Curatorial Statement

“Project: New Cinephilia” will be a unique gathering of diverse voices engaging in conversation about the current landscape for film appreciation and evaluation, taking place at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011.
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Panels and conferences about the art of film criticism have, in recent years, tended to focus on either the so-called “death” of traditional criticism or the role criticism has come to assume in the age of blogs and digital technologies. Often such festival-based talks and presentations have featured guest panelists—curators, academics, and professional critics—addressing “the state of criticism” in bouts of agonized, microphone-swapping self-reflexivity. “Are we still relevant?” might be this traveling tribe’s cri de coeur. Recently, some have adopted the mantle of Slow Criticism to tout the virtues of long-form writing over the commoditized blurbs and market-savvy chunklets of review-ish prose that characterize glossies, tabloids, and Internet fan portals alike. While it is irrefutable that the ethics and guiding principles of criticism have shifted as a result of the demise of legacy media, the elimination of professional writing positions, and the democratisation of Web 2.0 publishing, these discussions have focused too narrowly on the agitations of profession, rather than the question of what film writing actually accomplishes, and for whom. If the tools of film criticism have not been reinvented since the ’60s, then so too have the forums for discussion around criticism remained sterile and uninspired.

EIFF’s artistic mission this year is to re-imagine the shape and torque of a film festival, so in that spirit we will step out of the usual mode of shoulder-to-shoulder panel talks and engage writers, filmmakers, and, perhaps most importantly, movie-loving audiences in energetic and purposive conversation around differing modes of contemporary film evaluation. “Project: New Cinephilia” accepts the idea that interest in and appreciation of the constantly evolving discourse around films is as essential to cinephilia as direct screen experience and cinematic knowledge. Film critics, curators, and other professionals, then, are not the only participants we’re hoping to attract to the seminars, workshops, and old-style head-to-head debates that we have planned for this inaugural day-long event. This is not about “the future” or “the death” of film criticism. This is not about print journalists versus bloggers. It is about how “cinephilia” informs and enriches film culture, from the inside out, and the outside in. Writing is a major component of that cinephilic discourse, but so are the works of video artists and filmmakers speaking through images to the canonical tradition, or to their contemporaries. So, too, are the spirited conversations that happen after screenings, in the world’s cinemas, living rooms, bars, online chat rooms, and comments sections.

What does it mean to be a cinephile in the 21st century? How has film discourse adapted to today’s environment? What is the impact of the other arts on film writing? How are we naturally equipped to “read” a film? What are best practices for teaching film appreciation? How have new modes of distribution affected what we see and how we interpret film? In order to facilitate discussion around these and other topics, “Project: New Cinephilia” will make available to attendees, participants, and the general public a shared set of resources—essays, keynotes, presentations, links, points of debate—on its microsite for the purposes of research, education, and informed response.

Our main objectives in launching this new initiative are

  1. to capture the moment of cinephilia now
  2. to create dialogue between filmmakers and film critics, and break up professional cliques
  3. to examine the intersection between commercial and arthouse sensibilities
  4. to help film-curious nonprofessionals understand films and how to approach them
  5. to bring more people to the cinema
  6. to foster an environment where the tools of evaluation can be re-engineered
  7. to find imaginative ways of integrating all aspects of the festival experience

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