Friday, February 13, 2009

The fixed world of the filmmaker, the interpretive world of the film critic, and the magical line that separates the two

Aside from the few film critics who became filmmakers in the past, my generation of filmmakers - the blog generation of filmmakers - the many filmmakers who started blogs in order to promote their work and other work that they enjoy, & then ended up in the role of film critics or reviewers even for a short while - even for a short, unpaid while - may come to realize a couple of things. One would be: you can be a filmmaker and be a part of the world of the filmmaker, or you can be a film critic, but you can't do both well at the same time - or it is very difficult to do both at the same time.

Because, if you honestly critique films by filmmaker friends of yours or other filmmakers that you may one day have to work with - some of those filmmaker friends of yours may not be friends after you've published your reviews.

An easy - or simple - way to remain a good filmmaker is to not take on the work of film critics or reviewers. An easy or simple way to be a good film critic is to not have to worry about upsetting filmmakers & the professional/production connections that may be severed by doing so. Some filmmakers need critics more than the critics need the filmmakers. Some films don't need critics at all, just a lot of advertising or positive word of mouth generated by fans.

Another thing that my generation of blogger/film reviewer/filmmakers may realize is: the magical line that separates the two professions - film critic and filmmaker - is the fact that there is no permanent, objective good or bad when it comes to art/entertainment.

Excellence or lack of it in art/entertainment is not like difference between good and evil. Those two items, at a very basic level, exist separately & are not interchangeable - good = life, evil = death. But is Inland Empire a good movie? It depends on who you ask, and it depends on what kinds of movies you are into, or, ultimately, it may depend on whether you thought that the time you spent watching IE was time well spent or time wasted.

Excellence in art/entertainment is a matter of taste.

And taste is, or can be, an evolving thing. In film, tastes are, or can be, cultivated by film critics - or can be taught to audience members by film critics and reviewers.

A skilled film critic can argue & possibly convince many people why a certain movie is good art even if most people on the planet can't, at first, see the value in that movie.

So that's why I say that the line is magical - words can add to the value of or detract from the value of a more substantial, physical object - a film. It is like giving life to things by speaking to them - like magic.

But what if the critic has been bought off one way or another & he does not truly believe what he says but says it for the benefits that he gets by saying it? In that case, when it comes to art, it may be difficult to point out/prove that a critic is lying.

Also - what if the critic is just completely crazy - does not make any kind of consistent, rational sense to most people? I guess we can just be amused by that critic - consider his/her writing art/entertainment - but not really related to the movie that he/she is attempting to write about.

Entertainment is an easier thing to deliver than good art. Specially when it comes to comedies, dramas, thrillers, horror movies & other genre pictures. You can tell if a movie is working as it should by watching it with a few sets of audience members.

So, what does all this mean to filmmakers?

- don't believe what your filmmaker friends tell you about your movie - at least not 100%, maybe not even 60% of the positive things they say about your movie

- if your end customers are paying audience members, then it does not matter what curators, film festival selection panels, & critics think about your work - maybe it only matters about 25%, IF your target audience is going to be very happy with the product

- if you are a filmmaker & you have to critique another filmmakers work - keep the negative stuff to a minimum, offer constructive criticism, and praise at length the positive stuff about or related to the film - it's cool, the other filmmaker will only believe 60% of (probably both positive and negative) what you say about his/her film anyway - since you are a filmmaker and not a critic :)

I definitely won't be writing any reviews or critical pieces about films anymore - even if I got paid to do it - 'cause I am too inside the filmmaking world (not like the hollywood filmmaking world, but the real indie filmmaking world - although, the distance between the two worlds are not very great).

So, if critics don't write for filmmakers or they don't write for the audiences ('cause audiences go check out what they want based on advertising, word of mouth, etc.), who do they write for?

Perhaps other critics. Perhaps also for people for whom good film reviews and film writing is enjoyable reading material. I am actually one of those people, I enjoy reading good, well written, preferably long articles about or related to interesting films. I think a lot of other people do too.
Thus the popularity of indie film blogs on the web. Someone should sell ads on well written film blogs & split the $s with the writers so that we have more good stuff to read.

So, what's a filmmaker with a blog to do, if I can't really write - or more to the point, don't want to write - film reviews? I can always post up clips & links to things I like or briefly talk about movies I like or hate - but not real reviews of them, and I can point people to projects that I think may deserve more attention. And of course I'll promote my own work.

Being a film critic looks like very difficult work, I am glad my chosen concern in the film world is making movies (and sometimes spending too much time blogging about stuff related to movies :), and not critiquing them (at least from this point on or from starting a few months ago).

- Sujewa

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