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Berlinale Talent Press 2014

Film Criticism Re-Viewed —
Young Critics Introduce Themselves

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The Participants
Wider screen — Andrei Kartashov
Unraveling the Layers of Fiction — Karla Lončar
Beyond Looking — Tara Judah
American Film Criticism's Long Legacy — Christina Newland
South Korean Cinema: Commercial Renaissance and Beyond — Claire Lee
Shaking Up The Cinematic Canon — Daria Lisitsina
Lost For The Real World — Ewa Wildner
The State Of Things — Peru - José Sarmiento Hinojosa

 

Andrei KattashowWider screen
By Andrei Kartashov

While some insist these days that film criticism is dying, others argue that we're, in fact, facing its golden age. I'm not sure that we should necessarily adhere to any of the two extreme opinions; however, if I have to choose which point seems truer, I'll vote for the latter.

I am a child of the digital age — my first steps into cinephilia were in 35mm at theatres and VHS at home, but the decisive years came with DVDs and digital projection. Quite symbolically, I've never published anything on paper. Quite typically for a Russian critic of my generation, I am self-taught — the availability of film classics that came with home video compensates the scarcity and generally low quality of film study programmes in universities of my country. Another typical thing — I have no preference to domestic films over foreign. Russian cinephiles and critics had been waiting for a generation of strong local filmmakers before giving up hope — now we are content with what we have, which isn't much; a nouvelle vague russe never happened, though its advent was hastily declared several times. In the digital age we can afford to be cosmopolitan.

Perhaps it is because I belong to this age that I find it ideal for the career I chose for myself. Criticism is a natural extension of cinephilia: for all cinephiles whom I know (and I know many) it's extremely important to create and share their own canons. And this time's diversity needs canons to be created — as Jonathan Rosenbaum shrewdly envisioned as early as 1995, in his book Essential Cinema. Back in the day options for film viewers and critics were limited even in global cultural centres, let alone small towns or any places where harsh censorship policies were enforced — such as Russia. Even in Paris the writers of Cahiers du cinéma's glorious nouvelle vague generation were dependent on the repertory of La Cinématheque française. Who knows which directors would be regarded as top classics now if La Cinématheque hadn't had any copies of Hawks' movies back in the fifties? Possibilities have grown wider along with movie screens, and now, with a much bigger picture available to us, it's way easier to discover a new Hawks — either among our contemporaries or in the history of cinema.

For those who have the ambition and the aptitude for discovery, it is, indeed, the golden age.

 

Karla Loncar.Unraveling the Layers of Fiction
By Karla Lončar

Narrative film, as an art form, has always interested me, and given the opportunity to study cinema at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, I had gained enough knowledge to experience it in a more profound way. Since I was young, I enjoyed reading reviews of Croatian critics that interpreted feature films as a testament of a unique fictional world, with its own norms of reflecting reality, rather than solely pinpointing a film's faults. By the time I finished my college degree in comparative literature and sociology, I realized that I have enough insight to provide a meaningful, and critical interpretation of many inspiring films myself. By identifying the entanglements of a film story and its possible meanings, represented by a specific cinematic language, I have begun to write essays about films that hopefully embellish their spectators with more critically refined awareness of various aesthetic elements.

My approach to criticism stems from Croatian film comment tradition influenced by the European intellectual heritage. Enchanted with European art-house films and Hollywood classics, a group of talented critics emerged during the 60's and 70's, and set a standard of quality writing that many future reviewers would strive for. Along with their well-articulated interest in cinema, they have also shared a keen interest in film studies. Some of them became film scholars and made a joint effort to produce an excellent two-volume Encyclopaedia of Film. Following their footsteps, every now and then a number of prospective critics appear. At the moment, there are lots of young cinephiles who are eager to write about film. However, due to the ongoing economic and publishing crisis, as well as downgrading quality of commercial journalism, their writings can only be seen or heard on the margins of cultural production. Although noticed by a small amount of people, the media in which they contribute serve as an important meeting-point of enthusiasts willing to discuss film.

