The Talents 2019

The Festival, the Goethe Institute and FIPRESCI organize again, in the framework of Berlinale Talents, a workshop for young film critics. The Talents 2019 present themselves and talk about the situation of film criticism in their countries.

The Narrative Plurality of Indian Cinema
By Poulomi Das (India)
Growing Old and Staying Hungry: a Chance-Meeting at an Industry Party
By Hugo Emmerzael (The Netherlands)
Notes from the In-Between: An Indian Critic in the States
By Devika Girish (USA)
The Highly Contagious Syndrome Called Cinephilia
By Leonardo Goi (Italy)
Film Criticism in Times of Disaster
By Victor Guimarães (Brazil)
Healing Powers of Cinema: Brief Notes on the Trans-Andean Present
By Andrea Guzmán (Argentina)
What Film Means to Me
By Wilfred Okiche (Nigeria)
The Role and Challenges of a Film Critic
By Narjes Torchani (Tunisia)


The Narrative Plurality of Indian Cinema
By Poulomi Das (India)

Poulami DasMy mother-tongue is Bangla, an Indo-Aryan language that is the lingua franca of West Bengal, India’s fourth most populous state. It’s the language that I think in, although English is the language I speak in. And yet, as a Hindi film critic, I am required to predominantly engage with films that convey themselves in Hindustani (or the standardised Hindi) – one of the country’s official languages. A language that is alien to me but one I choose to dissect.

Indian cinema thrives on similar contradictions. Like its multicultural audience, it can exist in absolute binaries and just as easily, transform into heterogeneous identities that refuse to be caged in templates. Indian cinema is boisterous and flamboyant as well as muted and contemplative. It is at once, crowd-pleasing and audacious; comfortably flitting between micro-narratives that challenge and inform common perception. In its very essence, Indian cinema – encompassing roughly 22 regional languages – betrays rigid conventions.

Perhaps, that explains the distinctiveness of last year’s slate: An Assamese female-led, one-crew film (Rima Das’s VILLAGE ROCKSTARS) that captured the wide-eyed aspirations of rural adolescence. A Tamil drama (Mari Selvaraj’s PARIYERUM PERUMAL) that took an unflinching look at the aftermath of caste discrimination. A Telugu indie (Maha Venkatesh’s C/O KANCHARAPALEM) that subverted the industry’s predominant narrative of performative masculinity. And a delectable Hindi urban noir (Sriram Raghavan’s ANDHADHUN) that made perceptive humour accessible to a discerning commercial audience.

Yet even with the influx of intrepid directorial voices who see cinema as an art form that can precipitate far-reaching conversations, Indian cinema – especially Hindi cinema – is not without its challenges. A majority of mainstream films continue to be cocooned in their upper-caste universe; more than a handful romanticise stalking as playful foreplay and comfortably exploit violence against women under the garb of issue-based cinema.

Moreover, female representation remains an afterthought on screen while almost all technical designations behind the scenes are reserved for men. Last year, for instance, the Hindi film industry – dubbed the world’s largest film industry – produced 102 feature films for the big screen. Only 23 of them comprised at least one female lead. A mere 19.6% of these films were written by women; 13.7% were edited by women; and only 5.8% were helmed by a female director. Out of 102 films, just four films boasted of female music directors and only one film was shot by a woman.

On the other hand, state-sponsored censorship guarantees crackdown against dissenting filmmakers, effectively burying their films in unending years of bureaucratic labyrinth. India’s Censor Board is in fact, notorious for thwarting the release of films by equating morality with artistic vision. While the country’s ruling government compromises the credibility of Hindi films by reducing them to political mouthpieces from time to time.

In the current climate, I believe Indian film criticism will benefit from critics who can hold themselves accountable for critiquing films in context of the country’s socio-political environment, instead of just passively “rating” films as entertainment vehicles. Yet, it’s unfortunate that a majority of the discourse around Hindi cinema tends to ditch introspective analysis in favour of simplistic, bite-sized declarations designed to serve either trending hashtags or production companies.

