Saturday, October 10, 2009

IM09: Critics convene

John Beifuss sees his name spelled correctly

The panel "When Critics Converse," part of the Cafe Conversation series at Indie Memphis, brought together three film reviewers to discuss the state of film -- and critical -- arts. 

Elvis Mitchell (former critic for The New York Times), John Beifuss (The Commercial Appeal) and Chris Herrington (The Memphis Flyer) participated. Here are some excerpts:

Beifuss: The economy is so bad that everybody is pulling back. Studios don't want to spend the money to ship the prints to Memphis to have them viewed in advance and pay local rep to coordinate screenings. We used to have three or four a week and now it's more like one every two weeks. But you still get a chance to see art and indie films. That's one area where we have influence locally -- people may not have heard of a film until they read it in the local newspaper.

Mitchell: We're in an era of big budget films that studios don't show to anybody ahead of release. It's fascinating -- during a recession, more people want to be distracted and entertained than before and you'd think studios would spend some money, but they're retrenching.

Herrington: Studios want to control the message. More and more, marketing is taking over from criticism.

Mitchell: Fifteen years ago, critics drove that. In towns not in the top markets, people develop relationships with critics and want to know what they think. 

Beifuss: I like the idea of having a local critic writing for your audience. But I don't know if younger people don't really care because everything's online.

Herrington: The problem is not just with distributors and PR agencies. Sometimes good movies are left to die by exhibitors. 

Mitchell: The dirty little secret of newspapers is that the sports section is taken more seriously but entertainment offers most revenue. But a lot of ads went to TV around 2001 where they got a better bang for the buck.

Beifuss: If the Memphis movie scene hadn't blossomed I don't think I'd be writing movie reviews. If this film festival hadn't grown the way it has, if Craig Brewer hadn't emerged and other movies hadn't decided to shoot here, I wouldn't have the specialty of writing about movies.

Herrington: We're locally owned, so I have a lot of autonomy. I don't use wire reviews ever. I always assign them or write them myself, but I have limited space to only run one to three reviews. I don't worry about reviewing big commercial releases. We try to focus more on what we perceive as interesting movies. I lean in favor of what seems be good or can be helped by the review.

Mitchell: There are more movie screens than 10 years ago, but the paucity of movies in theaters is insane to me. There is money to be made. People want to see them.

Herrington: This theater (Malco Studio on the Square) is the only one in the core of the city. But there's so much residential construction that something has to be built. A 6- to 10-screen theater where there is residential growth should happen in the next 5 to 10 years, and free up more screens for indie/art films.

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