‘Artist’ and an ‘Artisan’. It is time to make a clear distinction between ‘Artist’ and ‘Artisan’ and abandon the term ‘Filmmaker’.


Top: Andrei Tarkovsky. Bottom: Aki Kaurismaki

 ‘Director’ on the other hand is a term which implies a formal administrative role with a tyrannical undertone. It has zero suggestions of ‘creativity or ‘art‘. Now the term director is an appropriate title for most people who direct films as a profession, especially those who do not write their own scripts. They mostly do a job. A creative job no doubt, but they are not essentially artists. The problem arises when these generic filmmakers are put alongside with genuine Artists, due to indiscriminate terminology. There is no distinction between, say, a Roland Emmerich and a Terrence Malick, both are referred using a common expression, ‘Filmmaker’. Tarkovsky, Cecil B. DeMill, Kaurismaki, Michael Bay all are indiscriminately mentioned as filmmakers. This is insane! There is absolutely no distinction between an Artist (Tarkovsky, Kaurismaki) and an Artisan (DeMill, Bay). The French term ‘Auteur’ attempts to make this distinction. ‘Auteur’ rightfully recognizes and credits the Artist behind a film. But the term undermines Cinema itself, by drawing parallels to literature, implying that Cinema is not a stand-alone Art form. Therefore in my opinion, the term ‘Auteur’ is also inadequate.

Most films today are shot digitally. The film medium is becoming exceedingly insignificant, because of various unavoidable circumstances (high cost of films, unprecedented improvement in the digital technology, aggressive push by the studios to digitize the multiplexes). So the practice to call a motion picture a ‘Film’ has become a dated practice. Over the time the word ‘Cinema’ has become a generic term too, covering a broad spectrum of Audio-Visual products, ignoring the vast dissimilarities between Artistic Cinema and mass-scale Film Entertainment. I feel a distinction must be made to draw a clear, dividing line between ‘Art’ and ‘Entertainment’. One can continue to call commercial films as ‘Movies’, as it is a pedestrian term which fits the bulk of the commercial films perfectly. But it’s time to coin a new, specific term for ‘Art films’. My suggestion is to call itKINO-ART. The word ‘Kino’ means Cinema in some languages. But my suggestion is based on a film’s intrinsic nature of movement, ‘Kino’ from ‘Kinesis’. The multiple frames per second movement of films, the principle behind the Moving Image’, has remained unchanged in the digital age (though the frame rate has varied sometimes). In my opinion, no other word captures the inherent nature and distinguishing feature of Cinema as the word ‘KINO’. For the same reason, generic terms like ‘Filmmaker’ or ‘Director’ should be exclusively used for ‘Artisan’ filmmakers, and never used for the ‘Artists’. If ‘Film-art’ is renamed as ‘KINO-ART’, then the ‘Artist’ behind its creation should be called a ‘KINOIST’.

Tree of Life

Terence Malick’s ‘Tree Of Life’ 2011 was shot digitally using a Red One Camera


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