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Critical Consensus: The Locarno Critics Academy Breaks Down the 2012 Festival

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 16, 2012 at 10:19AM

Critical Consensus is a biweekly column in which critics discuss new releases or events in the film world. In this special edition, Indiewire critic Eric Kohn moderates a discussion with the eight participants in the 2012 Locarno Critics Academy, a workshop for college-age film critics that took place over the past two weeks during the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. The participants in the following discussion are Michael Nordine (USA), Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson (Iceland/Sweden), Adam Cook (Canada), Giovanni Vimercati aka Celluloid Liberation Front (Italy), Beatrice Behn (Germany), Claudia Piwecki (Italy), Marc Menichini (Italy) and Zeba Blay. Links to the work they published during the festival can be found throughout the conversation; an organized list of their writing can be found here.
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We've talked about a lot of films but still haven't dealt with any Swiss filmmakers. Claudia, you wrote a lot about the Swiss films at the festival.

PIWECKI: What I learned here was that contemporary Swiss cinema is mainly known for its documentaries. It would have been interesting to hear from people who have never been in Switzerland to figure out what they thought about "Image Problem," which is specifically about an issue involving Swiss culture.

MARC MENICHINI: I think those filmmakers are manipulating the people they've interviewed and us, the audience. They look at us from above and think we're stupider than them. There's a strong case that can be made against the directors. It's along the lines of Michael Moore and "Borat," but it misses the point of both of them.

CLF: It's not meant to be a documentary. The directors of the film have a clear intention and want to show what they perceive to be the grotesque side of Switzerland. They use this mock documentary form to forward their own views. It's not trying to be objective. I thought it was really cynical and ironic. Michael Moore has more documentary pretensions.

MENICHINI: I'm just wondering if being farcical allows you to forget about the ethics of documentary filmmaking. Are you allowed to lead your protagonist in a way that doesn't portray him or her in a faithful way?

CLF: If you do it overtly, yes. If you're pretending to document and instead pushing your own point of view, then it's unethical.

MENICHINI: That's what we're seeing. I'm really questioning what their motives were when they made it. With Michael Moore, it's significant for him to go annoy the people he annoys. In "Image Problem," they're annoying people who are meaningless. There's no use for speaking with them.

PIWECKI: That's not true. They also speak with government officials. What's striking about the movie is the way it claims that you have to tell people something as an order to make them express their opinion. For me, that's the reality in Switzerland.

For the two Swiss critics: Do you consider this predominantly a Swiss festival or are the Swiss films mainly here by default?

PIWECKI: I think it's obvious they have to make that section.

MENICHINI: It would be not acceptable if they didn't have any Swiss films in competition. You need these films. If you take "The Swiss Miss Massacre," which played in the Piazza section -- that film is apparently not particularly good, but the director is a big name in Switzerland, so it's normal that his new film will be presented here. Whether it belongs in a competition is probably something we should question.

BEHN: Berlin has an entire section for German film that's very different, quality-wise, from the rest of the festival. It's a local thing. You need your sponsors, you need to satisfy your local film community.

PIWECKI: …otherwise the state won't give money to the festival.

To wrap things up: As this conversation has made clear, you've all produced a lot of diverse work over the last two weeks. What will you take away from the experience?

BLAY: It's been very inspiring to come here. Before I came to this workshop, I spoke to other working critics, and a lot of them were negative about career prospects. Being at this festival and talking to all these different people made me realize -- I know it sounds cheesy -- that I can do it if I work hard enough, because there's a whole world involved in this. It's small, but it's big at the same time.

NORDINE: I didn't get into this until people were already shouting that the sky was falling and there was no hope. Because this is what I want and love to do, I never allowed myself to take on that mentality. That this is actually a venue geared toward younger people who also can't accept that things are spiraling downward is really great.

For the unedited audio of this discussion, click here.
 

This article is related to: Locarno International Film Festival, Critical Consensus, The Girl From Nowhere, Leviathan, Ben Wheatley, Sightseers, Locarno Critics Academy, Image Problem







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