29 janvier 2009

Epilogue '08

Join the discussion at The Auteurs (January 2009) with Andrew Grant, Kevin Lee, Edwin Mak, Nitesh Rohit, Alexis Tioseco and myself :
Epilogue '08 is the final chapter of the year 2008. An online roundtable looking back one last time on the past year in films, after 2008 came to a close and every year-end poll and commentary has been published. We have gathered here a panel of passionate film critics from around the world to feel the pulse of the cinephile life as it unfolded in half a dozen capital cities where cinema is lively and brewing. We get a chance to take a look at the global village of cinephilia, more than ever bound together by the communitarian feelings of the blogosphere and the communication between foreign film cultures, through films and also the international exchange allowed by film discourse in the English language.
List of contributions from the participants :

05 janvier 2009

2008 Film Crit Summits

Many times this year was Film Criticism contemplated and reconsidered, with numerous conferences, roundtables and publications around the world. A decline of the Press business with its restructuring purge initiated this exceptional self-examination, as if critics could only reflect on their role in a changing society when their payroll is menaced...
In a synopsis compilation (see the table here), I've noted 22 events this past year, 16 of which were concerned by the Film Criticism Crisis (in blue on the table). But I was only able to follow closely the complete content of 13 of them, so instead of comparing their respective pertinence, I'll check their compatibility with a 21st century discourse. To me, every conference on cinema should be inclusive of varied and complementary aspects of Film Discourse, and accessible to the widest demographic. Each get bonus (in green) and malus (in red). So my criteria to develop the full potential of such events today are :

(foreign relations and multilingual)

Philoxenia. Welcoming the Other. The "Other" being the one who doesn't match the pattern of my peers (different language, culture, history, country, locale, city, movies viewed, opinions, taste, theories...) Confronting diversified positions, contexts, conjunctures and school of thoughts, makes a roundtable richer and more powerful. Multiculturalism involves the participations of foreigners in the debate, but also the attention to a non-local audience/readership (with translation for international circulation).
Too often these events are isolated elite groupuscules shut out from the outside world, indulging anachronistic problems inherited from the circumscribed conjuncture imposed by the local industry that shapes their mentality.
Movies belong to everyone, beyond borders. Cinema is a global village and issues should be debated openly with the international cinephile community. No reason to keep Film Discourse segmented regionally.
Half of the events on the list are national-centric. The most open to the worldwide scene are Active Criticism in Portugal (but apparently mainly Euro-centric), the NYFF Film Comment panel (which invited critics from Korea, France and Germany), Ouvrir Bazin (with French and Americans but was a truly bilateral conference almost duplicated both in Paris and in Yale!), Responsabilities of Criticism (with scholars from USA, Australia and also by proxy France), the Bazin event in Shanghai (though I don't have much info on the details), and lastly the best one is Où va le Cinéma? in Paris (which actually held a panel on purpose with filmmakers from Argentina, Romania, Belgium, Malaysia).
Mention to the Sight&Sound poll (which invited critics from UK, USA, France, Iran, Australia, Denmark, Germany and Japan but without interaction between them).

(free availability and permanent online archive)

I don't understand the rational to keep the content private, to charge attendance (with prohibitive fees!) and make it a members-only club closed to the general public during the live event... There are other ways to fund an event. The debate itself should be offered to the public domain for the benefit of global Film Discourse.
Certain early 2008 NYC events promised to put up online the transcripts... and never did. So kudos to the Film Comment panel for offering full transcript and videos shortly after the event! Like the Pinewood Dialogues, with audio webcast plus transcript.
The winner of this list is Paris event Où va le Cinéma? with a live webcast of all 11 panels which are archived for permanent viewing.

(multilateral talks, reader feedback)

One of the major improvement (over the Paper Press) brought by Web 2.0 is of course participation of the readers/viewers. Unfortunately first of all there are some unilateral events disregarding any reaction/input from their audience (if there is any), like magisterial lectures, questionnaire, interviews or traditional articles. Honestly I much prefer the more open minded forms of the workshops, panels, seminars. Not only the participants of the conference are able to interact with each other, but with a public (audience/readers) too.
This could be even ameliorated by giving voice to the internet audience, with for example the possibility to leave questions prior to the event (like at the Pompidou seminar in Paris, another award for Où va le cinéma?).

