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Art House Convergence: Why Critics Matter and Oscars Are So White

Art House Convergence: Why Critics Matter and Oscars Are So White

I attended my second Art House Convergence in a row, just before Sundance, as the brainy kids in the room, from theater owners and film festival programmers to indie distributors, assemble for panels, screenings and partying before heading to the more intense Sundance.

Columbia U film czar and indie veteran Ira Deutchman, co-founder of Emerging Pictures, grilled me and Criticwire’s Sam Adams on where film criticism is heading in our increasingly noisy film culture. 

Ira Deutchman: How are film critics born?

Sam Adams: You convince or con or trick someone into printing you for the first time. Once you get paid for it, you’re a professional. Basically, what you have is your skill and your reputation and now your social media following and everything else. But it’s something else. You build an audience, you build a body of knowledge, and hopefully have the tools to talk about films and grant insight in a way that’s more compelling to readers, that will hopefully make them think about films and go see the ones you want to see. It’s just something you accumulate over the course of a career.

Anne Thompson: Well, I’m at Indiewire because of the freedom and the voice that I’ve accumulated over the years. I started out at NYU Cinema Studies, training to be a critic, but became more of a reporter at places like Premiere, EW, Film Comment and the trades. So I transferred all these skills over to the online universe, which is the key to everybody’s future, the digital world. 

Ira Deutchman: What concerns a lot of people is that local film critics are disappearing at this point. Because print journalism is disappearing. What do you think the impact of that has been?

Thompson: If Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard were up here, he could take every single market in this country and tell you exactly which ones have viable film critics who can help move the needle on opening a movie. He knows who they are, and which markets have lost these people with this horrible attrition. The newspapers were hugely shortsighted, because critics do serve a local market and so they have thrown away a voice of authority — the voice that people trusted in that market — and really hurt the movie business in a profound way. It’s not the same on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, or peer-to-peer sharing. That trusted voice is lost.

This also has to do with having a social media presence. The critics who survived are the ones that had the sense to create online numbers that go with their voices. They still have a following because they know how to play the social media game. [An editor at EW told me that] they moved out senior critics like Ken Tucker and Lisa Schwarzbaum not because of their expense, but because they didn’t have a social media presence.

Adams: Probably everyone here has lost a critical mass in their markets, how much does that matter? Is it still that, or the A.O. Scott review that brings you into the theater? Or do local critics really make a difference there? One thing that struck me listening to the keynote yesterday is the talk about the arthouse business being a community, and that’s true of journalists and critics. There’s “Film Twitter,” which, maybe you count two- or three- or four-hundred people who talk to each other on a regular basis, and there are communities that interest people with issues of race or sexual orientation, or films that are formally inventive, or comic-book movies — all of that.

One thing that has been lost is the geographical community. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for 20 years; I haven’t actually done much of my work for publications that exist there in the past 10 or 12. Most of my places are in New York and L.A., but you do lose that local presence. One thing theaters and critics can work together on is serving the same goal and helping each other with that. So if you have local critics show up and you’re introducing them, possibly being paid to do that, it builds that sense of involvement and hopefully builds a further rapport between the critic and the audience, the people in that arthouse and those approaching cinema, so if people say, “This is a movie you need to go see,” they’ll see it.

Deutchman: As a recovering distributor, I think about the times I’ve released movies where the New York reviews were terrible and did no business there, but then did well in parts of the country where it got good reviews. That opportunity to create a regional presence and have a local possession just doesn’t happen anymore. 

Thompson: It doesn’t. My sense is that there’s a replacement factor, that theaters are compensating in different ways. 

Deutchman: Does that make national critics more powerful in terms of making or breaking a movie?

Adams: That’s certainly my sense. One of the things that’s happened with the Internet is that basically all publications are national or international. The places that already had big audiences just become stronger. It’s the economic situation in the country: you’re losing the journalistic middle class, and have the 1% of critics, who are probably a smaller fraction than that, and critics who are doing great work who don’t have that kind of clout.

Thompson: Someone like the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who I respect a great deal, stands above the fray and speaks down to the masses. This is what she thinks and what she believes is important. [She finally just started a Twitter account.] You talked about the Twitter universe, and The New Yorker’s Richard Brody’s on there. We engage and can talk about French movies, or some weird thing he thinks is fabulous that no one’s ever heard of, and it’s fun to share your favorite movies on Twitter. I love what you do with mostly your boy pals on Twitter.

