Broadcast documentary and feature on Robert Miniassi by Craig Desson of CBC Radio’s Doc Unit
Robert Miniacchi is the master of an almost lost art. He is in his 60s and says he is one of the few people in the world capable of maintaining and repairing projection equipment.
“I’m really the only one,” Montreal projectionist Craig Deson told CBC Radio.
Miniaci builds, repairs and maintains all types of projectors. Ensures they are working properly, through periodic adjustment and cleaning.
He created spotlights at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Tate Museum in England, and made installations for big names like the late actor and director Dennis Hopper.
“Almost every gallery on the planet has a projector and an episode that I created,” Miniacchi said.
It can take time and knowledge. But Minyasi is both. Although he says there are people who do what he does, most are retired and few have the level of experience he has or the parts needed for repairs.
He hopes to be able to pass on his knowledge.
Minase works out of his garage, but he had his own warehouse in the basement of a mall filled with projectors and parts of all shapes, sizes, and designs.
He said it contains tools that have been in use since the 1950s and spotlights that he considers part of history. He even had a handmade projector when he was a kid.
Miniacci was born in Italy and remembers his first time in the cinema. He said he was shocked by the image on the screen.
He was so intrigued that he wanted his own slide projector that could read cartoons, but knowing his parents were unlikely to oblige, he decided to make his own. After some work and some trial and error, he managed to build it.
“I had a nice little projector that worked…then my parents looked and said we should [bought you one] But I said, I’m glad you didn’t. I had so much fun doing this.’ »
From movement to the banal
Minase, unsurprisingly, is a strong advocate for the experience that comes with filmmaking. Films were first known as motion pictures, thanks to the frame-by-frame motion that was displayed on the screen.
But, Minassi said, the digital version doesn’t have the same beauty as the movement.
“You get something static, synthetically put together by zeros and ones. »
He remembers when his children were small and he had a room in the basement with a projector. Disney’s latest movie will captivate children and their friends.
The same experience, he said, translates to movie theaters.
“In cinema, when you watch it and you watch a movie, you have this feeling of believing that you’ve actually moved on to something that you’re not,” Menacci said.
“Digital…has a very medical and technical quality to it and a very metallic feel. »
Use an example opening scene The spiritual fatherwhich was filmed in low light, mostly showing shadows as a mob boss listens to someone ordering a sleazy favor.
“Nobody can see anything,” Menacci said. “…But that was the whole point, you could almost see the shadows of the individual. Most important is what the words allow, and the film allows you to do that in a perfect way. »
“When it’s digital…it can overdefine things in a way and you lose that ability to create the artistic effect that you want to create. »
The push towards digitization started in the late 1990s and really started to take hold in the 2000s. In 1999, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace It was the first film in North America to be screened via digital projection. Digital movies are now ubiquitous in commercial cinemas across the continent.
This was done as a cost-cutting measure, said Martin Lefevre, president of Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Film.
It was expensive to shoot, edit, and then ship great films to theaters around the world. A digital file can be sent on a simple CD or transmitted by satellite.
“Cinema is an art form, but also a business,” said Lefebvre.
But Lefebvre doesn’t think there’s much of a difference in quality between a broadcast film or a digital feature film.
He acknowledges that some of his colleagues would prefer to see an image exposed, but for him it is difficult to tell the difference. It may depend on preference.
“Sometimes your wish comes true. You think it will be better, you will look better and you will feel better. So there are many myths about the relationship between old media and new gadgets,” Lefebvre said.
“I can’t say it was definitely better on film. I think filmmakers talented in photography can make digital movies, and digital will live up to the work they’ve done in filmmaking. »
It’s always useful to maintain Miniaci’s skills, Lefebvre said, because some films can only be viewed with a projector. At Concordia, Lefebvre said, students learn to use projectors and films.
But he doesn’t expect the movie to make a big comeback.
The future of cinema
Miniashi still has hope in his art form. It sold systems to Los Angeles venues that opened strictly analog theaters.
The push, he said, is coming from young people and organizations like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that promote movie viewing and analog preservation. And the Cinémathèque Québécoise, a film conservatory in Montreal, does the same.
“I think they really want to differentiate their iPhone from the theater experience,” Miniacchi said.
Business has been good for Minyasi. Almost too well, because it is difficult to follow. Many of his former colleagues are in their eighties and no longer work.
“I don’t stop,” Miniashi said. “You know, it’s as simple as that. I said, ‘I’ll stop when it all stops.’ »
But he knows he won’t be around forever and he wants to make sure he continues to know him. Film schools have approached him to work on transmitting these skills.
“I have a plan that I hope will pass this knowledge on to young people. It’s possible. It is not impossible. They are not stupid,” Miniashi said.
“You should only have time. And now, unfortunately… I don’t have enough time to train meticulously. »