Berlinale Talent Press 2015

Introduction. Berlinale Talents, Goethe Institute and FIPRESCI organized at this year’s Berlinale for the 12th time the “Talent Press”, an initiative within the Berlinale Talents. A new generartion of critics is expected to enter the world of cinema. Supported by renowned film-journalists (Stephanie Zachariak, Dana Linssen, Oliver Baumgarten, Aily Nash), they wrote reviews on films presented in various sections of the festival, composed features and reported about the atmosphere of the Campus. Articles of the participants were published daily on the website of the Berlinale Talents and on the homepages of the Goethe Institute and FIPRESCI.

The Participants

The Talents:
Monty Majeed, “In Search of a New Perspective”
Julia Cooper: “Feminist Cinemas and New Ways of Watching”
Michael Guarneri, “A Note From The Margin”
Oriana Franceschi, “From the Ashes; Scotland’s Art and Culture Flourish in Times of Hardship”
Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, “Nigerian Cinema’s Nominal Headache”
Heitor Augusto, “Negotiating a Role”
Alonso Díaz de la Vega: “The Resistance”
Ana Sturm: “Je suis cinéphile”

Nigerian Cinema’s Nominal Headache
By Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Oris AigbokhaevboloNigerian cinema has moved so much in one direction that in the last few years, some filmmakers, new, young, at once freed and craving to be freed from their forebears, have begun to react to this seemingly inexorable movement. They push against it nominally and in practice, by rejecting the nomenclature Nollywood, and by adopting filmmaking techniques alien to Nigerian cinema.

For these newer filmmakers “Nollywood” far from being just a name, represents a certain aesthetic—inclusive of, but unlimited to, melodrama, bare bones cinematography, and a fascination with the occult. Armed with foreign tools of filmmaking, these filmmakers consider Nollywood the embarrassing uncle; his famed idleness has permitted theirs but they can’t be seen with him in public. “All art is an ethnic game,” Vernon Young observed. Viewed a certain way, this disavowal is in keeping with the Nigerian fascination for foreign objects. As ironies go, the more vehement the disavowal of Nigerian cinema, the clearer the nationality of these filmmakers.

With only a twenty year history, a complete dissociation from Nollywood may be unnecessary. Better to think of the status quo of Nigerian cinema as a rebirth, not a conception—neither of which obviates the need for chroniclers and critics. And for the latter, it is imperative to look outside of the country for a model with cultural currency.

That model, because of a shared language, English, and the dominance of its cinematic export, is likely to be the US. Unfortunately, film criticism in the US has, over the last few years, come into an existential crisis, with its practitioners losing jobs, drowning in the internet’s democratization of criticism, and worrying over its future.

For the Nigerian critic, American handwringing is perplexing, but far from dire. And despite its need to be deep into pathos, American film criticism has a claim to certain venerable publications, created by luminaries of the form from yore in what is now that culture’s golden age of film criticism. There is a significant difference between that and the Nigerian situation where the position still has to be created.

One way by which this lack of models in Nigerian film criticism (or film reviewing, if you please) can be seen is to scour the internet. Over on YouTube, films from the early nighties, representative of the start of Nollywood can be seen by any number of interested people. Reviews of those same films, if ever written, are impossible to obtain. Thus it can be surmised that the consumption of early Nollywood was without input from critics. Whatever the reason for this, it stands to reason that today’s critic, shaping to take a place between filmmaker and the Nigerian audience is perceived as an interloper.

As it stands, the Nigerian critic has a different worry from critics from the US and other developed cinema cultures. They contemplate their tradition. He contemplates his novelty.
Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Negotiating a Role
By Heitor Augusto

Heitor AugustoThough it may sound too tough, a word that would represent, with some accuracy, the state of both local cinema and film criticism in Brazil is “irrelevant”. Nobody’s life would stop if, all of a sudden, a catastrophic event decimated both our cinema and our attempts to reflect upon it.

Which is not to say, by any means, that the films that we’ve been making, and the reflections that have followed are not important. Not at all. But we must face this uncomfortable truth: they’re both irrelevant in people’s lives. Since our most interesting movies are restricted to film festivals and only reach the exhibition circuit in very unkind situations (few screenings and unfriendly scheduling, e.g. 3 pm), they are seen by very few people. The same for film criticism: in an era of frenetic circulation of information, in which we are constantly exposed to various issues, the writing that really matters is sprayed into this atomized, accessed only by a small cultural elite. We write invisible articles about invisible films.

