Monday, May 13, 2013

Documentary Film Investigates the (Alleged) Death of Books

By Brad Stone

Who killed the printed book—or at least hastened its demise? That’s the question posed in an absorbing new documentary, Out of Print, by director Vivienne Roumani, which made its debut last month at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be screening across the country this summer.  The primary suspects are e-readers, cell phones, and other gadgets, Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG), sluggishly evolving publishers, Facebook (FB)-addicted teenagers, people who pirate books, and perhaps even the susceptibility of the human brain to various distractions.

Out of Print frames one of the central cultural questions of our time: If books are the foundation of society, as the film’s narrator, actress Meryl Streep, asks in a voice-over, how does their gradual evolution change the world of ideas—and how does it change us?

Roumani, who used to be a librarian, lined up an impressive array of interviews for the film. Author Jeffrey Toobin, Author’s Guild President and novelist Scott Turow, former Harper Collins Chief Executive Jane Friedman, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos all appear. Bezos waxes about the importance of physical books and novels in his life but doesn’t quite account for the role Amazon has played in hastening the book’s evolution. Bookstore owners such as Fred Bass, owner of the Strand Bookstore in New York, aren’t exactly optimistic about the future. “This generation is still attached” to books, Bass says in the film. “A couple of generations down may not even know what a book is.”

I spoke to Roumani this week about her film and the questions it raises.

Read the rest here.

1 comment:

  1. I like this part, "If books are the foundation of society,"

    ...I wanted to ask, If books are the foundation of society, then why are you making a documentary instead of proving the point and just writing a book? Clearly they aren't so confident in books as a means of distributing ideas.