The following is an open letter to (un)said filmmaker, and hopefully all like him:
A couple of weeks back, I got an email from a filmmaker whose movie screened alongside your own at a particular festival, asking me—like you have—for a review of his movie. I'd already seen his (having paid to do so), and had to honestly tell him that I hadn't liked it and maybe, since I hadn't been assigned to cover it, I might be doing him more of a favour if I just didn't write anything at all. Very graciously, he said he was disappointed to hear that but thanked me for having seen the film anyway. There's a man who appreciates the symbiotic nature of film making and film criticism, who recognised that I'd given my time to his movie not for personal gain (had I reviewed it, it would have been for my own site), but in the hope that I'd discover something I thought worth touting.
Your movie, as it happens, was the film I most wanted to see at that festival, the one I'd singled out as most likely to be something special, but other commitments sadly kept me from doing so. I was happy to have an email from you then, though I'm sorry to say it came at rather a bad time. I was in the midst of hectic revision for university exams, you see, necessarily hectic due to the sheer volume of lectures I'd missed in travelling to various film festivals and reviewing dozens of movies, again not for personal gain but for the love of it. For as much as I might manage to earn the odd paycheque, as a lover of cinema and writing about it, I’m more often doing it just for myself.
Would that we lived in a world where I could write and be paid for anything I liked. That’s why I could only smile when you suggested I cover your film—undistributed, unscreened this one small festival aside, ergo of no real reader interest (no offence, only honesty)—for one of the more auspicious publications for which I freelance. Would that I could! Where I stopped smiling was at the mention of “or your other site”: that publication I call my own, host to the passionate writing unfortunately unmarketable for one reason or another, that you couldn’t even deign to refer to by name. That you want more exposure is understandable, of course; to so dismissively sigh “I guess that would do too” is rather a rude way to ask for a favour.
But that’s not nearly as egregious as what followed: “I don't want to waste our time with a critic who may be cynical or bitter about it.” Filmmaker, I don’t want to waste my time, particularly at a point when I can so scarcely spare it, with a movie that may be rubbish enough to give me cause to be cynical or bitter. But hundreds upon hundreds of times a year I do, for nothing but the love of it, in the hope that I can help spread the word about a movie that may be a masterpiece. Which, your irritating attitude aside, might yet have been the case with your movie. I’m a firm believer in separating art from artist, and I hoped I might still give it a chance when I could afford the time.
“Hey man hurry up and get back to me please!” you emailed not twelve hours later. Polite, I guess, but proof positive that you deemed nothing I could possibly have had to do as more important than watching your movie. Critics, it’s clear, you view as nothing more than marketing tools for you; it’s a common view, but that doesn’t excuse its ignorance. I’m not some basement-dwelling creature flattered by the chance of a free movie; I’m a movie-loving man who wants to combine my passions for the written word and the moving image to steer my readers toward experiences they might otherwise miss. Still in the midst of exams with a book chapter deadline fast approaching on top, taking time out of my life to review your film would be a personal favour I didn’t really feel like extending to someone who seemed to value my time and work so little.
How kind of you to prove me right, spouting the failed filmmaker line that could only conceivably be believed by an idiot or an infant. That knee-jerk nonsense does nothing more than to confirm your ludicrous conceptions of criticism, one you share with all too many filmmakers. Forgetting the logical labyrinth that is your claim that my not wanting to watch your film somehow betrays my lack of commitment to making movies myself (seriously, what?), let me be exceptionally clear about something: I have never wanted to make films, never wanted anything more—nor less—than to implement the unique persuasive qualities of the written word to point people kind enough to read my work toward cinematic experiences I think important. That is my job, as I see it, and it’s the one I’ve opted to pursue despite its myriad financial frailties, and the misconceptions and downright dreadfulness from people like you it exposes me to on all too regular a basis. I don’t work to serve you, even if I do to serve the art form of which, I suppose, you must be considered a part. I do it—all together now—for the love, and I’d love you to recognise that rather than resorting to facile name-calling. I mean really, come on. It just makes you sound like a failed critic.
Yours in weariness, and a non-negated hope for your film’s quality,