As for how my work is positioned in such a context, since I’ve shifted from the journalistic aspirations that guided the very early stages of my career to building a strong interest in permanently studying film form. An aspiration that has directed my work in recent years is to think of film criticism as a way to initiate and establish deeper discussions in a society that cultivates what is ephemeral. I believe that such an attitude may represent a way to fight this very state of irrelevance that film criticism has been forced into.

However, such a role is in permanent negotiation with where readers expect me to be. I constantly try to change these expectations, defending a view of film criticism as a tool to challenge the film-audience-critic relationship while being conscious that such a strategy will limit my work to only a few people.

This limitation is one of the reasons why I see my writing as a complementary form to my work as a lecturer, researcher and curator. In these different fields of activity I see the possibility of exercising various approaches to cinema, potentially reaching a diverse audience. All of these fields, I expect, are integrated and can be summarized into one: film critic.
Heitor Augusto

Feminist Cinemas and New Ways of Watching
By Julia Cooper

Julia CooperCanadian cinema does not want for talent or innovation. From directors Alanis Obomsawin, Sarah Polley, Guy Maddin, and Xavier Dolan, to actors Sarah Gadon and Ellen Page, and a documentary scene (“The World Before Her”, “Stories We Tell”, “Watermark”) that continues to thrive despite our conservative government’s continual slashing of arts funding, Canadian film is worth the price of admission. Toronto, in particular, is blessed with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Hot Docs, smaller scale screenings by MDFF, and whip-smart smart interviews and profiles from The Seventh Art and other local outlets. What Canadian cinema and film commentary do lack — and here Canada is not alone — is an interest in, and commitment to, women working in the industry. A 2013 study of gender inequality in Canadian film and screen reports that of “139 feature films released in 2010 and 2011 in Canada, women comprise less than 20% of the directors and 21% of the screenwriters” (“Women in Focus”). Women fair no better in Hollywood with 11% of films in 2014 written by women, and 93% of the 250 top earning movies of the year directed by men (“Women in Hollywood”). That leaves a paltry seven percent of top grossing films directed by women, and those are not odds I like.

As managing editor of the feminist film journal “cléo”, I cut my teeth on the films of Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, and Sally Potter, and have since followed the emerging careers of indie filmmakers Eliza Hittman and Josephine Decker. This has been a conscious choice to engage with the works of women directors and screenwriters, but to be clear, it is no act of charity. Take for example Canadian directors Andrea Dorfman (“Heartbeat”) and Chloé Robichaud (“Sarah Préfère La Course”) – these artists are producing some of the most thought-provoking, intelligent, and formally challenging films out there. They are also producing the most overlooked.

For me, the “feminist perspective” is a capacious and constantly evolving point of view. It is grounded in the belief that there are structural imbalances firmly in place that privilege and foster certain (white, hetero, male) voices over others. We started “cléo journal” as an antidote to much of the noisy film content being churned out online. We wanted to claim a pocket of the internet for feminists to examine and reflect on the movies that irked, puzzled, or enraptured them. “cléo” is a place for insightful film commentary — from Canadian and international writers — to land and to inspire new ways of watching.
Julia Cooper

The Resistance
By Alonso Díaz de la Vega

Alonso Díaz Film criticism wasn’t my dream. My dream was to make films — it still is — yet I do not treat my current profession as a step towards filmmaking, but as an independent exercise of imagination. Criticism is not, as many have deemed it, the ranting of the frustrated and the unaccomplished; it is rather a stand against triviality and irrelevance. The human sense of importance is, of course, absurd, since it is artificial, but it is nonetheless our guiding light and it derives from truth, which exists outside our perceptions. Art tries to recreate reality in order not to apprehend, but to express truth, and criticism is the means to ensure the works which excel through their beauty and their truthfulness are experienced and preserved as the memory of our societies, but most of all of our humanity.

In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy mocks the notion of human qualities changing over time. I believe he’s right. Slaves, wars, and dogmas still exist, albeit in a more civilized manner in some countries; in a prehistoric manner in the rest. Love, compassion, solidarity, still exist as well, as civilized as ever. For many centuries literature was a glimpse into the depths of human experience. As functional illiteracy rises due to a culture surrounded by white noise, cinema has become our means to understand one another. Language is turning towards the visual and the oral in what Marshal McLuhan called the retribalization of the world. The remaking of superhero films is proof of this. It is comparable not in quality but in tendency to the retelling of Greek myths by ancient dramatists. The role of the modern film critic is to thresh through the endless straw of film production to find worth.