Roger Ebert was the model of the engaged, sharing movie critic who communicated and expressed his enthusiasm across, and not down, and I think that’s the future — what it has to be. When he lost his voice, he gained his voice online.

Adams: To expand on that, some of you probably know Ryan Coogler, the director of “Creed,” collected the Next Generation award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and, in his incredible speech — which is online at Criticwire — he was very positive about the effects that critics can have, that Justin Chang from Variety, in particular, had. He was saying, “New generation of filmmakers: I want you to look for the next generation of film critics, and to diversify. Find more critics who aren’t white men, which is the vast bulk of the industry.” Coogler, in his speech, referred to critics and filmmakers as twin siblings.

Thompson: There was a recent meme about women critics not engaging in these conversations. Even in this online universe, they aren’t as vocal and opinionated, as willing to put themselves out there and engage in a conversation.

Adams: Women with opinions on the Internet is threatening to a lot of people.

Thompson: They get horrible, horrible feedback. Trolls.

Adams: It’s a perfect storm of people who do it anonymously and attack with no sense of consequences. Every writer puts up with that to a certain extent, but I see, looking in comment sections, what my female colleagues deal with.

Adams: There used to be records that were huge hits in Nashville or Detroit, and maybe the coast wouldn’t catch on, and there would be a regional presence. One thing the press has to be better about is covering that, because we’re so focused on the New York opening. Press is designed to peak when something opens in New York — that’s the big shot — and then the movie platforms out next week or two months later, we’re not working it in the same way. Then we’re on to the next thing that’s being fed to us, and we could do a much better job of that.

Thompson: I agree. Festivals are where we can really make a difference at the early stage — the discovery stage. I’m overwhelmed by all that’s coming up at Sundance, but what we pick to see and how we write about it is used for the rest of the year as the whole thing plays out.

Deutchman: But aren’t you under an enormous amount of pressure — even if it’s self-imposed — to run to the films that you think will be the big hits, as opposed to mining smaller things? You don’t have that much time to see everything.

Thompson: Someone like Eric Kohn, the chief critic at Indiewire, definitely goes for the arcane. We make fun of each other, because I will be tracking more of the Oscar-bound fare, because that’s my job. But I’ve learned not to chase as much of the acquisition stuff, because they may be the worst ones there.

Adams: The challenge is to not all chase the same stories. Sometimes you’re going to sacrifice traffic, but it may be best for the filmmakers. You have to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Am I doing this to chase after the same movies as everyone else?” It’s a job, we work for people, and some of that you have to do.

Thompson: We build trust, though — that’s what’s good about what we do. It’s terribly important not to just chase traffic. People online are building that voice, that trust, that they’re going to give you the real, authentic take on something, and it isn’t just being influenced by publicists or money or eyeballs — that there’s a curatorial role you can play. And if you aren’t sincere it won’t work.

Deutchman: In most markets, not only are there film schools teaching history and studies, but local bloggers in and around the theaters. What can venues do to support the careers of those people, to push them forward as local voices?

Adams: I’ve been suggesting partner events, whether it’s sponsoring things or working with them to do a film series, or bringing them out to do an intro or Q & A. Sometimes they’re not quite ready or mature enough to face an audience, but you also get ready, you learn that, by doing it for the first time and then doing it better. There should definitely be an open line of communication to give them a heads-up. Some venues are not good about being in touch about what’s coming up. When I find out because of the schedule on their website, I think, “Well, you could have just sent me the draft of the copy.” I think keeping those lines of communication open and developing that relationship… People writing about film are not doing it for the money. It’s because they care. Sometimes, especially if they work for major newspapers, maybe the people they work for don’t care so much. The more tools you have to get in touch, the more tools they’ll have to cover stuff.

Thompson: The upsetting thing about the young critics coming up today is that they’re not getting the same kind of training and mentorship and editorial oversight that we had, being raised as journalists. It’s hard for them to learn the skills. They can do social media and get traffic, but learning to be a good writer doesn’t happen as much as it used to.
There are whole economic models where writers work for a pittance, and it’s all about getting the click-through and headline and following the trends of the day. They look at trending topics. This is why Donald Trump is running for President, and I’m not kidding.

There are whole publications built on misleading headlines that want to get you to click through.

Audience member: Do the Oscars bring a lot of traffic?

