Alexander Skarsgaard, left, Kirsten Dunst, center, and Charlotte Gainsbourg are shown in a scene from  Melancholia.
Alexander Skarsgaard, left, Kirsten Dunst, center, and Charlotte Gainsbourg are shown in a scene from Melancholia. (MAGNOLIA PICTURES CHRISTIAN GEISNAES )
You might not see searchlights or a red carpet, but some of the brightest brains studying the film industry will converge this weekend at York College.

Ian Olney, a York College professor who runs the Humanities Film Series, also serves as the vice president of the Literature/Film Association. When it came time to plan the organization's annual conference, he decided to invite about 60 scholars, some from as far as Europe, to give lectures and present research to their colleagues at York College.

The event also gave Olney a chance to bring two of his former professors and mentors - Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln - to the area.

"They're big influences," Onley said. "I call them my cinematic parents."

He asked Dixon and Foster to give tonight's keynote address - the only part of the conference open to the public. They will talk about their latest book "21st-

Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation." The title of the book will also serve as the theme for the conference, Olney added, since there have been so many recent changes to the movie industry.

On Oct. 4, Dixon was finishing up the final edits of the book in his office. The material will be fresh in his mind for the conference.

Foster, he said, will focus on how more women have become successful filmmakers, producers and executives in 21st century.

Dixon said his talk will focus on a more immediate trend in movies - the conversion from film to digital and its effects.

By the end of the year 35-mm film will be a thing of the past, he said. Distribution companies will offer movies in digital cinema packages. DCPs come with a key that gets plugged into the computer and unlocked by the digital projector in order to be screened. It's more cost effective, but less reliable than film, Dixon said.

"Studios are getting an extreme amount of control," Dixon said. Theaters will have to apply for a key each time they want to screen a movie. Studios will be able to tell exactly when and where movies are being played and will be able to collect fees.

Copies of 35-mm films will go out of circulation and rental companies will no longer send them out for screenings.

"If you don't have a digital projector, you're dead," Dixon said. He added that just like the conversion from silent movie to sound, the latest update will likely force many small, arthouse theaters to close. Digital systems cost tens of thousands of dollars, and will probably need more costly upgrades as technology advances in the future.

The end of film might come as a shock to some, but Dixon said it's been predicted for more than a decade. Studios will likely still make one 35-mm fine-grain master version of each film to bury in a vault as a backup.

Zachary Quinto, left, and Penn Badgley are shown in a scene from  Margin Call.
Zachary Quinto, left, and Penn Badgley are shown in a scene from Margin Call. (ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS JOJO WHILDEN )

Despite the advances of sound and color, movie making remained largely unchanged for a century. But the digital age has forever changed the process, from editing to marketing and acting to direction.

Computer programs have replaced the scissors that cut and the tape that pasted filmstrips together. Test audiences and inflated budgets have led theaters to show what Dixon calls "23 screens of junk and one good movie."

Instead of a film format, black-and-white has become a special effect. "The Artist," an Oscar-winning homage to pre-talkie Tinsel Town, was shot in digital color.

The advent of digital technology has changed how movies make money. High-budget action flicks still rake in millions at the box office, but smaller movies are now switching to On Demand or online screening formats to reach niche audiences. Since Nebraska, like York County, has few arthouse theaters, that was the only way Dixon saw what he said are the best films of 2011 - "Melancholia" and "Margin Call."

The advent of tablets and smartphones will only make it easier to watch movies, or, Dixon added, most movies.

"'Lawrence of Arabia' on a cellphone seems ridiculous," he said.

I used to work for a newspaper. Now I'm a multimedia reporter. I know that going digital can be both unsettling and exciting. As a film-lover, I feel the same way about that industry's transition. But, as Dixon said, there is no turning back. We must analyze as we go.

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 717-771-2051 or send an email to emccracken@ydr.com.


If you go

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, who recently co-authored "21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation," will discuss their book 7 tonight in the Collegiate Performing Arts Center at York College, 441 Country Club Road, Spring Garden Township.

The free event is the keynote address for the Literature/Film Association Annual Conference today through Sunday at York College. Other events are only open to association members. For details about the keynote address, visit www.ycp.edu.


Other conference topics

How books are adapted into movies is a topic addressed at the conference each year. Scholars will look at how new technology has changed how and why books are adapted for the screen.

Ian Olney will present a paper on how Edith Wharton's novel "Summer" used film as a metaphor to talk about the transformation of American culture around 1917.

Film professor, critic and scholar Christopher Sharrett will talk about civil war and cinema. He'll focus on how the Civil War has been represented and sometimes misrepresented in movies through the years.

More film discussion: Read an interview with actor and filmmaker Ed Burns about showing movies On Demand and an interview with "Margin Call" producer and York County native Neal Dodson at www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews.

More literature discussion: www.yorkblog.com/books