Similar to the increase of interest in film criticism, there is also a heightened interest in film production. Every year, Croatian national cinema enriches itself with more and more short and feature-length films, mostly comedies or art-house dramas that in some way deal with the aftermath of the War for Independence. Although somewhat lacking in quality compared to the classics of Yugoslav modernism, the future of Croatian cinema seems fairly bright. As for the future of professional film criticism, the outcome isn't that certain.

 

Tara Judah.Beyond Looking
By Tara Judah

For a long time I thought there could be nothing greater than looking into another world. Then I read Laura Mulvey, B. Ruby Rich, Teresa de Lauretis, saw the films of Peter Tscherkassky, Maya Deren, Paul Sharits, Stan Brakhage and others. Instead of looking into another world, these people were stepping into it, challenging it and changing it. Once I realised cinema was more than looking, the limitlessness of moving image culture became my life's passion.

After undertaking my bachelor and masters degrees at King's College in London, I soon found myself back in Australia immersed in film culture; working to keep our last repertory picture palace alive, writing determinedly about films and local industry and most of all, always contributing to that socially significant aspect of cinema — conversation.

For a big island we have a small industry. Funding is forever being cut, squeezed and squashed, leaving few opportunities that nurture the drive and foster the talent of young filmmakers and critics. We are at a crossroads. Most of our traditional print media is flailing and online models are inconsistent, suddenly thrust into the international arena. When competing with the global dailies it's easy to see why local newspaper pay walls remain unscaled. Conversely, we are seeing a huge influx in independent endeavours with new websites, journals and zines emerging all the time. There are more writers and voices than ever before but there are fewer professionally paid posts. The word critic is often replaced with 'reviewer' or 'blogger' and many consider the job a hobby. Most concerning is that academic and critically trained voices are constantly undervalued with hipster chat and click-bait as king.

Our national cinema faces a similar crisis. Many make their mark in television and music video before heading overseas where I am told the work is better paid and more plentiful. With the Producer Offset scheme in place, most projects that receive funding are co-productions. Whilst on the one hand this creates new jobs and enriches the skill set of our industry, it also complicates what we understand as 'Australian cinema' on the other. Finally, the biggest obstacle is an out-dated distribution model that the studios refuse to reform. The lack of interest in closing the theatrical/home entertainment window locks us into a cycle of piracy that is damaging our cinema-going culture.

It's time to step up to these issues, challenge them, and change them.

 

Christina Newland.American Film Criticism's Long Legacy
By Christina Newland

Good criticism strives to engage with and challenge an art form, to raise the seventh art to the level of literature and painting through salient analysis of the subject. It is far beyond what is objectively "good" or "bad", but seeks to comprehensively understand the cinematic mechanisms that orient a film one way or another; socially, politically, formally. As an American, I have tried to be conscientious about ethnocentrism and cultural exceptionalism in cinema, but my undying passion for Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet and Billy Wilder first inspired me to write about the movies; I might be an Auteurist and a Paulette all at once. That's the remarkable thing about American film criticism — you must walk on the shoulders of giants, which is both a wonderful and a terrifying prospect. From Kael and Sarris to J. Hoberman and Kent Jones, there are few spaces where paragons of the craft do not loom. Today's American journals; Film Comment, Cineaste, Film Quarterly, and The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Village Voice, all prove that American critics are still a deeply talented group.

In terms of American national cinema, it has been a particularly spectacular year, as several previous have been. Most critics are more likely to be writing think-pieces on Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street than to be discussing the long-heralded 'death of cinema', thank goodness. With new movies from Terrence Malick, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Jim Jarmusch, and others — alongside brilliant indie films, like Jeff Nichols' Mud, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha — the death of American movies has long been oversold.

Ultimately, the goal I look to achieve when writing criticism is to tease out the meanings, contradictions, and nuances of a movie; to inform and entertain, and to take cinema analytically as well as romantically. I feel it is important to avoid moral and political dogma and to take each film on its own merit, but that political and moral ideology is still central to understanding cinema. I believe in the capacity of film, not only as pure entertainment, but as an art form which is capable of elevating the human spirit and capturing the political, social, and philosophical condition of an age or a nation. I am motivated to write about films because an art form as glorious and varied as cinema deserves a level of criticism to equal it.