Thompson: Since the beginning of my career, and when I was doing predictions at Film Comment, I found there was an unbelievable interest in the Oscars. It’s a race. When I was at EW, the editor told us, “Make drama. Make conflict. This vs. that. A race. That gets people to read.” But the Oscars have become even more than that, and it’s a magic traffic bullet — there’s no question about it. People get engaged, and think they’re experts, too.

Deutchman: People are talking about the lack of diversity. I have a theory that journalists are complicit in all of this, in that they’re covering things pushed on them by the machinery — the Oscar machine, with campaigns and all that stuff. So there’s a vicious circle where things can’t break out and get attention.

Thompson: It’s a messed-up system that needs to be reformed. Edward Norton’s take was very astute. The Academy has opened the process at the early nomination stage for these dog-and-pony-show public appearances. It works, because they have all the members meeting and greeting and being wined-and-dined to party after party. Literally going from breakfast to lunch and dinner, and it needs to be stopped.

I would argue that if Netflix didn’t do a good job promoting “Beasts of No Nation”… it has more to do with not knowing how to do it in the right way. They spent money; that’s not the issue. Or even releasing it at the beginning, when they should’ve been going slower and making people want to see it. All those people look at it online, but it doesn’t have the same impact — and I don’t think they care; I don’t think they’ll change — but that had a huge impact on Idris Elba not being nominated.

Whereas Universal put a huge campaign behind “Straight Outta Compton.” It had a lot of support and, in the end, wasn’t the kind of movie that white, senior members related to. The best thing about it was the screenplay, and that got nominated. Even if they were white, they wrote a great screenplay. The Academy is trying to improve the diversity of the membership. They’re inviting a lot of people year after year, and it’s slowly, slowly getting better.

Deutchman: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because people who might’ve actually watched that movie and might’ve taken it seriously aren’t doing so because they’re told it “doesn’t have a chance.”

Adams: There are a small group of people [who cover the Oscars], like Anne, who use this audience to good ends. They’ll use it to run five separate, feature-length interviews with cinematographers who’ve been nominated, and you would never get to do that.
With the Oscars and diversity issue, a lot of interlocking systems work efficiently. For example, when the Hollywood Reporter did their roundtable of directors, they had five white men, and they said, “We’re sorry that this is our panel together. We didn’t realize ‘Creed’ was going to be a contender. Even though F. Gary Gray’s agent called us, telling us to put him in, we said no and put in Ridley Scott.”

Thompson: Only one of the six directors was nominated!
Adams: The question is: are you reflecting the way the industry works, or are they creating that? If you look at the things written in April of last year, and they get so many right, you start to feel like the game is rigged: the movies that studios want to be Oscar movies end up getting it. “Beasts of No Nation” or “Chi-Raq” could’ve easily gotten actor nominations, but you can say those didn’t get in because Netflix and Amazon don’t know how to rouse campaigns or are outsiders — but then you have to ask, “Why is it those people making those movies?” Why is that Amazon is the only one who will put money in the Spike Lee movie? This goes back to movies getting made because they’re Oscar movies and the industry says, “Well, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and ‘Creed’ are more popular hits,” whereas “Creed,” like “Selma” last year, is the kind of movie they like. Why is this not getting nominated?

Thompson: It also has to do with it being a “Rocky” sequel. In that THR roundtable, they picked the safe names because they were going on television — instead of doing what they should have done: rigorously picking those who deserved to be there.

Adams: Of course journalists are completely complicit in that. The New York Times did a three-way conversation with Dargis, Scott, and Wesley Morris where she said, “Of course it’s hard to bite the hand that’s feeding you fifteen minutes with Leo.” Rocking the boat doesn’t pay. As far as “Creed” and “Compton” go, they’re some of the best-reviewed movies of last year. They have higher scores on aggregation sites than some of the Best Picture nominees. Critics did a pretty good job with those. Maybe they didn’t talk about them in the right way or something, but that they weren’t seen as Oscar movies…

Deutchman: Well, the day after the Oscars, publications are already handicapping next year’s awards with movies that nobody’s seen.

Audience member: As film critics, what other sources can you go to? It seems like programmers make decisions and elevate it, and you have a limited amount of time. Are there any other sources that you look to?

Thompson: Sundance and Cannes aren’t enough. It’s good to catch up with the second and third layers of festivals, and we can all make up our minds. That’s the bottom line.

