Co-founder of International Sales & Coproduction company Totem Films (France)
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Raya And The Last Dragon is Disney’s latest film. It’s a big production, introducing a new character, a great tale, highlighting political questions and yet nothing or practically nothing alerted me to its release. The press followed but didn’t precede it. Nowadays, Disney is “+” and doesn’t need anything: no cinemas, no press, no posters and no cardboard cutouts of their characters in shops. Even reluctant parents don’t need critics any more. The “nothing” has won.
In a time when cinematic content follows and increasingly responds to algorithms and a consumerist mindset, cinematic creation needs more than ever to be supported, discussed, editorialised in order to carry on existing and allow young filmmakers’ voices to be transmitted, seen and heard.
The making of a film is an ongoing discussion.
The making of a film isn’t just subjective, it’s intuitu personae. It starts with the meeting of a producer and a creator before opening things up to various partners. Then, the film is finished and screened. The embargo is lifted, the reviews are out. The film is critiqued.
The first review for a film means it exists. It means finally being the subject and being discussed. For the first time, the words to describe the film will be those of an outsider, who didn’t take part in its making. Are they then objective? I’d like to describe it as a subjective objectivity: An “inobjectivity” to use Annie Lebrun’s term1.
This inobjective voice is crucial.
At the launch of a film on the market, this voice doesn’t so much set “the” tone as set a tone, before it is echoed elsewhere and those voices build up to link the purely professional market to the public market.
This voice is the echo of the “word of mouth” comments that one hears after the first screenings or that we seek out by interrupting a dinner or a drink at the bar.
Now that markets are mostly online, films have been watched by clicking viewing links at home, at different times. No more word of mouth. Has that been replaced by silence? The question of the presence and treatment of the press has been central in professional debates around those new virtual markets.
Although film criticism has experienced a number of issues in the last few years, the Covid 19 crisis has shown - and even highlighted - that this institution is still important. It has served as a point of reference. Reviews have been particularly highly anticipated these last two years because they enable us to embed the film in a certain momentum, a reminiscence of the rhythm of premieres.
In addition, the crisis of criticism is only one aspect of the wider crisis that has hit independent cinema and in particular the area of “sales”.
Today, no arthouse film is “consumable”.
The voice of an auteur, even when it has established and recognised artistic and financial values can quickly be lost and devalued if it lacks in exhibition, in festival launches, in audiences or in presence in the media.
For a while now, we’ve been talking about the apparent disappearing need for international sales agents. This could very well be justified. Yesterday’s jobs don’t exist anymore. Covid-19 has driven this home like never before. In a time of platforms, we can’t simply exist as simple sales platforms for films. Pitching without conveying emotion, without creating debate and fostering discussion, without thinking together at the positioning of the film, without teaming up, nothing can be achieved.
When faced with a film sector that’s had to occupy different spaces since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, it becomes essential to editorialise about the film in advance. This implies supporting the film with written content, with political and artistic positioning, with commitment from the entire chain of command and a coherent strategy in terms of partners, funding and commitment. And hence we need to become international curators.
As international curators, it is important to bring to the fore this voice and use it to engage with reviewers.
It is our responsibility to choose strategic global positioning, to care for and protect those films in which we believe, to defend their positions and find those people who will support and promote them going forward.
It is up to the critics to review, to append this objectivity, to embed the film in a history of cinema, in a genre and create links with the Other, that much cherished stranger that will go watch the film at the cinema.
If we posit that “the Other is and remains a mystery,” by addressing ourselves as makers and distributors of cinema, we’re already addressing this Other. De facto, it has become more and more common to see featured on posters and other publicity material quotes from “Trades” usually reserved to industry professionals.
But we are then faced with the following question: how can quotes from trade magazines speak to a general public and audiences that are increasingly distant?
And even if we chose choice words from Cahiers du Cinéma to put on a poster, would it make any sense when said Cahiers du Cinéma enjoys a 14k print run in France whilst, say, the vlog Fossoyeur de films has 783,000 subscribers on YouTube.
How can we make sure film criticism isn’t just used to append a stamp of approval on films, but to challenge and communicate thoughts and reflections?
So, on one side we have traditional film critics and on the other we have a multitude of voices: communities, assemblies, influencers and followers, who like, dislike, troll and ghost.
Internationally, we’re also faced with a great diversity of views, borne out of particular cultures and histories, with different perspectives, who will watch the same film and will enjoy it for common or different reasons.
For cinema to carry on travelling and meeting new audiences, for us to still be able to work with independent filmmakers around the world, in all sorts of festivals, for us to celebrate our work with certain platforms or our choice not to work with them, for us to keep on working on traditional releases in cinemas, film criticism must unite all those individual voices.
We must work together, freely and responsibly, without being constrained by one another.
It is today necessary for film criticism to address this multitude of voices and views and open itself up to those new currents that carry with them the new perspectives of today’s and tomorrow’s cinema, which will reach an ever-increasing audience. The Union for French Critics who asked us to write these words have already addressed some of the issues being raised. In fact, I’m delighted to see it award its first young critics’ prize to Chloé Cavillier, a reviewer for Critikat & Bref.
“One doesn’t write purely for the pleasure of writing but in the hope their words will resonate with others,” she said as she received her award.
May those words guide us all.
We’re experiencing a revolution, a revolution of views, and it’s a joy to witness.