At a time when a film review is frequently reduced to a thinly veiled PR pamphlet, my unwavering effort has been towards dissecting Hindi cinema as a cultural product in an accessible, original voice. As one of the youngest Indian female critics, I’m also particularly invested in championing Indian films that rebel against the homogenous narrative in Indian cinema. Because, after all, we get the films we deserve.


Growing Old and Staying Hungry: a Chance-Meeting at an Industry Party
By Hugo Emmerzael (The Netherlands)

Hugo EmmerzaelI was making my way to the bar with some American film critics, during an industry party at the Cairo International Film Festival, when we ran into the International Director of the Sundance Institute in Los Angeles. One of my American colleagues knew the Sundance hotshot and naturally fired up a conversation. Eventually, the focus shifted to me: “So, what’s up with Dutch cinema, nowadays? And where are all the good films?”, the man from Sundance asked. Picture this: the setting was high-class, a tad soulless, and quite loud – a lounge band was playing on a volume that was too hard to lounge to, let alone, one to have a good conversation about your crippled film industry over. How do you respond?

What doesn’t help is that, as a young critic, I’m hardly an expert on the subject, yet. I know the bigger arc of Dutch film history, but I can’t expand on all of its short moments or movements that make up that bigger history. This, you could say, is also how I consider myself at this point: a moment in our film culture, seeing, reading, learning to become more than that. Besides my freelance work, I try to watch at least one film a day to keep up with old and new cinema alike. I conduct a lot of interviews with directors, read as many books as I can and try to keep up with other cultural news to be as informed as possible.

I think that being driven, and loving doing it, is necessary to excel in what I do, or in what we do as the collective film culture of the Netherlands. However, I do have the feeling that there’s plenty of people out there, in all kinds of positions, that don’t feel that need. And that’s showing in the diminishing returns of Dutch Cinema. It’s always the younger generation that’s hungrier, which makes me nervous, because I can’t picture myself anything besides hungry when I’m older.

“There’s plenty of interesting directors”, I explained to the man from Sundance, “but most are still a bit too young to be on your radar. However, I can send you some info about them if you’d like.” I hope that in the future I’ll be able to make these kind of claims with more confidence, not only in my own knowledge of Dutch cinema and film culture in general, but also in the emerging filmmakers from the Netherlands. With them I’ll hopefully have the pleasure of growing old and staying hungry!


Notes from the In-Between: An Indian Critic in the States
By Devika Girish (USA)

Devika GirishI was born and raised in Nagpur, a small city in central India, and I moved to the United States six years ago to study film and semiotics in college. Since then, I’ve been living and writing in America as both a critic and a student.

That transatlantic move between two incredibly robust film cultures has deeply influenced my foray into criticism. Even as I grew up in a bookish, movie-averse family, I couldn’t but succumb to cinema’s magical, all-encompassing hold on Indian society; it seeped into everything around me, from religion to politics to interpersonal relationships. But it was my liberal arts education in the States – an education that emphasized critical approaches to popular culture – that awakened me to the workings of film in the cultural consciousness. Feminist film theory demonstrated to me how Bollywood’s fetishization of women both mirrors and feeds the Indian patriarchy. Third cinema showed me how the images I see on screen – and the systems that produce them – often work to ingrain colonialist ideology into their consumers. In other words, my upbringing in India convinced me of the enormous power of cinema as a mass object, while my training in the States taught me that films can be read, just like texts, and their power parsed (and often subverted) through criticism.

This in-between life has also given me an unusual perspective into the state of criticism in the US. American film criticism, like the American film industry, is large and impossible to categorize – it spans blogs and dailies that focus on more mainstream fare to alternate magazines that cover indie, experimental, and foreign cinema. What has been jarring to me, however, is that despite its broad scope, criticism in the US seems to fixate mostly on Western cinema, while films from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East constitute a blindspot in both journalism and academia. The conversation around representation and diversity, which currently dominates film discourse in the States, sometimes reinforces this exceptionalism. Movies like CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018) are disproportionately lauded for featuring Asian actors, while entire, thriving industries of films made by and about Asians are routinely ignored in film coverage. This also seems to have reinforced a tendency in Hollywood to simply recycle old, hackneyed narratives (i.e. products of the “remake/sequel-industrial-complex”) with slightly diversified casts, instead of aspiring for diversity and novelty in the types of stories told on the screen.