(reaching out to many professions of the industry)

We too often see these debates held among peers, or even between friends who share each others positions. There is hardly criticism within this kind of context. So it's important to favour diversity, reaching out across the aisle to the competitors or the other end of the spectrum to create a productive brainstorming rather than a self-congratulatory consensus. It's more interesting to listen to what filmmakers have to say about their perception of Film discourse from their side of the fence. To invite non-critics to talk about film Criticism theories from their perspectives, like screenwriters or producers or publicists or even onlookers from outside the cinema industry like writers or philosophers or artists...
The critics v. critics always comes down to the same endless territorial battles of preferences and hierarchies.
Fortunately, a good number of these events avoided insularity. And most of them invited bloggers, since the rivalry with the blogosphere was a major issue of this Press crisis.

Thus I hope future events will be designed with these criteria in mind.

Links to the events cited can be found on my earlier hypertext 2008 calendar.
More comments later (in the comments).

N.B. Informations on this table are general indicators, from what I could gather and the eventual replies I received from people who attended. So corrections are welcome if you see fit. You may also add events not on the list in the comments.

03 janvier 2009

Silo Survey - HarryTuttle

Here is my answer to the Silo Survey I've posted earlier here : Who knows where is Film Criticism going to?
The questions are a little pedantic and over-complicated for no apparent reasons (and I tried to tone it down in English!), I give you that, but it poses questions in a new way to go beyond the short term crisis. Because we always read the same clichéd questions about this crisis. It's to consider Cinema as a whole, in all its diversity, its forms, and Film Discourse as a whole.

HarryTuttle (Screenville)


I don't believe there is a crisis particular to Film Criticism today. We've heard these issues before. If Cahiers is going bankrupt and American Critics are laid off, it is a decline of the Paper Press business as a whole, not just the Cinema Press and Film journalists. The shift of advertisers to the Internet necessarily changes the deal. It's the era of decolonisation of the Press empire. An era of post-monopoly of information, that TV and the Press have a hard time to swallow, just like the Music industry couldn't adapt to the free MP3. But the raison d'être of Film Criticism doesn't depend on advertisers or even readership. I refuse to put the blame of a shortage of content on the economical conjuncture. If the Press can't afford to fund film pages, critics need to find new tribunes elsewhere (Internet, fanzine, niche press). Why should critics stay in the generalist newspapers if there is no room to give a proper coverage : brevity without insight, prescription without editorial independence, marketing without cinema.
DVDs more than the Internet have altered the relationship of the viewer with the film. Primarily, the film is no longer an event presented by an auteur, it's an object of consumption that either you own or you don't. Today, critics and cinephiles ask whether a film is on DVD, they don't care if the film has no theatrical distributor, or if they are in fact screened in their city. People want to appropriate a film, even more than to watch them. DVD stack up in piles of potential viewing that are always postponed. The connection with a film has degraded, so casually.
No wonder they end up at museum screenings... where they are respected as exceptional art by reverent visitors came purposefully to meet an artist and not just to spend fun escapist times.


