YouTube Goes Highbrow

During the L.A. Film Festival this year, I was first introduced to the Youtube Screening Room, an area of the site devoted exclusively to selected independent films. The Screening Room will feature four short films every two weeks, as well as the occasional full-length feature. Right now the four featured films include Miguel Arteta’s hilarious short, Are You the Favorite Person of Anyone? (starring Miranda July, John C. Reilly, and Mike White), Oscar-winner The Danish Poet (2007 best animated short), Oscar nominee Our Time is Up (starring a fantastic Kevin Pollack), and Love and War (“the world’s first animated opera”). I recommend viewing them all.

This new YouTube venture is terribly exciting, and has the potential to revolutionize the regretfully ghettoized short film form. Previously, short films have been largely relegated to life on the festival circuit, but with the Internet (and especially something like YouTube Screening Room), perhaps the short film will enjoy a popular renaissance.

More importantly, this will further democratize (possibly) the entry points to the film industry. Intrepid young filmmakers who score a featured spot on the site (and user-submitted videos will in fact be a part of it) and garner a million or so views will likely become attractive properties for bigger and better things in Hollywood. The Screening Room also provides a potential moneymaking venture for erstwhile unemployed aspiring filmmakers. Videos on the site will be eligible for YouTube's revenue-sharing program, whereby filmmakers split some of the income from the advertising that accompanies their movies.

Finally, I think that if this is a successful venture, it indicates that the future of all art cinema will in the not-too-distant future be distributed first and foremost on the Internet. Blockbusters and event movies will always (well, for a while at least) be outside-the-home experiences, but art films will increasingly be seen via Netflix, HDNet, or the Internet. After all, not every city is like L.A.: most people in the world don’t have film festivals and 12-screen arthouse multiplexes to go to if they want to see obscure films.