Re: Film Critics in the Internet Era

Am I taken seriously as a film blogger? Probably not. Do I get paid for this thing I continue to do? Not really. But, the small crowd I am taken seriously by are important voices in the independent film landscape, a fact that I know based on freelance work I have been offered as a result of this blog. And, after reading Richard Brody's piece on The New Yorker film blog titled The Film Critic in the Internet Era, I am a little pissed about something he said: "Maybe the readers of mainstream publications aren’t keeping up with the best of online film criticism, but the critics in mainstream publications are certainly doing so. Their influence may often be subterranean, but it’s also often strong and crucial." Are online film critics acting as sieves and trendspotters for the well regarded big-wigs? Yup. I don't have a huge problem with this at all (even if I am struggling to make rent!) and that is because online critics are concerned with the future of cinema, not the past.

Manohla Dargis (the NYTimes film critic whose recent article As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity has been torn apart by critics all over the place lately) nostalgically looks back on seeing films -actual films filmed on film- in theaters and seems very dismissive of online platforms (note: she is writing IN PRINT! gasp!) But the theater experience is not what it used to be for the younger generation of audiences & critics. Most young people's early film going experiences are so augmented now (3D, wall shaking bass, more computers than actors etc.) that even the young girl who might eventually wander into the indie realm does not look at film watching as a strictly theater-going experience, quite the opposite. The new generation of moviegoers film watchers are accustomed to seeing films on computers, they don't have the waning moviehouse ardour, especially since the digital shift has put a lot of the repertoire/indie houses out of business. Even if films need the "stamp of the theater" to be reviewed, the audiences and outlier critics sure as hell don't need this. And think of what that means for new independent cinema!

As a kid I found my way to movies through the videostore, unrated foreign films or the bottom shelfies (as Dargis recounts) were my gateway drug to the counterculture of film, eventually leading to my passion for the early days of indies (Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, anyone?), and my move to New York where I dedicated my paycheck to hours of cold, dark rooms with whirring film reels out of necessity: I sought out the films that you couldn't see anywhere else. The film loving teenager I am currently mentoring for her senior project doesn't rely on the videostore for discovering offbeat or non-Hollywood releases, she relies online, a fact that means she can discover nearly any movie, at anytime, regardless of whether she lives in a metropolitan area or not. Like the formative independent days of VHS tape trading (yeah, I have the Japanese released Eraserhead on VHS, complete with photocopied cover!!!), the internet is the new place to discover the undiscovered and pave the way for a new definition of independent cinema. Dargis feel like there is a glut of bottom shelf indie movies out there (and as someone who is on two indie film fest screening committees: SHE HAS NO IDEA HOW BAD IT COULD BE/WHAT WE ARE SHIELDING HER FROM!) but what she doesn't recognize is that even if these movies seem like a waste of her time, quickly shifting from bigscreen to small, the small is where the young generation of audiences can see things that normally went unseen. VOD is the new VHS and this fact is building new viewership, strong online critical voices, and a wholly new independent film landscape.

I think Dargis is 100% accurate when she says "it’s hard to see how American independent cinema can sustain itself if it continues to focus on consumption rather than curation." And I think this is where the future of the online film critic lies: online critics can be the new microcinemas (see No Budge). Online critics can be the new film programmers of new, accessible viewing platforms. Even the NYTimes dabbled in this realm with those short-shorts they produced last year? Commissioned by the media outlet, available exclusively online, paid subscription necessary? And truly new voices in indie cinema also see the benefit in this model, the starkly personal underground title I Hate Myself :) was screened by the filmmaker online mainly because she knew the intimacy of her film would be best experienced there, and that the freedom of expression allowed wouldn't become an MPAA issue. VOD isn't the ghetto or graveyard Dargis sees it as, it is the new-indie (Nu Indie? Indie Nouveau? DigitalIndie? New Digital? Eh...) platform for a new-indie wave and, as exemplified in the first indie wave, subculture so often becomes pop-culture.

Those of us who are unpaid, or underpaid, online critics do it because we love it and want to bring what we believe in- the power and beauty of a new, unrecognized, budding auteurs, the inkling of a visionary filmic movement, a belabored & thought out interpretation of a work that has gone unnoticed, personal attention to a new craft- to other people. Being outside of the mainstream allows us to help shape it, a tradition I think all creative pursuits and movements rely on at their inception. If we continue to act as curators, and do things like appear on more panels, are seen as more legitimate reviewers/have access to more screeners, are employed as consultants or production designers etc. we can really begin to define what the new cinephile will look like. Dargis wants to see less films and Brody seems concerned with the intersection of the old ways and the new but, as an independent online film critic, I am concerned with the future of film and I couldn't be more excited. At least until I am replaced with whatever is next... ;)



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.