November 2010. A band of cine-comrades gathers at the Ljubljana International Film Festival for the two day conference 'Against the Grain'. At the kind invitation of festival director (and former critic) Simon Popek, Gabe Klinger, Neil Young and Dana Linssen put together a series of lectures and debates focusing on so called 'contrarian film criticism'. The starting point was an article American film critic Richard Porton wrote for last year's edition of the Slow Criticism Project in which he raised the question (writing about the late Manny Farber) whether film critics have a moral responsibility to go against the grain.
Contrarianism has a long history in journalism. And many faces. In general a contrarian is someone who, for polemical reasons, prefers to take a stand against the common opinion. It can be a rhetorical tool. Or a querulant's toy. The password for secret cinephile societies. And a mantra for critics who want to escape the unspoken consensus between peers and public. Armond White of the New York Press is a name that comes up when thinking of a contemporary contrarian. Or should we say provocateur? Because there are others. They thrive in the undercurrents. It is for a good reason that Porton used the phrase 'moral' in his statement. What does it really mean to be contrarian?
We talked about this in Ljubljana and will follow up upon that chain reaction and will talk about it again with Chris Fujiwara, Adrian Martin and Cristina Nord at the Rotterdam Film Festival during the Critics' Talk at Sunday January 30th. And we will push the question a bit further, because: What happens when even the most experienced and investigative critics are confronted with films that bring them out of their 'comfort zone'?
For de Filmkrant the question about contrarianism is a matter of going against the latest craze. We regret that so much film journalism has turned into a hype-machine, a recycle-industry, a playground for marketers. Going out of the comfort zone stands for: inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, the ability to redefine one's assumptions and convictions, the will to doubt and question, and above all a commitment to cinema that goes beyond tomorrow's deadline and next week's new release. Hence Slow Criticism, although sometimes one needs to act fast, at impulse and intuition. That kind of criticism is akin to improvisational music, it has a kind of immediacy and urgency, based on knowledge and skills, but always open to the radical otherness of what one might encounter along the way. That, indeed, is a moral responsibility. It is critical activism and politique des critiques.
We hope to see you all at January 30th in Rotterdam or one of the many crossroads of kindred cine-spirits in this hazardous, overwhelming and yet hopeful place of solace called Cinephilia.
de Filmkrant and IFFR present:
Out of the Comfort Zone
Do film critics have a moral responsibility to go against the grain? Or is this contrarianism a mere rhetorical tool, a querulant's toy, or an easy way to establish a name for oneself in the age of cyberjournalism? And what happens when even the most daring critics are confronted with films that bring them out of their comfort zone?
A Critics' Talk about Critics, Contrarians, Conformists and Other Provocateurs
With: Chris Fujiwara, Gabe Klinger, Dana Linssen, Adrian Martin, Cristina Nord and Neil Young
Sunday January 30th at 15.00
Foyer LantarenVenster Cinema
Otto Reuchlinweg 996 (Wilhelminapier), Rotterdam
Metro (line D) and tram (line 20, 23, 25) to Wilhelminaplein