This task is not easy. Capitalist culture has turned everything into a commodity and criticism is nearing irrelevance. The revenue generated by innumerable sequels and insignificant films evidences the trends that our societies prefer and, in this secular age, hallow. Fortunately there is a resistance to please the masses in certain sectors. I am proud to be part of a Mexican generation that is creating new platforms like FLICC, that is trying to build a self-funded film industry. Webpages like “Butaca Ancha” and “FILME” offer a chance to young critics, and initiatives like the Cineteca Nacional’s Film Criticism Contest are linking us and turning us into a considerable strength against the consumerist culture. We shall fight.
Alonso Díaz de la Vega

From the Ashes; Scotland’s Art and Culture Flourish in Times of Hardship
By Oriana Franceschi

Oriana FranceschiLast year, the Glasgow School of Art’s landmark building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh caught fire. I was on my way to work nearby and stopped when I saw the smoke. I stood in among the art students gathering on the pavement and found myself caught up in the grief of the crowd.

These are hard times for the artistic community in Scotland, where the UK government has severely cut the Art Council’s budget. Fortunately, a nation’s creative minds are the most adept at turning a poor situation into an opportunity. In the past year, I’ve attended plays in leaking disused buildings, film screenings in underground car parks, and an art festival within the cavernous arches of Edinburgh’s forgotten vaults.

Scotland has risen to the challenge of bringing culture to the people for pennies, and the months leading up to the independence referendum sparked innovation across the arts. And somehow, alongside the more established Edinburgh and Glasgow film festivals, new remote or niche festivals have been springing up all over the country: from the eclectic Loch Ness Film Festival, to Hawick’s surreal Alchemy Festival of Film and the Moving Image, to the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Bo’ness, or the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, launching in Glasgow this Autumn.

Along with new festivals, our film industry keeps producing a popular and diverse output, most recently finding box office success with Filth, Sunshine on Leith, and Under the Skin. Now plans have been revealed to establish a film studio in Scotland. According to Creative Scotland, who are in charge of the project, this — along with increased investment in film — will make Scotland “a nation that celebrates the importance of every aspect of its film culture.”

That celebration is the purpose of film journalism: to find great films and alert the world to their existence. Like the people involved in creating art here, there are those of us willing to write about it for next to nothing, or purely out of love. Our work can be found in new, Scottish zines and websites like “Yuck ‘n’ Yum”, “Human Resources”, “TYCI” and “Bella Caledonia”. These are free, quickly accessible platforms where emerging critics and journalists can make themselves heard, and the creativity contained within them reflects the inventiveness of artists often working within meager means; and meanwhile, the iconic Mackintosh library rebuilds its collection with donations, book by book.
Oriana Franceschi

A Note From The Margin
By Michael Guarneri

Michael GuarneriAndré Bazin’s “What is Cinema?” is probably the most influential collection of film-related writings ever published. I have always been fascinated by the bold simplicity of its title: which inherent, specific feature allows us to distinguish cinema from everything else? As for answering such a question, though, I must confess, that I lack Bazin’s and other film theorists’ certainty and self-confidence. Personally, I tend to agree with those who trade off ontology and its attempts at universal definitions for a more relaxed approach that simply sees cinema as a flexible tool of expression to be used in many different ways and for many different purposes. Long story short, I think that cinema is what you want it to be: “the embalming of Time”, “a girl and a gun”, “pure fiction”, “a profitable business”, “an evening’s entertainment”…

As a film buff, film scholar and film critic (in more or less chronological order), I am chiefly interested in filmmakers who approach the medium with an open mind and a sort of naivety; people who play by their own rules and pursue their vision no matter what. There are quite a few of these filmmakers around, and not enough space for me to name names. I’d just like to stress that my deepest respect and admiration go to those who make movies with next to nothing – just passion and borderline-insane dedication; those who, alone or with a close-knit group of friends, bring to the screen “disquieting objects” (Jean Rouch) from all corners of reality and imagination. These are the people I try to meet and talk to, with the aim of understanding their work and supporting it by making it more known.