Adams: A lot of choices come down to peers and friends — people I follow or have relationships with on social media. They bring to my attention movies I literally haven’t gotten an email about or haven’t seen programmed. There are a million sources out there at every second of every day putting out information about this film or another, and I think it’s important to have a diverse, broad spectrum of people that you look at, and not just what Variety or Indiewire put on the homepage.

Thompson: The Twitter conversation is important. People get mad when I do the quickie right after the movie, but sometimes that’s the thing people read more than than anything else I do.

Adams: All I can do during festivals is follow what people are tweeting and bookmark their reviews for later. I can read all significant reviews out of a festival if I’m not there. If I’m reading Cannes, I can get all the significant reviews; if I’m at Sundance, there’s no way I can set aside two or three hours a day. I see tweets, but a lot of people are looking at tweets on the ground, because you know who to follow.

Deutchman: I joke around a lot about this, but nobody looks at Twitter as serious criticism. But, as a festival guide, it’s invaluable.

Thompson: Fair enough. It also plays into some of the questions of what gets picked up and acquired and has buzz. It becomes a part of the conversation. The landscape is shifting and changing. For example, Indiewire just got purchased by Penske Media, and so all this stuff we’re pushing hard to do in our innovative, scrappy way — which has been incredibly successful, considering how few resources we actually had — now we’ve been bought. This is occurring on different levels across the industry, where entities that have money — Huffington Post, Vulture, MTV— LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson is going to MTV now. It’s shifting and changing and consolidating, and there’s more money to put into a longer form. I have confidence that the new Indiewire won’t be churning out clickbait; there is evidence that what they want from Indiewire, going forward, is more in-depth reporting — better journalism.

Adams: It’s a similar curve to what I was talking about before with critics: the short and the long is where it’s at. There are the quick posts and those you spend days on. The middle thing needs support. You mentioned Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. What’s interesting is that, when they hired her, she was the first film critic. They have, I think 7,000,000 employees? A lot of people work there. She seems to be the first person hired with “critic” in her title, and she is, I believe, still the only one among the hundreds and hundreds of editorial staffers they have. They have writers who do criticism, and none are “critics,” and I think that’s very indicative of where the industry’s going and where the audience is. Because so much of the audience is through social media, they’re not necessarily looking for bylines or saying, “I want to read some criticism today.”

It’s that there’s a flood coming over the transom, so it’s what floats to the top — if it’s criticism or a think piece or a series of GIFs, people will gravitate to that. The statement of this panel is “Why critics matter,” and, for me, the question is more about how they can matter, and how you adapt what you do — finding the core of what you’re doing and making people interested, and doing it in a way the audience will come to. That’s important for our jobs and to have an impact. I never kept a journal. I don’t write about movies for myself. I write about it for an audience, and I want that audience to show up. I’m not going to do cartwheels to get attention or something, but I want to write for as many people as I can without compromising what I do. I think it’s with the environment shifting so fast and the way people consume media so far. You’re always thinking about how you can reach that audience and how you can reach them better.

Thompson: Alison Willmore did it by having a voice, and that’s why she got that platform. Someone like Jen Yamato, who does very well at The Daily Beast, has a voice. She has a reach, and that’s why people want to read her. That’s always been the secret to good criticism: writing that opening salvo to get people to read what you’re saying.

Audience member: We had the misfortune of screening “Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” which our local critic gave half a star. People still came to it. It seems that the best quotes come from Ebert’s bad reviews, because those are the most entertaining. Sometimes you want to see a movie with the worst marks. So do you enjoy writing bad reviews most?

Thompson: They’re so fun. When you really get the claws out and go for it, go to town. If it’s at a festival, with a little movie looking for a distributor, I’m not going to kill it; I’m going to leave it alone. It’s those that have the big marketing budgets that are plenty of fun to go after.

Adams: I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews as much as I used to, because you have to sit with it in your head — three hours of thinking of Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie.

Thompson: I can ignore movies I think will be bad.

Adams: Some are terrible and suck the life out of you, and you have no desire to give them any more headspace. There are movies that are bad in important ways. I think the Benghazi movie is one of them. You do get something from thinking about them, and can give that to your audience. I don’t care whether I’m steering them or not in the case of “13 Hours,” because the people who were going to see it are going to see it; the people who weren’t are not. I don’t think anybody was influenced by a single review. But I think a lot of people who weren’t going to see it wanted to know. There’s a conversation to have around it.

