The 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.