Martin Scorsese was speaking during the Toronto Film Festival, which this year is taking place with a combination of physical and virtual events due to the coronavirus crisis.
The pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the film industry, with box office takings plummeting after cinemas around the world closed their doors to halt the spread of Covid-19.
That has led to the erosion of the sanctity of the theatrical release, with more studios opting to launch films digitally.
Meanwhile, streaming services including Netflix and Disney+ have reported huge rises in subscriber numbers.
In what appeared to be a dig at at-home viewing, the director said it was ‘all the more important’ to celebrate the medium.
The Irishman director Scorsese, 77, said cinema was in danger of being “marginalised and devalued” in an apparent dig at at-home viewing.
Speaking via a video message, he said: “The fact that film festivals are continuing to happen, improvising, adapting, making it all work somehow, is very moving to me.
“Because in the press and in the popular culture, what’s happening, it’s becoming sadly common to see cinema marginalised and devalued and in this situation categorised as a form of comfort food.
“So to celebrate its very existence is all the more important and necessary. Because we can never remind people enough that this remarkable art form has always been and will always be much more than a diversion. Cinema, film, movies, at its best is a source of wonder and inspiration.”
Scorsese was among the speakers at the Toronto Film Festival’s virtual awards gala, where winners included Sir Anthony Hopkins and Kate Winslet, who both won TIFF Tribute Actor awards.
Sir Anthony, 82, stars in The Father alongside Olivia Colman. In a video message from his home in Los Angeles, Sir Anthony said he was “astonished” to still be working.
And he dedicated his award to frontline workers, adding: “I want to particularly thank the frontline workers, first responders all over the world, this award is yours. I thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”
Winslet is starring in romantic drama Ammonite alongside Saoirse Ronan.