What is film criticism for nowadays? Who reads it or listens to it? Does it have any influence on the perception of potential audience-members when they head to the cinema and have to choose a film? Judging by the ever smaller space which articles on the cinema take up in newspapers, one might conclude that there are not many readers interested in the seventh art. Or perhaps there are: maybe those reviews which decades ago would have occupied whole sections of newspapers are now to be found on the Internet.
However, it is important to distinguish the spontaneous and judgemental comments made a variety of people hiding behind usernames from texts which are written by named writers in magazines or on specialist blogs. Opinion without a grounded analysis is worthless and such an analysis cannot be made without subscribing to a particular theoretical tradition within cinema criticism. Such approaches are still to be found in the academic world, but sometimes the internal rules governing university departments sometimes make it difficult for the issues to be written about in a more passionate manner. The risk of carrying out an excessively conscientious analysis is that we may leave by the wayside one of the basic elements of any essay: passion. In this case, the passion for the cinema.
This affliction seems to be especially acute in the Spanish-speaking world. The antipathy which can sometimes be detected on university campuses in Spain towards cultural or sociological approaches being applied to the cinema is a clear symptom of the still dominant influence of the History of Film as the key discipline for Spanish research groups.
As Antonio Weinrichter said some years ago in Cahiers du Cinéma España1 this resistance to change may be due to the need to protect a canon, the awareness of which seems to be on the decrease in the generalist media, and it can also in good measure be attributed to cinema critics. We must put forward thoughts which are about cinema and which derive from it, rather than just putting together a bundle of disoriented observations. Let the newspapers which only focus on a minuscule part of the important cinema being made today take note: such films, hardly any of which gain regular commercial releases, must now be seen in film festivals such as Play-Doc. It is for this reason that film critics sometimes become festival organizers. It is this desire to instruct and educate, characteristic of the figure of the curator, which Weinrichter considers to be an essential attribute of the critic, and of which he now finds few examples: “It seems that intermediary figures such as Bazin, Daney, Farber and Guarner are no longer to be found.”
As part of the effort to cultivate critics who wish to take on the role of intermediaries, the cinema criticism association A Cuarta Parede is this year to give a seminar aimed at young critics at Play-Doc. This first edition seeks to provide answers to the questions identified above and the objective is to encourage the attendees to find a niche between the rigour of academic analysis and the passion and spontaneity of the film lover.
The speakers at this seminar are Antonio Weinrichter, the celebrated specialist in documentary and non-narrative film; the USC professor José Luis Castro de Paz, and the critics of the prestig-ious magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, Jara Yáñez and José Manuel López. Last but not least is the co-editor of A Cuarta Parede, Iván Villarmea, who will give a workshop on journalistic genres in writing on cinema. The aim is to provide attendees with some basic knowledge and thus improve their writing. To round off the seminar, there will also be some practical sessions at the digital magazine, which will publish the texts that the students write about the films shown at Play-Doc.
1 WEINRICHTER, Antonio, “Estado crítico”, en Cahiers du Cinéma España, december de 2008, pp. 82-83