Deutchman: There are good reviews that can talk people out of wanting to see it and vice-versa. I worked on Roman Polanski’s “Bitter Moon,” and there was a really, horrifyingly bad review that described it as “‘The Love Boat’ on acid,” and we used it in print.

Adams: On the movie “Crimson Peak,” a lot of people said it’s an over-the-top gothic romance, and I thought, “What about this is bad?”

Audience member: I wondered if you had any influence over distributors and platforms, because of this change in local press. I get a lot of complaints from smaller markets, where people are reading the New York Times and can’t understand why they should wait three months.

Thompson: Some distributors — such as Sony Pictures Classics — have habits that die hard. They go to this theater in this market, and they’re never going to change. I’ve talked to exhibitors about having programming that’s national and starts at the same time in many theaters. When the Criterion people do a restoration and it goes to 200 screens at once, and there’s a big media hook, there will be national press. There seems to be an argument for movies playing in the right markets at the same time. But day and date didn’t work with “Beasts of No Nation” at all, because they weren’t supported properly in each individual market—and it was available online. Distributors are not necessarily doing what’s in films’ best interests with how they release films nowadays. They have old habits.

Adams: The platform question is interesting and frustrating, especially with rights to an international audience. Things like “Carol” had a big New York press push around Thanksgiving and didn’t open in even a “secondary” market like Philadelphia for two, three, or five weeks. That seems insane to me and archaic — a way people don’t consume culture anymore. So much presence is focused on the New York and L.A. opening, because those are not just local reviews. I expect people to keep that in their head for the better part of a month. People don’t like a wait and don’t consume culture in that way anymore. In some very small cases, perhaps word-of-mouth and buzz will build from playing in two or three or five theaters in the course of a few weeks and percolate out. Sometimes that works; my sense is that, a lot of time, it doesn’t. You can tell me if the people who are saying for three weeks, “Why aren’t you getting ‘Carol’” eventually come, or if they forget about it.

Thompson: The Oscars create that, too. They’re hanging in for months and months just to get that boost.

Deutchman: What they’re hoping is that when they get the nominations and wins, that’s when they open nationally and take advantage.

Thompson: But they’re hanging onto theaters in all the individual markets much longer, and preventing other films from getting in.

Deutchman: One other reason the platform release works for other distributors is that, if a little art film doesn’t work in New York or L.A., they’ll pull back and have an opportunity to hedge their bets a little bit.

Audience member: And it gives theaters a chance to hedge their bets also. Sam, arthouse audiences tend to be older. Part of our job is to prepare people for a movie that’s coming, and so when it’s that many weeks after L.A., people want to see it then.

Adams: You say it serves the audience you have now, but does it take away from another you might have?

Gary Meyer: An old-school tactic we used at the Landmark was to print the New York Times review on flyers and put them in the lobby before the movie came out. Allied handles much of the media, and does a by-the-book rule that I think is damaging: press screenings and promotional screenings are at once, on the Tuesday beforehand, so critics have very little time to think about the movie.

Adams: I deal with Allied a lot, because I live in Philadelphia. There aren’t many long-leads in Philadelphia, so I’m generally stuck with that. “The Hateful Eight” was screening multiples times a day, practically, in New York and L.A. from the beginning of December. I spent weeks trying to get them to arrange one in Philadelphia, and they finally set one four days in advance of the opening. That is both incredibly annoying but, also, with a movie you want some time to think about and plan coverage. There is a lot of unnecessarily controlling behavior. I know there’s a fear about reviews getting out too early, but there’s a kind of complicity in people seeing reviews and sticking to embargoes and having them timed to go at a certain time. The trades are Monday and everyone is at 3 on a Tuesday or whatever. Just as a reader, and I don’t know how this plays with the industry at all, that starts to feel a bit like the fix is in, too — when your coverage is literally dictated by a piece of paper you signed, or a notice that you’ll have a lot of trouble getting into screenings again if you violated a rule. You are agreeing to run not only before, but after. I know at the screening of “Star Wars” in New York they said “you can’t run it before 12 a.m. PST, and if it’s not by Friday we’ll take you off screenings.” That gets really… that’s kind of the tone of control, and obviously it gets into some really questionable territory.

Thompson: I play in the trade bullpen, which is a bit easier. I’m also used to doing things really fast, fortunately, so I have more time to play with.

Audience member: Who decides who goes on Rotten Tomatoes, and who decides what is or isn’t fresh?

