AFF: Film Critics and the Industry Panel

Print and web critics wonder if they still matter

AFF: Film Critics and the Industry Panel

When elite members of the print and online film criticism community gathered to talk shop at Friday’s Film Criticism and the Industry panel, the movie that was on the tip of everyone's tongue? Transformers 2. Yeah, we didn’t see that coming.

Actually, Transformers 2 was used repeatedly as an example of a “critic-proof” movie – a topic that was at the very heart of the discussion. Moderator Charles Ealy (The Austin American-Statesman) opened the panel by posing the question, does film criticism still matter?

The xy-heavy panelists were a mix of print and online critics, including Chris Vognar (Dallas Morning News), Chase Whale (Gordon and the Whale), Neil Miller (Film School Rejects), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), and David Denby (The New Yorker). Vognar responded first and from the perspective of a print critic: “We’re an endangered species,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes us matter more or less.”

Denby had the answer. “I think we matter more than ever, because I think the system is totally corrupt.”

“If Jackass 3D is going to make 50 million, fuck it,” he continued. “There’s nothing you can do.”

The better way to expend one’s energy, he said, was to champion smaller films and help the audience “find its way to important work.”

The bulk of the discussion was an engaging back and forth about the panelists’ frustrations in dealing with the studio marketing machine, which often blocks critics’ access to certain movies and then leans hard on them to get the word out about smaller, less easy sells.

“When they need us, we can’t beat them off with a rolled-up newspaper,” Denby said.

There was no visible “us versus them” divide between the print and online critics, although the Austin-based Miller did touch on some detractors’ interpretation that online criticism is dealing print a death blow. “One of the common [complaints] is that we’re trying to destroy print criticism. While that sound epic, it isn’t true. We’re trying to create jobs.” He pointed out that his site has created a full-time paying jobs for a number of contributors, a still somewhat rare achievement in web journalism.

Miller, who is Austin-based, also had a fun response to an audience question about the critics’ process. From up onstage at the Alamo Ritz, ge recounted seeing a movie at the Drafthouse and having a flag raised against him by a fellow audience member because he was taking notes too loudly in “my Ninja Turtle notepad.”

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Austin Film Festival, David Denby, Neil Miller, Chase Whale, Chris Vognar, Kenneth Turan, Transformers 2

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