The panel: David Hudson (Keyframe Daily from Fandor), Nick James (Sight & Sound), Hannah McGill (writer, reviewer and columnist).
If people walked into this thinking the panel were there to reassure them that the world of film criticism, on social media in particular, is a warm and affectionate space, then they also needed to be ready to be shot down- politely, of course. This is not a complaint at all, when it comes to criticism, whether it’s of the crassest and most un-insightful kind, you do just have to accept it as part of what’s out there, especially in the age of the internet. Nick James, Hannah McGill and David Hudson presented their observations about the problems and nuances of being part of the press today who critique and judge films.
Hannah McGill posed an excellent question to the audience:
To what extent is criticism a moral act?
It was refreshing to hear an opinion from someone in the film industry who was willing to criticise the fact that yes, people do place their own personal, political viewing lenses over the films they watch and write about and, in so doing, miss or sometimes skew what the filmmaker’s intent might really be.
Nick James asked, in his approach to finding writers for Sight & Sound:
What woman could write this piece well?
But, the writers who do turn their pieces into political and moral acts first, and film criticism pieces second, are surely shutting out those with opposing political views who expect film discussions?
In regards to covering festivals there was a general and understandable consensus that social media makes things much faster, you don’t want to be the last person to jump on a bandwagon, you want to be the one to start the hype. But then, crucially, there are going to be problems; I think about my time on the Young Jury at London Film Festival this year and how, on the last day of screenings, we had to cast our vote; the time we had to ruminate over the previous films was very valuable – it’s good to have time to disentangle instantaneous emotional reactions to a film from more developed thoughts and feelings that might come up a few days or a week later. In my case the film Raw was the very last we saw and I know that if we had seen it in a different week, maybe it would have been my second choice as opposed to my fourth or fifth. Therefore, trying to be swift with judgements to draw a greater audience earlier can have certain drawbacks in the quality of evaluating a film.
Quite controversially Nick James expressed a belief that fewer arthouse films would be better, as it would spread viewers/critics across them less thinly; fewer of these art films means a stronger focus for discussion, and also for those who are just fleetingly curious about recent art movies.
As a whole, the discussion raised many interesting problems and compromises about the press and film criticism, particularly in regards to how social media has changed much of it, but like many good films there weren’t always definitive answers or fast solutions. What does exist is a sense that as long as films are there then there will be film critics, and sometimes people might even read what they have to say.
Excerpt written by Emilia Rolewicz, from the BFI 2016 Audience Academy, for The Bigger Picture. The full piece can be read on Emilia’s blog, here.
Photography courtesy of Eoin Carey.