This Way Up 2016: The Editorialists

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Kate Taylor (Film programmer – chair), David Hudson (Keyframe Daily, Fandor), Nick James (Sight & Sound), Hannah McGill (Writer, reviewer and columnist).

In an interesting sidestep from the focus of this morning’s keynote speeches, Kate Taylor introduced a panel of editors and critics to discuss the agenda of the film press. An agenda that is significantly different from that of programmers, distributors and exhibitors.

Hannah McGill spoke about rapid change in the film criticism scene across the past decade or so, as the internet has swept in with such noise that the opinions and expertise of professional critics has been drowned out. Many online voices (dare I say…trolls?) present such strong moral judgments now, which leads McGill to ask: to what extent do we require criticism to be a moral act?

David Hudson suggested major international film festivals are the key influence in editorial coverage, because what they programme is usually newsworthy. Any change in the what the press lead with may have to begin with a change in how festivals operate. Hudson also proposed a counter argument to the idea of twitter being just noise, suggesting there are worthy conversations happening there.

Nick James, as editor of Sight & Sound, spoke about the impossibility of sticking to the magazine’s original remit as a record of every film released per year. Echoing the dominant theme of ‘abundance’ at this year’s conference, it is impossible for them – primarily in terms of resources. James also discussed the loss of status the arts have suffered in recent years and how cinema in particular needs pushed back into place as an artform. How can we bring the romance back to the moving image?

For Hannah McGill, the point of film journalism is to open avenues for interesting debate, not whether or not you recommend a film. Why is it, then, that people feel able to challenge the expertise of a critic of film, as opposed to critics in the other arts? Perhaps there is a sense of ownership in cinema as a populist medium that is not quite so prevalent in other forms of criticism.

Kate Taylor asked if critical consensus could be stifling – are best of the year lists really any use? For David Hudson, there is enough space on the internet for them to exist. But he proposed that people visit Keyframe Daily to get away from just that, they are interested in what else is going on: what’s the news? Hannah McGill has little interest in best-of lists, where a few films rise to the surface in an unnatural ordering of things. Nick James countered that when Sight & Sound publish the breakdown of critics’ top ten lists, there are hundreds of films from a diverse range of writers there to be explored.

There was some amusing discussion of the BBC’s ill-treated Film Show, with particular reference to Camilla Long’s somewhat provocative presenting stint on last week’s show, where she sparred with Danny Leigh. Nick James made a fair point: it created a bit of a public row about cinema, surely a positive?

Kate Taylor left us with the idea that perhaps we need more film communicators: people capable of bringing us into a world of cinephilia in a positive, passionate and inclusive way. Yes please!

Written by Neil Hepburn.