As an Indian film critic working in the States, I’m interested in leveraging my multicultural interests to join the chorus of voices challenging the cinematic canon in America. Whether by reclaiming lost histories or championing the under-seen indie cinema arising from different corners of the world, I’d like to contribute, in whatever way that I can, to building a truly global and democratic film culture.


The Highly Contagious Syndrome Called Cinephilia
By Leonardo Goi (Italy)

Leonardo GoiI landed my first gig as a film critic as a middle schooler, in the back seat of my mother’s car, outside my hometown’s only cinema. As the son of a hardcore cinephile who’d spent the best part of her undergraduate years skipping lectures to lock herself inside movie theatres, I was taken to the cinema three to four times a week. My mother had a pantagruelian appetite for all moving images, and a firm belief in the need to talk about them as soon as the credits rolled – a conviction that would forbid her from starting the car until I said something vaguely meaningful about what we’d just seen. What did I like about the film? Was it the directing? The cinematography? What did I think about the score? The script? The performances?

I remember hating that little routine, until – somewhat miraculously, and unbeknownst to me – it sank in, and my eagerness to watch films became bound with a need to talk, reflect, and write about them. Now, a 28-year-old Italian-born, UK-raised film journalist, I’ve been able to attend festivals in three continents; I contribute to magazines I used to dream of writing for; I am an alumnus of the 2017 Locarno Festival Critics Academy and a member of the Italian Federation of Film Critics; and the cacophonous and eccentric horde of cinephiles I bump into one festival after the other has morphed into a movable family. But the road is still very much uphill.

Like many other markets in my country of origin, the Italy’s film industry is a saturated and air-tight field; interesting voices do sprout from time to time (Alice Rohrwacher may be the most notable recent example, but she’s in good company), yet access to the world of pictures and criticism remains a game of nepotistic shortcuts and oodles of frustration. I stopped writing in my mother tongue a few years ago, and switched to English as a way to reach a broader public. And while as a bilingual writer I seem to occupy two different worlds – the discourse articulated by Italian critics and its English-speaking counterpart – I feel much more at home in the latter.

The same parent who forced the 13-year-old me to watch Wim Wenders’s retrospectives is now, understandably, concerned my fondness for films may have spiralled out of control. She is right. Cinephilia is a dangerous and highly contagious syndrome, but while I am still struggling to find long-term ways to sustain myself financially and complement criticism with other festival roles, words can’t do justice to how grateful I feel for the journey I’ve embarked on – however perilous and long it may be.


Film Criticism in Times of Disaster
By Victor Guimarães (Brazil)

It all started with an almost unconscious desire to continue the experience of films. It felt necessary to create short circuits in consumption, to keep some of the works alive and somehow interrupt the constant flow of oblivion that characterizes contemporary culture. I was eager to multiply the impact of films in words, to share it, to find the eyes and ears of others. As a student of journalism, I saw in traditional media – newspapers, print magazines, television, radio – an increasingly smaller space for art and thought. So, I became a voracious reader of online film journals, magazines and blogs. Soon it became clear for me that, in Brazil, the only space for regular film criticism – the one that deserves this name, the one that distinguishes itself from marketing or the mere opinion – was the internet. The film criticism I believe in is a sustained activity of free thought, which considers cinema an art capable of broadening our perceptions of the world, and thus must strive to live up to it.

Even sooner, it was already obvious that this was not a profession in Brazil, at least in the sense that those who need to work for a living often give that word: it was not a job, with a salary, stability and so on. In order to keep my desire alive and to be able to stay close to films in my everyday life, I started academic studies, became a teacher and a film programmer, doing also some translation to pay the rent. Then I realized that the only stable activity among all these was precisely the one that was not connected to money: in all those years I never stopped writing, although on very rare occasions I was paid for it. Nevertheless, I have always written for publications in which I could identify affinities with my understanding of the role of criticism: Cinética, Senses of Cinema, La Furia Umana, Desistfilm. It is very sad to note that the only way for a film critic to survive in Brazil is through an academic career or accumulating a myriad of other film-related work. At the same time, it was this non-reliance on money that allowed me to find pleasure in what I do and to create a substantial amount of independent critical writing.