After “La Grande Bellezza” won some of the awards handed out by the American film industry in 2014, the cinema of my country made a comeback and drew international attention again after more than a decade’s hiatus. Thus, there are big hopes and expectations for Italian cinema in 2015, and a fresh flow of national and foreign investments, too. However, I’d rather leave it to other, more informed colleagues of mine to comment on the big-time cinema scene: I think of my work as the solitary, often unpaid, but always intellectually rewarding business of sitting in front of a white page, struggling to engage people in obscure, unusual, unclassifiable film-objects.

I mainly write for English-language online film journals, and since the Internet is such a huge “place” with “space” for everybody, I wouldn’t be able to exactly situate myself in today’s world of film criticism. I suppose that I can be found somewhere in the “long tail”, and this is something I really like: in fact, as Roberto Rossellini said, being marginal grants you the privilege of being free, of being yourself.
Michael Guarneri

In Search of a New Perspective
By Monty Majeed

Monty MajeedGod’s Own Country — that is what the state I was born in, Kerala, India, is popularly known as. Come December, and it transforms into “Godard’s own country”, an indication that the international film festival held in the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, has begun. The crowd that flocks to the cinema halls as delegates for this festival is, in itself, testimony to what cinema means to us as a nation. From lungi-clad rickshaw drivers to housewives, students, senior citizens and businessmen, the fans of world cinema come together irrespective of differences in caste or color. The story is pretty much the same elsewhere in the country. The love for films is palpable; sometimes in your face. Actors are considered gods and their life-size cut-outs are bathed in milk. Conversations peppered with film references are the norm, and fashion sensibilities are shaped by the clothes donned by onscreen sweethearts. Being Indian, it is, thus, hard to be oblivious to the existence of films.

However, the state of film criticism here is far from evolved. Films are “reviewed,” which means the story is retold and the opinions of the writer are thrust upon readers in the name of criticism. In-depth analyses of films find little space amid the clutter of celebrity gossip that bring in advertisements and push up circulation figures of publications. Having grown up watching films in more than three different languages, it is an undying love for the form that drew me towards writing about it. With my writing, I strive to present different perspectives to view a film from, help the reader engage with it at a deeper level, and maybe even start a conversation around it.

Cinema opens windows into the culture of unseen lands and tells the stories of unknown people. The film critic, then, becomes a companion in the process, an unavoidable link that helps bind this cultural ecosystem together. With the endless possibilities that the internet and social media offer, the art of criticism, I feel, is witnessing a revival now. It is unfair and even foolish to blame digital media for diluting the essence of serious film writing, because unlike print media, it offers ample space for long-form writing and is not restricted by physical boundaries. As young film writers, I feel we need to use this strong device to find a place for ourselves in the ongoing global conversation on film.
Monty Majeed

Je suis Cinéphile
By Ana Sturm

Ana SturmWhere did I come from? Cineplexx.
Where am I? At Slovenian Cinematheque.
Where am I going? To Cinema Dvor, and I must hurry, because I don’t want to miss the last showing.

I lost myself at the movies at the end of 2010. We organized the International Student Film and Video Festival at our faculty. Filofest became the key college experience which changed my life. The festival was a bumpy ride – it slipped us a few Jeffrey’s – but luckily we had our very own furry wall. Thanks, Russell Brand, for that life-saving idea!

Now I’m trying to find myself at the movies. I’m an event organizer, producer and program coordinator for several film festivals and local institutions. I talk about movies. 4 women, 1 microphone, too many films, a shit-load of hormones is the tagline for the first Slovenian podcast about movies – FilmFlow. I also write about movies. My articles have been published in Slovenian magazines and in online festival journals. I write because I want to see and perceive better. I think about the world and about what it means to be human through movies. Critique is the last thing that completes every work of art. But, as Mark Cousins says: “Criticism isn’t just writing, of course. It can be an event, a place, a film, thinking, playing, defending or writing”. I like that broad way of thinking, especially because it gives you more options for action.

Why do we need more action? Public space, independence and variety are becoming rarer than green elephants. The world has become a global village and everybody is writing about the same things. Also, film is still a second rate art in our country. Undermined and poorly, unsystematically funded. There’s a lack of education on all levels, and as a result, a lack of experts in many fields. Slovenia is a small county and we make about ten feature films a year, which nobody really knows or sees. I mean, Denmark is also a small county, but their projects are well-known. One could argue, that difficult circumstances can sometimes bring out creativity. I can’t say that is not true. We do have some exceptional talents. But that kind of creativity is a one-time thing and it cannot endure. So the only things that can sustain our cinema for now are sheer love and passion. Therefore – I am a Cinéphile!
Ana Sturm