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The Participants 2007:
An Extension of Filmmaking
By Donal Foreman (Ireland)

There are two reasons I write about cinema: one is investigative and the other evangelical. I write to figure out what I think; to make sense of what films do to me and why that might matter. This is my personal reason — this is why I'd write even if no-one else would read. But I also write out of a desire to persuade. Not so much to persuade anyone of the worth or worthlessness of any particular film, as to persuade them of other ways of looking at cinema — and, as an extension of that, of other films worth looking at: films that their local multiplex may not have deemed worth showing (oftentimes for the very reasons that such films are worth seeing). For me, film criticism isn't really separate from filmmaking: it's an extension of it, informing both my own work as a writer-director, and serving as an additional attempt on my part to enrich film culture in general.

These two motivations of mine partly explain why most film criticism, both in my country and abroad, has meant precious little to me. Irish film journalism is hampered by the same restrictions imposed by many magazines and newspapers around the world: for example, having to review all new releases (and only new releases), with some films getting more attention not because of merit, but often simply because the writer bagged an interview with one of the lead stars. Likewise, the Irish academic film world is besotted with many of the same inadequate and limited approaches to film analysis as journals and universities around the world: for example, treating cinema in purely sociological and political terms, as if movies were merely abstract expressions of society rather than the work of individuals, and as if films that do fit these analyses are of more value than those that don't.

Needless to say, there isn't much room for investigation or evangelism in either of these worlds, and as a result, there isn't, in my opinion, much room for film culture either. Although there are wonderful exceptions to this internationally, the only substantial Irish exception is "Film Ireland", our sole remaining film magazine (its rival, "Film West", folded several years ago). Unfortunately it's an exception that proves the rule by virtue of its own marginality; with a circulation of 3,000, FI has virtually no readership outside of the actual filmmaking community.

Many of the problems with Irish film criticism are not specifically Irish, yet I can't help feeling that the fact that there are so few exceptions to them here suggests some peculiarly Irish cultural weakness. Why is it we have no Jean-Michel Frodons working in our newspapers? No Nicole Brenezs or Ray Carneys teaching in our universities? No online film bloggers like Zach Campbell or Matthew Clayfield? We certainly have no-one of their intelligence or acuity tackling Irish cinema, and though it would be unfair, I think, to blame the mediocrity of Irish film criticism for the (more worrying) mediocrity of Irish cinema…it certainly hasn't helped.

A good cinema depends on good viewers: it is sustained by our critical, passionate engagement. A critical community that functions simply as a consumer guide, or an extension of the sociology department, is incapable of supporting either.

Donal Foreman



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Berlinale 2007

bullet. Festival Reports

Talent Press

bullet. Introduction
bullet. The Talents
bullet. Saturday Feb 10
bullet. Sunday Feb 11
bullet. Monday Feb 12
bullet. Tuesday Feb 13
bullet. Wednesday Feb 14
bullet. Thursday Feb 15