Cinema is something we all grew up with and we think we know it. Or we don’t think about it much, just sit down and enjoy the movie. But cinema can be a great art. What is Cinema? is an attempt to chronicle where the best of cinema might be today and where it will be, or should be, tomorrow. Andre Bazin, from whose group of essays the title is borrowed, tried to define this from a critical point of view. This documentary instead looks at the films and filmmakers that, in the opinion of the director, might matter today or tomorrow - narratives, dramatic films, and experimental films that use the cinematic tool kit in ways that Picasso or Frank Lloyd Wright or Chekhov might have used their art form’s tools, often breaking the rules, or inventing new ones, asking the audience to look harder, listen more closely, think about the form of the work as much as the content.
This film isn’t an attempt to answer most of the questions it might raise, but it presents and explores these ideas with over 200 clips and new interviews with Mike Leigh, Jonas Mekas, Yvonne Rainer, David Lynch, video artist Bill Viola, Kelly Reichardt, Costa-Gavras, Ken Jacobs, Michael Moore, critic J. Hoberman, and others, and with archival interviews from Robert Bresson, Alfred Hitchcock, Chantal Akerman, Akira Kurosawa, Abbas Kiarostami, and others. The film also includes newly commissioned sequences from experimental artists Lewis Klahr, Michael Almereyda, and Phil Solomon, and original shooting at the Cinematheque Francaise, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Sundance Festival, the Toronto Festival, the Film-makers Coop, and Anthology Film Archives.