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Does film criticism still matter? Of course! Do critics? Maybe...

Does film criticism still matter? Of course! Do critics? Maybe...

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Later today I will be attending a discussion panel at Spazio Cinema, regarding film critics and their current position within the industry. As its title asks, the question of the day is if and why critics still matter. Hosted by Indiewire chief film critic and senior editor Eric Kohn (USA), the panel also includes Beatrice Behn (Germany), Adam Cook (Canada), Giovanni Vimercati (Italy), Neil Young (UK) and Alexandra Zawia (Austria).

As a participant in various roundtables and tête-à-têtes over the past week, I have asked several professionals the same question: what, at present, is the most effective way of making money as a film critic? The most common answer: do interviews. If what drew us to this thing called criticism in the first place was the prospect of chewing into a film or film culture by way of a review or a feature, editors are apparently prioritising their budgets for the person-to-person format of reportage.

Colour me weary. As someone for whom the primary appeal of film culture has always been the films themselves, I don’t read many interviews, and only conducted my first last week, at this very festival. The struggle, for me, will always be against the suspicion that, for all other purposes, you may as well be posing your questions to the press agent who has prepared their client and who is bossing you into a time slot in which you ask the same questions that the person before you did. That’s the struggle, but of course it’s also an opportunity. The skill is in adapting. And for what it’s worth, I found last week’s interview to be more productive than expected. It might prove to be the first of many.

A celebrity fetish pervades film culture. One of the chief appeals of Festival del film Locarno, however, is the large platform it provides smaller films and less-known names alongside the higher-profile talents that grace its red carpet every evening. But what makes going to see an auteur’s latest film so exciting is that its director’s name is never a guarantee of success – or indeed of failure. Put another way, talent is not immune to the social conditions and historical moment that foster it. Similarly, no critic is above the ideas he or she articulates.

We do this because we love it. The question is, then, in intellectual if not monetary terms, does film criticism still have currency? The obvious answer, going into the discussion today, is that of course it does. But ideas have always outlived names, and so despite and because of the fact that wishing to be read by others makes writing an inherently egoistic practice, we should remind ourselves, from time to time, that if the cinema didn’t exist, we would be discussing something else with equal passion. In the end, film critics have a duty more to criticism than to film. Here’s to criticism for the sake of criticism, then. I’ll see you there!

The critics panel takes place at Spazio Cinema at 1330, 15 August 2013.

Michael Pattison
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