During the last decade, it was possible to help create spaces of public debate, to foster the rediscovery of Brazilian film history through screening series, and to inhabit a vivid environment of free speech and constructive learning. Today, after two years living under a coup d’état and witnessing the disaster of the last national elections, everything we have come to call “Brazilian cinema” in the last ten years or so – a circuit of public funding for production, rising young talent, increasingly democratic universities, progressively better festivals – is about to collapse, in the face of the growing dilapidation of all sorts of cultural institutions, constant devaluation of art and open fascism in society. Thinking about the near future is terribly scary. I have one certitude, though: more than ever in my lifetime, we’ll need courage, strength, collective work and creativity, all these things that made me admire film critics and want to become one.


Healing Powers of Cinema: Brief Notes on the Trans-Andean Present
By Andrea Guzmán (Argentina)

Andrea GuzmanAlthough I always try to remain optimistic, I recognize that I do not write during a very encouraging moment in Latin-America, and more specifically, in both of my places of belonging: where I was born and where I began my career. I migrated from Chile to Argentina at the age of 18. Both countries are neighbours but the gap in the ways of understanding art and culture is big. The quality and quantity of Argentinean cinema has always been impressive for us in Chile. I soon understood that this big eclectic Argentinean art scene that I truly admired was not only due to its inventiveness and local personality, but to its institutional and transversal support of the arts. There is a great belief in society in cinema and art not just as an economic value, but always encouraging the production itself with very concrete economic and politic measures. To live and work in Argentina has opened a new mentality that exceeds cinema and includes new ideas about politics, aesthetics, and society.

But now, in Argentina, the right-wing government has sadly imposed with politics of violence and repression and a regressive economy, similar to the one I experienced in Chile, and the situation of funds for cinema are becoming more difficult, anti-democratic and cruel. I think it is more important to be aware, each one from our place. I believe in the experiences and ideas that exceed cinema, that go through the cinema and help to build it and shape it. Maybe that’s why I’ve never seen myself as a film critic, but more as a cultural journalist. I don’t believe in cinema as an isolated discipline that has to speak only about itself, but as a medium that’s in constant dialogue with other kinds of art, with its context of production, with the points of views that reveal its own era, and the discussion and discomforts of its historical and social moment.

I believe in the healing power of cinema – in making movies, watching movies, thinking about movies and discussing them, as a liberating gesture in this little oasis of anarchy that cinema enables. Like in most places, the film criticism community here is very small, and tends to be hermetic. That’s why I always celebrate the proximity of cinema and the general public in Argentina, where it always characterizes its democratic way of understanding the arts. I hope for the best to my adoptive country because that healing power does not belong just to film critics, to a certain economic class or a certain political project but to all.


What Film Means to Me
By Wilfred Okiche (Nigeria)

Wilfried OkicheThere isn’t a time in my life that I haven’t been fascinated by moving pictures. This quietly morphed into a lifelong fixation with movies, and books, and movies about books, and books about movies. From classic family films from England and Hollywood to Bollywood musicals, blockbusters, comedies, adult leaning dramas and Nollywood films, my cinematic tastes have evolved as I have grown.

Film criticism is a natural fit for me but a weird one too as both audiences and filmmakers are not quite sold on the role or place of the critic in the context of the film industry. Cinema culture only recently made a comeback in Nigeria and the mostly independent film industry is still struggling to make films fit for theatrical release. So, the working critic in my position, exists in an interesting space. Not merely as an interpreter seeking value or relevance in a work of art, or an informed guide to audiences to make smart choices. But also as a truth teller, speaking uncomfortable feedback to filmmakers, in ways that are sensitive enough to build the industry and not break the confidence of both audiences and filmmakers who are working hand in hand to build a working industry where there was none only thirty years ago.

The film industry in my home country is dealing with change as newer channels powered by the internet have come to disrupt how films are made and distributed. My work involves making sense of it all, wading through the clutter and documenting the growth.