 

Claire Lee.South Korean Cinema: Commercial Renaissance and Beyond
By Claire Lee

Last year the South Korean film industry set a milestone by selling more than 200 million tickets for the first time in history. Nine out of the year's top 10 grossing films were homegrown ones — except Shane Black's Iron Man 3 — including Bong Joon-ho's first English-language film Snowpiercer.

I started working as a culture reporter for one of the three English-language dailies in Seoul back in 2011, and witnessed the commercial renaissance of the South Korean cinema and its downsides over the past two years.

It was also during these years that Kim Ki-duk, one of the nation's most controversial filmmakers, won the top prize at Venice Film Festival for his revenge tale Pieta. Hollywood debuts by Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon were released, while Movieweek, one of the only two local movie weeklies as of March 2013, went out of business.

One of the things behind the commercial success of homegrown films is the concentration of local multiplex screens owned by South Korea's conglomerates, whose subsidiaries also produce and distribute a large number of the nation's homespun films. Most South Koreans watch films at those multiplex chains, where their choices are often limited to the ones distributed by the major firms.

Writing about South Korean films for an English-language media is a unique experience, as my readers are often those who have never seen a Korean film, or those who can't understand them without subtitles.

Having spent a significant amount of time overseas as well, I personally find South Korean cinema fascinating, the same way I find its deeply complex, turbulent modern history fascinating.

In half a century, the nation went through a war, a national division, extreme poverty, military regimes and rapid economic growth.

From Im Kwon-taek's 1993 film Seopyeonje about a young traditional female singer who gets blinded by her father in an attempt to make her a true artist, to Bong Joon-ho's intense murder drama Mother (2009), South Korean films offer a glimpse into anxiety and desire entrenched in Koreans' consciousness.

Amid the commercial renaissance of the Korean cinema, the concentration of multiplex screens and the growing number of Korean directors working overseas, I'd like to capture what makes these films uniquely Korean, and at the same time, uniquely universal.

 

Daria Lisitsina.Shaking Up The Cinematic Canon
By Daria Lisitsina

With major cuts to the arts in the U.K., the film industry is in a tight spot. Funding is hard to come by across the board, but the more experimental projects lacking an affiliated star are very difficult to get off the ground indeed. Nonetheless, limitation once again has proved to be the mother of invention. The lack of finances has meant that the creatives have just had to get a little more creative in their production and distribution methods. The British film industry has long served as an Anglophone anti-dote or alternative to Hollywood. It sits somewhere between European art-house, New York indie cool and Hollywood mass appeal. British actors and directors, the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Steve McQueen, have conquered Hollywood with their effortless charm.

Film criticism, the very thing that sustains and validates cultural production, is having an identity crisis in the wake of what many be perceived as Interenet-aggedon. The plethora of voices and opinions the internet allows to disseminate has put pressure on individual critics to validate their existence and alleged authority. Perhaps as a result, British critics (I'm thinking mainly of Mark Kermode here) have branded themselves, more concerned with being a personality than with producing honest criticism. Everyone loves a review that slates a film — and Brits, of all people, love writing a strongly worded letter, but appreciative high-quality reviews are harder to do.

In my own criticism, I try to get at the heart of something, as well as entertain. The nature of the field in the U.K. is that critics form a niche and are associated with certain areas of expertise. I keep an open approach, but my interests tend to sway towards independent cinema, especially foreign cinema. Luckily, London's cosmopolitan vibe and its numerous small foreign film festivals means that there is a market for cinema from beyond the U.K.'s borders, resulting in a fruitful cultural exchange that feeds back into the work of home-grown talent. I am a film critic primarily because it's fun to spread your enthusiasm for an art form and to contribute to the cinema conversation in some way. I also see my role as a sort of cultural defence lawyer, arguing in favour of works that have been wrongly dismissed and casting a fresh, critical eye on films that have been over-praised and over-hyped.

