Can a newspaper “support” a local film festival while publishing negative reviews from its critics of some of the films in that festival?
I think the answer is an obvious yes. But two audience members, who both submitted letters to the editor today, seem to think otherwise.
Jill Fisher writes:
Many thanks to Fresno Filmworks for the opportunity to become a Citizen of the World by way of the fabulous 7th annual Fresno Film Festival. The film program was truly incredible, the Q&A’s so stimulating and the opening night party so classy!
The only disappointment was the lack of support by the local film critics, who apparently were not in attendance. Instead, Fresno Bee readers were given the usual uninformed, uninspired reviews — the equivalent of an 8th grade book report, replete with a letter grade. And the fantastic program of short films was entirely dismissed.
For those desiring a more nuanced and knowledgeable film analysis, may I suggest going online to read reviews from the NY Times, the LA Times, Rotten Tomatoes, etc. Not only will you be encouraged to step outside your comfort zone, to be open to something other than the standard linear narrative, but you will realize how wonderfully fortunate we are to have Fresno Filmworks.
And Keith Seaman writes:
Kudos to Joy Quigley and the staff, volunteers, and sponsors of Fresno Film Works for the first class (and very classy) film festival at the Tower Theater this past weekend. FFW worked tirelessly to provide cinematic succor to a community starved for independent films.
No thanks to the Bee’s own Rick Bentley. After writing in the Bee (along with Donald Munro) about “the drought of independent films in local theaters”, he proceeds to summarily dismiss two of the festival’s finest offerings; Le Quattro Volte and Tiny Furniture. It’s unfortunate Mr. Bentley missed what so many nationally revered critics, as well as festival attendees, praised. What’s more unfortunate is the toll his obtuse observations took on festival attendance.
Mr. Bentley has a right to his opinions, but the Fresno Bee has a responsibility to this community to make sure the people they employ as film critics are up to the task.
This came on top of a comment posted by board member Jim Piper in response to my query about what other viewers thought of the movie “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” which I panned. Piper wrote:
You might have been a little kinder, as were A.O.Scott (NY Times) and David Lewis (Chronicle). They did not rave about the film, but they did prepare readers for its strangeness.They served educative functions. They might have made a few friends for art film, ethnographic cinema, for the offbeat and experimental.
You too might have done this. Certainly we get enough in the way of predictable moviemaking from the multiplexes; Fresnans can use a little weirdness in their film fare.
Filmworks Festivals nearly always include one film like ‘Uncle Boonmee,” on purpose. Help us out next time.
Some thoughts: In terms of the two letters, hey, I’m a critic, so I’m used to getting trashed. So is Rick. But I do think there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
As an entertainment journalist, it is entirely possible to write about an upcoming event — to provide coverage and exposure — and still provide a critical voice.
The timing can vary, of course, in terms of genre. I write advance pieces about upcoming plays all the time, for example, and come back days later with a review. (And sometimes that review isn’t positive.)
With film coverage, it’s different. Sometimes we run an advance story (often an interview with one of the actors) and a review on the same day. But even when there isn’t a separate advance story — in this case only the introductory paragraph about the festival could be construed as such — and just a review or multiple reviews, I’d argue there is still an editorial decision to provide coverage and exposure. (If we didn’t think the event warranted it, we’d decide to use our finite space elsewhere.)
In the case of Filmworks, that editorial decision included putting the film festival on the cover of 7 and peppering our blog with coverage. (Why? Because Filmworks is an important cultural asset.) But that decision didn’t include the guarantee of all positive reviews.
As far as disagreeing with reviews, or bashing the critics, well, sure. That’s part of the system. Bash away. To argue, however, that a film should be reviewed a certain way because the New York Times said so, or because a certain percentage of critics on Rotten Tomatoes felt a certain way, isn’t very helpful. (What do you do when the Times hates your movie? Or if your local critic happens to be among the 26% who don’t like “Tiny Furniture” on Rotten Tomatoes? And how do you “measure” the importance of one critic against another? The New York Times might have raved about “Le Quattro Volte,” but The New Yorker called it “the cinematic equivalent of New Age music.”)
To end this on a positive note: It’s nice, at least, to get people talking about films. (That was the intent of my “Uncle Boonmee” post, but the comment thread didn’t take that course.) I’m hoping we see more of it.