Originally published 20 April 2018
The 20th annual Eberfest film festival has held a conference speculating on the future of film criticism. The festival, which was founded by celebrated film critic Roger Ebert, has long paid host to some of the most influential figures in American cinema, but now it displayed an all star panel of critics, including Leonard Maltin, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Ebert’s former television co-host Richard Roeper.
The panel covered topics concerning the future of film itself, from the rise of Netflix to the Bechdel test, but focused on the changing role and status of film criticism on an online world.
When asked to share the worst aspects of their job, the critics turned again and again to a lack of security in the digital world. They described an increasing desire to see journalists write for free, or work only on a freelance basis. Further criticism was reserved for the modern movie discussion landscape – the panel attacked the trend to criticise movies before release based purely on trailers, posters, or other pre-release material.
The panel also emphasised the need to network effectively in the modern world, given the absence of job security for all but a happy few.
But when asked about the best parts of their job, the answers covered much of the same ground, just in a different tone. The changing industry opens up new possibilities for in depth criticism and analysis, they declared. It also prompts more engagement and discussion between critics and audiences, a healthy development for film lovers.
One panelist, Sheila O’Malley, was altogether more straightforward. “The best thing about being a film critic is that I am a film critic”.