TV in the cinema

TV is often hailed as the greatest mass communications advance of the 20th-century, but viewers worldwide are being challenged to do away with it this week. To tie in with “TV Turn Off Week,” the Winnipeg Cinematheque is presenting a program of short films which critique our growing dependence on the “boob tube.” The program, How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, was curated by local filmmaker and TV non-owner Jenny Bisch after she came to realize the insidious effect television has on our lives.

“Television is so appealing because it strikes people as a good thing to do when you have no ideas,” she says. “My goal with [How to Talk Back to Your Television Set] is twofold. First, to showcase films that grapple with the pervasive topic of television, and also to give TV Turn Off Week participants something to do!”

It’s a statement that begs the obvious question — why is going to a movie theatre a preferable alternative to watching TV? Birsch believes that even “the simple act of just buying popcorn” offers a genuine human interaction that sitting down on the couch and watching The Hills could never hope to achieve. Moreover, Birsch believes that there are fundamental differences between the ways short films and television shows engage people.

“Short films are more intimate, challenging and engage the viewer on a higher level,” she says; “Televisions shows tend to appeal to the lowest common denominator and want us to get off on seeing people fall down.”

That said, How to Talk Back to Your Television Set shouldn’t be a dour sermon on the evils of television. Birsch is a fan of some programming, like Arrested Development and irresistibly trashy offerings like Paradise Hotel. She believes that the medium “lends itself to humor because it’s so easy to mock”, and, accordingly, many of the shorts programmed have a distinctly comedic, universal appeal. One prominent theme explored in the program, which includes local fare such as David Zellis’ Demons of Bars and Tone and Curtis Wiebe’s Tale of a Televisionary, is how transparent the television medium is in its desire to sell the viewer products, and how willing it is to talk down to us in that pursuit.

Another modern technology that Birsch believes people should try to do without for a week is their internet connections — another thing touched on by the program. Indeed, consider that the average World of Warcraft player spends 892 hours staring at their computer screen every week. Bisch believes that the greatest harm of these modern technologies is that they ultimately hurt institutions like the Cinematheque and other arts and culture venues around the city. In the end, she says, they rob everyone of alternatives to the “fast food entertainment” offered by television and video games.

The bi-annual “TV Turn Off Week” challenge runs from Sept. 20-26. How to Talk Back to your Television Set: Films That Challenge the “Boob” Tube runs on Sept. 23 and 24 with a post-screening panel discussion featuring U of M Film Studies professor Gene Walz on opening night.