Thompson: Matt Atchity is the editor-in-chief, and there’s a process where you submit and you give them the little section with a grade, and it’s all under the control of the reviewer. They have to accept you first.

Adams: Some are added automatically. It’s not an especially open or transparent process. Meryl Streep raised questions about the Tomatometer and it being overly white male. Some of that is because the Tomatometer also includes, like, James Agee reviews from the ‘40s.

Making movies is hard, getting audiences to see them is hard. There’s a lot to be written about changing distribution models, but I don’t know if a studio would have given Cary Fukunaga $6 million to film a movie in West Africa with one name actor in a supporting role and an untrained unknown in the lead. That’s a dicey proposition, especially where stars play such a huge role in marketing. I don’t blame the filmmakers for making that deal, and there’s hardly any question that more people saw it that way. That’s a kind of industry issue, not with the film.

Thompson: Or with the critics. I think we were there with “Beasts of No Nation.” I really do.

Deutchman: Should critics criticize release patterns?

Thompson: I’ve always been hybrid. I’m a member of the industry and someone who writes about it.  

Adams: You can write about aesthetics and politics. At a certain point, it’s foolish to ignore some of the other things going on. “Chi-Raq” is a movie going into this hybrid world of traditional release but others knew it would be on Amazon pretty soon. They didn’t announce the date because they didn’t want people to mark that it was three weeks until they could see it on their TV. Looking at what gets made and by whom, those are significant issues. I may not be the only one writing about a certain film, but as a cultural critic and someone who’s paying attention to larger trends, that stuff matters. I wouldn’t shoehorn it into a paragraph of my “Chi-Raq” review; I would write something else about it. The way writing on the web works, it’s silly only to write about a movie once, unless it’s only worth writing about once.

Thompson: You can come at it from a lot of other angles, and you can repurpose stuff you’ve written before — as I’m sure you realized.

Adams: Write about “Hateful Eight,” write about 70mm — you can go back to that well a few times. That’s one of the important things for maintaining buzz, that platform, and keeping audiences interested. Critics can and should play a role in keeping those movies alive — not that opening week of box office that decides whether they cease to exist or not.

Audience member: You said a bit about the longform approach with Buzzfeed and your potential new bosses. You’re using words such as “rigor” and “oversight” and “authority,” but with the democratization of an access to tools, is the genie out of the bottle? Can we, as consumers and tastemakers in our community, encourage the world you live in to create an editorial oversight and have a base of authority, instead of everyone being a critic — which is kind of what Twitter is?

Thompson: What we’ve been witnessing is this extraordinary transition to the digital side. There’s been a lot of fallout and impact and loss for all of us. What we’re starting to see is where the shift is starting to create opportunity and real economic basis for good, solid work, and the people who know how to write really well and engage with audiences and share their passion are being rewarded, to a degree, and are getting better jobs. The platforms are successfully reaching readers. Now it’s more Daily Beast or Vulture or Huff Po instead of print models; but the New York Times is doing a great job reaching people on the web. I’m encouraged that quality is being rewarded, and if I get a message: “don’t just rewrite a press release; write something with a point-of-view,” then that’s a good thing. The rest of it is noise, and we just don’t want to be part of the noise.

Audience member: How often are you involved with arthouse cinemas in doing Q & As or introductions or setting up a series?

Thompson: I live in L.A., where Q & As are a cottage industry. The Egyptian and Royal are doing it all the time, because they’re trying to get people to come, and people like me are prized. It’s fun; I love it. It’s a great way to engage with the audience.

Audience member: Yesterday, a distributor said they did a lot better when they reached out directly instead of through a publicist. Do you have a preference when it comes to who contacts you?

Thompson: I have relationships with some filmmakers that I’ve developed over the years, and I have good relationships with publicists. I’ve made decisions about who I can trust and who I can ignore, based on experience. I would not dismiss publicists out of hand. They do provide a useful function, and when it works, it works.

Adams: If they’re getting better results when they reach out than if a publicist does so, they probably need a new publicist. A good one is your best friend; a bad one is your worst enemy. There are some that are tremendously useful, who I can trust, who will say, “Yeah, you’re not going to like that movie.” Those are the ones I really go back to and work with, because I know they won’t just sell everything to me because that’s their job. It’s great to have direct lines to distributors and filmmakers, but there are also some times when you have to go through the front door, and especially in the middle of a festival, they have things to do other than answer every journalist who wants a link. So publicists are great in that respect. They’re part of the ecosystem.

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