Magazine article Filmmaker

State of the Union

Magazine article Filmmaker

State of the Union

Article excerpt

Is there any future in professional film criticism? While that question has been bruited plentifully in the U.S. recently, in late October in Tunis, during the 2010 Carthage Film Festival, it got an international workout. At an "extraordinary assembly" called by the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), film scribes from countries as far-flung as Estonia and Egypt gathered to debate the parlous state of their profession.

Anyone wondering why such a convocation would be held in Tunisia might be tempted to recall that a few hours south, in the Saharan dunes, lies the town of Tataouine, which gave its name (approximately) to Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine in the Star Wars saga. Do film critics consider themselves beleaguered Jedi knights, battling an Internet-fed Empire of Philistinism?

It turns out the symbolism is a lot more pragmatic. FIPRESCI represents film critics in 50 countries. (Most members become so via their national critics group. For this American, that means the National Society of Film Critics.) When the assembly opened, the group's longtime general secretary, Klaus Eder, a German critic, noted that FIPRESCI has pushed beyond its traditional identification with Europe and is now well represented in Asia and Latin America. But involvement from Arab countries remains sub-par, he said, hence the decision to stage this gathering in North Africa.

The location and FIPRESCI's outreach meant that there was a healthy contingent from across Africa and the Middle East. And if the discussions here underscored the reality that film critics the world over share common passions and problems, they also pointed up the differences in their situations. Hearing African delegates talk about difficulties arising from political repression and censorship reminds of the freedoms that critics in the West are apt to take for granted.

The sense that film criticism generally is enduring a kind of existential crisis, though, seems well-nigh universal. Noting that cinema, journalism, entertainment and the arts have all changed dramatically over the last decade, FIPRESCI's circular announcing the assembly frankly observed, "While in the times of an 'author's cinema,' the critic and his writings were essential and created a public, the critic nowadays seems to be superfluous, even undesirable. Don't critics get less and less space, aren't they the first ones to be fired when a newspaper runs into a financial crisis, isn't criticism, in the eyes of publishers, unnecessary. …

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