On Film Criticism: Jakob Asell

Post-chair criticism
Jakob Åsell

When the Swedish national public television broadcaster announced an open position for a film critic on the weekly show Filmkrönikan, I applied with a handwritten note from my sketch book. I was fifteen.

I can’t remember whether or not I expected them to take me seriously. I just remember taking that open chair seriously, as if it was a throne. Today there is no more Filmkrönikan – and no other film-show on Swedish TV, for that matter. The chair is gone, tucked away in the back of some dusty storage room, and I find myself restlessly looking for another one. It’s like the freelance film journalists’ version of musical chairs, where you walk around empty seats until the music stops and you quickly need to grab one. Except no one seems to ever get up.

I got into film criticism in the era of post-chair criticism. Anytime an old dragon writing for one of the major newspapers eventually does get up, the chair they’ve been sitting on all along magically disappears. I remember when I finally got the chance to start writing about film for Nöjesguiden, Sweden’s leading free magazine on pop culture. All the initial pride and happiness turned into confusion the minute I heard about the microscopic paycheck (but “great exposure”) I would be offered, and the confusion turned into bitterness once twitter told me that, ironically, Nöjesguiden wasn’t considered cool anymore. Getting into film criticism in the age of internet can sometimes feel like showing up late to a party, as the lights come on and people rush to grab their coats.

There’s an ongoing discussion about “the crisis of Swedish cinema,” as ticket sales for domestic theatre releases reached a record low last year. In my mind, both Swedish cinema and Swedish film criticism are lacking a bit of confidence. Lots of talented people on both sides are fighting for a bag of money that, no matter how you look at it, is far too small. The Swedish Film Institute strives solely for diversity, more gender equality, and better representation, which makes for boring productions as filmmakers try to tick all “the right” boxes when applying for funding. Meanwhile film critics are failing to recognize this, all too often over-praising forgettable productions, while audiences turn to Netflix instead. Both sides could use some new blood, or some more chairs. Until then, I’ll keep walking in circles, waiting for my chance to take a seat.