At Talent Press, I look forward to opening new vistas in my mind through my interactions with colleagues from other cultures around the world. I also look forward to engaging with experienced film critics, facilitators and all the resource persons. There aren’t many opportunities such as this in Nigeria as I work in an industry that does not see the need to prioritize culture reporting or film criticism. Funding challenges are not helping matters either and it takes passionate publishers and writers to continue to promote film related content. In 2017, I was part of the Talent Press participants at the Durban International Film Festival. Last year, I was selected to participate in the Young Critics Program at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. My participation in these programmes has been invaluable to my career growth.
I recognize the need for world best practices and I have dedicated myself to keeping up with the latest trends in critical thinking, analysis and filmmaking techniques as I continue to attempt a career in culture journalism.

It is hard, thankless work but it is work that means plenty to me.


The Role and Challenges of a Film Critic
By Narjes Torchani (Tunisia)

Narjes TorchaniThe role of a film critic is to guide the reader through the movie: its narrative and cinematography, the different layers of its characters, and to underline why it is an interesting piece of art, or not. In other words, shedding light on what a movie has to offer visually, other than its story, and providing keys to the storytelling. The critic also has the right to say, “I liked this film” or “I felt this way about it,” and the obligation to say why! I strongly believe that a film critic has to be an enlightened and cultivated person, well-rooted in the context he or she works and evolves in, and open to what the universal knowledge can bring to his or hers practice.

The most determining element in a critic’s role and practice is the relationship and interaction between those who make the films, those who write about them and those who watch them exists within an environment where their meeting point can be a progressive process or a conflict zone. That is to say that a film critic faces many challenges in his work and I will depict some of these challenges according to my personal experience and observation in Tunisia:

– The context: I started working as a cultural journalist because I wanted to become a film critic. It combined my passion for film and for writing. At the beginning I was focused on writing film reviews. A few years before the revolution (2011), and especially after that, a new wave of young filmmakers was emerging, bringing to the local scene new point of views about filmmaking, and even film production and distribution. They were creating a path for the democratization of their art, against dictatorship and the lack of funding and cinema houses. And I asked myself what role I as a journalist and aspiring film critic could play, how I can accompany this dynamic. I started looking for different writing forms to do so. I started integrating more of the director’s point of view, quoting them, even centering my article on that, also writing portraits of emerging filmmakers, writing about films in progress in order to prepare the audience for them, etc. I applied more of the journalism techniques to talk about cinema. For me, readers had to know that this existed, why it existed and understand what it is.

– The ego of filmmakers, their hatred for film critics and even denial of their existence.

– The audience expectations: especially towards Tunisian films. There is this schizophrenic love-hate relationship with Tunisian films. People’s reading of films is influenced by television (entertaining shows, tv series). Of course television can be a platform for a better understanding of films by the audience. There are some TV and radio programmes dedicated to cinema but they are not appealing enough. This whole situation fills me with contradictory feelings, perplexity and helplessness. I must admit that writing mainly for a print newspaper might sound like an artistic practice that creates frustration due to the lack of feedback or interactivity with readers. And sometimes I feel that the highest level of democratization would be for a film critic to step aside, leave its role as a mediator between the film and the public, let them have direct interaction, and declare that film criticism is dead. Or, to put his/her pen aside and engage in civil society, standing side by side with the film and its maker in front of an audience, the largest possible, moderating debates or film criticism workshops. But it shouldn’t be as radical as that, because we write, I write, for the sake of passion for film art. And I continue writing according to my beliefs about what my role should be, even sometimes with the feeling that I have too little impact. I don’t really think that any form of writing about films should stop existing, but I believe that film critics’ missions are and should be diverse. These missions can’t or don’t have to be all done by every critic on the field but a “healthy” film and cultural scene is where there is harmony, a sufficient representation and complementarity between these roles can be played by film critics.


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For the photos published together with the texts, we thank Berlinale Talents and the following companies: (First texts) Lenfilm Studios. Letizia Battaglia Lunar Pictures, Patrick Bryant, Envie de Tempète Productions, Janis Mazuch (Half time) Archives Centre Audivisuel, Agat Films, Studio Slon, Joe D’Souza Tiwari’s Ghost (Essays) Joanna Reposi Garibaldi TVN, Automatic Moving Co, Ma.ja.de, Editions Salzgeber, ton- und bild gmbh, David Ausserhofer.