Here at SXSW, filmgoers are offered an incredibly wide variety of films. In the years that I have attended, I’ve only enjoyed about 50% of the movies I’ve seen. Well, except for last year. Last year’s line-up was AMAZING!
Anyway, the point I’m making is that there is always a good chance that a movie will suck, even at a festival of great repute. I mean really suck. Sure, films are very well-vetted for quality and substance, but the bottom line is that movie selection is biased. The film may have been chosen due to a particular strength, not necessarily for being well-rounded. It may have also been chosen thanks to the filmmaker previous work being outstanding, or even due to their personal relationship with important persons in a festival’s inner workings. It’s the honest truth that there are politics and buddy-buddy dynamics in a film festival’s upper-echelon. Plus, programmers have their own favorite flavor in what they want to push into the spotlight.
On a side note, I don’t have a problem with this. There are plenty of outlets for budding filmmakers to expose their hard work and it takes lots of footwork to get your movie seen. Festivals become known for their film signatures and attendees can seek out the right festival for them. This is precisely why I love Fantastic Fest. It’s more my style, although I liked it better when there were more fantasy features (hint hint).
I’m new to reviewing films. And, by the way, I can not express enough gratitude to Chris and Brian for giving this newbie a chance to find her voice!! Love you guys like crazy!
As a newbie, I felt like I had to do some research and network a little with other film critics for some guidance, as well as a way to stand out. I don’t want to do what everybody else is doing, but I still want to be easy to read, respected and informed. SXSW is an incredible platform for this, and I have had some wonderful chats with other critics. They helped me with some of the points below.
So, two days ago, I walked into a theatre to watch a movie that sounded interesting, with the full intention of reviewing it afterwards. One hour and a half later, I wanted to find the director and kick him in the face for the horrendous creation he had subjected my eyes and ears to!! I sat down in front of my computer and wrote the most scathing, brutal review. I tell you what, that review was precise, objective, and cut like a scalpel. I was amazing and powerful, and I would dash the hopes of the director even considering another go at movies. YES, I could just imagine him happening to read my review and feel the salt of my words in his wounds, because surely, nobody would ever consider distributing his filth! BWAH, HA HA!!!
I deleted my review the next day. It felt horrible that I had even written it, because there are some important things that we should remember as film critics:
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility & Reputation
Thank you Spider-Man for this quote, because it is a basic lesson in life that we should all remember. And while I am by no means a powerful film critic, some of us out there are. I have chatted with folk who have thousands of followers and write for important and popular publications. Their words are seen by the who’s who of the film world. They ignite the buzz that creates interest in a movie and can influence if a distributor’s representative takes the time to check it out. Their words are important, and it’s a shame that some of them spit at a valiant effort. The truth is, NOT writing about a crappy movie is more effective at shutting it down. No news is not good news in the world of media. So, instead of dashing somebody’s hard work, I’m going to refrain from saying anything at all.
A Bully is a Bully
Let’s face it, there is a short-lived power trip in putting something down. It’s a cheap thrill, and it’s shameful. However, showing respect to the filmmakers and having empathy for the years of collective effort it took to make even the lowest quality of film shows true character. Remember that the people working on a substandard movie may only lack experience, or maybe they just had a crazy set of circumstances interfere with their vision. What if half-way through production it became obvious that the project was terrible, but it was too late to stop? The pressure to complete a multi-million dollar, third-party funded project is immense. Then to have somebody stomp on your work for bravely seeing it through is just horrible. It’s like kicking the nerdy guy at school when he’s already dealing with a ton of outside disadvantages. I want to be the nice guy, because you never know what that same filmmaker has up his/her sleeve after all the experience gained and lessons learned from his adversity.
Negative Reviews Are Pointless
As I’ve mentioned before, saying nothing about a bad movie is way more effective and respectful than publicly stoning it to death. Like a public stoning, (geesh, that’s admittedly a terrifying analogy, sorry), it creates spectacle and curiosity. It challenges readers to wonder if it was really that bad. It might even drive people to go see it just to see if they hate it too. Misery loves company, and readers might want to be in on the joke. If you really think a movie doesn’t deserve to be lauded, just create a negative space by staying silent.
One might argue that a huge box-office film deserves to be put down if it insultingly panders to the lowest common denominator. Some movies are just made to make money. So what? Do critics really think that they can stop the masses from throwing their money at ginormous movies that have big names, big guns, big explosions and cheap laughs? Let’s be reminded of the ancient Romans and the gladiator sports. People have always been bloodthirsty for easy entertainment; why get in their way?
In addition, in making the rounds networking with folks, I’ve discovered that reviewers who frequently post negative reviews are dismissed easily by others. People know that, most likely, these critics will hate on a film, and so they don’t take their critiques seriously. Hmm, I certainly don’t want to be written off. I want respect and a big aspect of that is giving credit where credit is due.
There Are Really Great Unsung Heroes That Need Positive Reviews
This is the biggest crime of all. The time we spend yammering on and rolling our eyes about how AWEFUL a movie was is an opportunity lost in watching and promoting that little film that needs every bit of support. I’ve seen dozens of movies at film festivals that disappeared into the fog of time that deserved a bigger audience. It’s that saddest thing that a movie is lost this way. In the meantime, critics are hammering home how terrible a huge studio-backed film was instead of letting it go and focusing on the next screening.
So, having said all of this, I know I might prick the feelers of some critics out there. Sorry, I just love film and can’t imagine making the mistake of turning it into a negative feeding frenzy. It’s a psychological fact that negativity feeds itself as a natural survival instinct. If I started on that path, it would surely grow into a habit and being more positive is a point I’m trying to make in my writing career as well as in my personal life.
I ask my colleagues to take on the old adage that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s not a critic’s responsibility to tear movies apart; it’s our job to expose the public to art. Let’s do our job, and let’s be kind.
Thanks for reading,
Diva Del Mar