 

Ewa Wildner.Lost For The Real World
By Ewa Wildner

Do you rememeber Only God Forgives? I bet you do, Refn made sure that his latest film was a memorable experience. No matter if you included it in your 2013 top list or the top list of your personal Razzie nominees, I am quite sure some scenes have forced their way into your mind and threaten not to leave any time soon. For me, it's a dream-like sequence in which the main character wanders around the maze of corridors. The red light of the place makes it impossible to distinguish reality from disturbing momentary visions. And no, I'm not a Ryan Gosling psychofan. It's the hypnotizing atmosphere that caught not only my curiosity, but also the most perceptive layer of my attention.

Just as the negative reviews of that movie, watching such films that stand out is exciting in itself, as is reading texts that make different interpretations and opinions come to light. But being able to write about the pictures that left a trace in your mind and join the global discussion of film aficionados — that's a real privilege. Just imagine: you can pick a sequence of the movie and turn it into words, not only making this seemingly impossible transfer but also consciously playing with it. The mere fact that words and opinions encompass and evoke emotions — these make up for all the doubts, struggles and failures, as well as waking up in the middle of the night with a recurring question in mind: who, on earth, is the target we are writing to?

Why do I want to write about films? Because I can see no other option. Because I'm already lost for the real world. When I see a dog, it's not just a dog passing me by, it's a dog of Ewan McGregor from the Beginners. It is not just a Britney Spears' song played on the radio, it's a piano-performed song by a wanna-be black James Franco in Spring Breakers accompanied by the setting sun and bikini-clad girls with machine guns in their hands and pink balaclavas on their faces (I still haven't decided which part of it was the most hilarious).

And last but not least, I want to write about Polish films. Because I dare say they're worth it. Not all of them, of course, but I advise you to pay attention to the cinematography that seems to be in a moment of passage — breaking taboos and post-communism spirit that still float in the air. You may discover that there are more names than Wajda, Kieslowski and Polanski that are worth the world's, or just your, recognition. 

 

José Sarmiento.The State Of Things — Peru
By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

I decided to write about films when I turned 21. And I never thought I would become a proper film critic.

My preparations and studies were in advertising, and I've been working as a publicist for seven years now. Through all that time, and before, my love of cinema grew strongly and I found myself turn from a simple film blogger, to a film studies enthusiast, to an obsessive film critic, until I co-founded and directed my own web magazine. That was the final result of all my efforts, and now, traveling to Berlin to meet what I hope will be my future kindred spirits, I reflect on this entire journey and the opportunities given to me in a country where cinema is in a constant pre-development stage.

I find myself in a lucky spot right now. My interest in cinema went from films to books, from images to the written word, from criticism to active collaboration with filmmakers. It's a universe I entered with confidence and the desire to meet my heroes, and nowadays I'm glad to say that not only do I know them, I am happy to be friends with them and even work with them. This gift given to me, from a self-taught discipline, to hard work, is a blessing I'm always grateful for. I never received formal training in film studies, yet I feel I've reached so many goals by now. I reckon though, this is just the start, because I will formalize my love for cinema with a post graduate degree this year.

Peru. It's a complicated country for cinema. There are no film masterpieces here (even though some people like to say so), and we live in an eternal incipient panorama of a nonexistent industry. Last year though, it seems like the phenomenon of product placement and some alliances through sponsorship of some brands, have given a fresh breath to the national production. Therefore, we have had a singular number of releases, but believe me, we're far from being a prosper country like the Philippines, whose production and quality of films are simply breathtaking. Here, we're starting something. We're starting the first stage of an industry. It will be through the development of advertising and filmmaking though, and I cannot asses how this will work in the end. Yes, we have a Claudia Llosa, and we have the Vega brothers, but we're far behind countries like Argentina or Chile.

In a country changing constantly, we need people who take risks, new proposals, new blood, fresh ideas, a new way to understand and to watch cinema. Maybe that is our purpose as young film critics, to think about cinema and expand the understanding of it. So here we are. Let's see what the future brings.

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