The interaction with a film is manyfold :
  • The emotional response striking the right chords in us.
  • The psychodrama memories resurfacing from our life.
  • The political analysis issued from the Real World.
  • The acquaintance with an auteur's signature.
  • The intertextuality of cinema history.
  • Our idea of what cinema should be like.
  • The buzz (real or fantasized) within the profession...
And the critic needs to be aware of how each of them will forge and influence our opinion of the film, sometimes genuinely (insightful understanding of the heart of the film), sometimes deceitfully (manipulated by mechanics and prejudices). The critical distance is essential. The critic is not a random audience. The (self-appointed) authority to judge artists gives a tremendous responsibility to articulate a finer appreciation than every other viewers'.
I don't review films very much anymore. I only do when I feel the urge to say something new. Which is a privilege most professional reviewers don't have unfortunately. And I'm not a pro. I buy my tickets! I wish critics would write only when they have a point, not because they are assigned to it to get paid. Look around for the difference between pro bono criticism, out of generosity, and the "professional criticism", like a daily factory job.
I never take notes during the screening. I sit down after the film and note everything that came to my mind, with a precise time line of the scenes order to help me remember the continuity later on. Then I let it simmer for some time. I like to quickly point to possible film references that could be connected either formally or thematically. But to write a review I need to find an angle, to understand the particularity of the film, and maybe some key questions it answers. Only then would I try to write something. And often my ideas stay in my notebook because it didn't germinate or for lack of time.


I don't see the nature of cinema changing as much as reading habits. DVDs and the Internet didn't transform (yet) filmmaking, in my mind. What has evolved is the diffusion of images : freely, rapidly, globally. So movies become more accessible to a larger and more varied population. And Film discourse takes a multimedia form more and more.
Criticism has been a franchise of the distribution circuit for too long. If something has to change, it must be to turn critics towards auteurs and films (when they are made, when they première at festivals) instead of only reporting whatever Studios and Distributors decide should be screened that week in that city... Weekly reviews effectively condone and support all choices and (commercial) censorship made by the elective distribution. Cinema history is not an industrial schedule.
If (serious) Film Criticism suffers from a lack of popularity, losing touch with the base of movie goers... critics need to embrace contemporary means of communications, to reach out to a new audience, outside of the acquired choir of exclusive scholars, film critics themselves and hardcore cinephiles. Film Discourse should develop in audio commentary forms (Plastic Podcasts), in video essays (Shooting Down Pictures), in photo montages (365 jours ouvrables), interdisciplinary lectures (CinePhilo), cineclub forums (Girish) and blogs. And we see these forms taken more seriously online every year. Slowly but surely the change is on the way.


Here is a key problem faced by the confused reader. Film Discourse is all and nothing. Critics want to give factual IMDb infos, to be patronising taste makers, committed publicists or speculative theoreticians... all the while being entertaining and snarky. And since they jump from one mode to the next, readers don't take criticism seriously anymore. Meaningful analysis lost authority for the audience who put it in the same bag of impressionistic opinions as any other baseless review. Critics want to be too many things at once, and do justice to none.
Critics aren't the only ones to blame. The press that pushed towards cinema as an industry (fitting in with all schedules, lingo, figures and concerns of producers, distributors and publicists) rather than a production of artworks. And the Studios drag the press closer to their own marketing strategies (junkets, privileged screening, interview deals, movies sold as package).
Film Discourse should be segmented more clearly, in term of venues and writers, even if occasional overlap and exchanges are welcome.
That's why I'd rather want criticism to go back to a primordial state of clarity, simplicity and stability with a well defined object and an appropriate discourse.
Cahiers' attempt to survey the Digital "revolution" has been dubious at best so far. Critics should re-appropriate theatrical cinema correctly first.
I think it would be better if different people (not connoted with the archetypes of film criticism) would engage with new territories like music video, TV ads, TV news, live TV, Vlogs and viral YouTube videos... in order to develop a fresh set of references and jargon that doesn't suffer from the overwhelming history of academic theory. If only to dedicate a full time job to these new media, and not leave them in the sideline of something else bigger.


Film Criticism should be in permanent crisis to stay alert and self-critical. It is healthy and progressive for critics to be sceptical and self-reflexive. There is no such thing as a comfortable established self-indulgent complacent routine that would give us good criticism... The Press is defending its turf because that's the only thing they know, but the prestige they stand for is only a shadow of the past. The blogosphere isn't fully conscious of the new modality it brings to the table, and people don't exploit it to its fullest potential yet. The tools in place aren't facilitating everything either. However, step by step, the change is taking firm grip. And it's there to stay so you better understand it and embrace it already.