What does it take to become a film critic? Why do professionals often have such different opinions, and what were the changes that 2023 brought to the film industry? Ieva Šukytė, a film journalist and critic who has been traveling around the world’s film festivals for many years, answers these questions in her conversation with the Vilnius Film Office team.
Let’s start from the beginning: what does it take to become a film critic? What kind of skills and knowledge do you need, and how many movies do you need to watch?
A rare film critic does only this one job, so their day definitely consists of more than watching films all the time. I think that in this career, one must be able to have a broad perspective on the cinema industry. It is important to be up-to-date on what is happening in the industry, how the language of cinema is developing, and the news of various festivals.
While some film critics review nearly a thousand films a year, others select films sequentially. When I started writing about cinema, I lacked knowledge of cinema history. Naturally, I started with the Hollywood classics, then I watched the films of Tarkovsky, Haneke, Hitchcock, Bergman, Fellini, and the French New Wave. These are films that influenced the development of cinema and are still cited by other film critics today.
What things do film critics pay attention to when evaluating films?
Cinema is a collection of various forms of art. You can’t focus on one thing in particular; you have to consider the big picture. Therefore, you appreciate acting, how the director collaborates with actors, cinematography, script, artwork, props, make-up, and costumes. I notice that the moral aspect is increasingly included in film criticism. Today, violence against women, children, and animals depicted in cinema is a sensitive issue. However, it is necessary to return to logical thinking and ask: did such dubious scenes in the film increase its artistic value, or did the director simply intend to shock the audience?
In general, I would advise reading movie reviews only after you’ve seen the movie, not before, because a review isn’t just a verdict on whether a movie is good or bad. The review offers a deeper understanding of the film and can provide more information about the context of the director’s work. In my opinion, it is important to understand that criticism has more weight in retrospect. What we think today about films made 100 years ago is definitely influenced by past cinema critics. So we are talking about what people will watch ten years from now, having chosen it precisely because of positive reviews. That is not to say that certain films that were not appreciated or were completely misunderstood do not gain visibility over time. Kubrick’s The Shining was not very well received at the time it came out. But now that it is often considered a classic of the horror genre, it has been cited a number of other films and series.
How subjective is film rating, and why do film critics’ opinions often differ?
I think that all criticism is subjective; it is a combination of your taste and accumulated knowledge. Different people like different movies. Some write only about blockbusters; others are interested in superhero films; still others appreciate auteur cinema more than anything else; and some others prefer series.
When attending international festivals, I see there is a clear difference between Western and Eastern approaches to certain things. Our cinema is different from the British or French film schools, so the way we see certain films is also different, and a different vision of cinema emerges. This does not mean that one or the other rating is more correct. It is important to express your opinion in a logical and reasoned way, and the viewers can decide for themselves which of them to rely on.
What movies are you most interested in? Besides, since you work quite a lot at festivals and various film events, do you still want to watch movies in your free time?
It is true that you need a break after the festivals. Ideally, you want to do something that is not related to cinema. It is important to have a variety of interests, as this also broadens your perspective and knowledge. Cinema deals with different topics, so you have to read about politics, delve deeper into history, or other subjects.
At the moment, I am watching a lot of East and Southeast Asian films as well as works of the anime genre. They are fascinating because they are very different from European cinema. The directors from this part of the world incorporate their myths and traditions into the narrative of modern storytelling very easily. Even with modest financial means, the filmmakers give us an opportunity to see the country’s philosophy or its religious origins.
What changes did the global film industry and Hollywood experience in 2023?
Last year was marked by actors’ and writers’ guild strikes. In recent years, there has been more and more talk about various mechanisms to protect actors: intimacy coordinators are much more common on film sets, work with children is more strictly regulated, and attention is drawn to the challenges posed by artificial intelligence. By the way, in the USA, only A-class actors earn high salaries; this cannot be said about extras and supporting actors. The most money from movies goes to the big film studios, not the people who make the movie itself.
The strikes affected the entire film industry and festivals. For example, a lot of film stars skipped the Venice Film Festival, which prides itself on its red carpet, and world premieres had to be delayed. However, I do not think that the strikes should be viewed negatively because the heads of the major studios realized that they could not do as they pleased.
And what was 2023 like for the Lithuanian film industry? Perhaps you could tell me which Lithuanian film was the most memorable for you.
I think that 2023 was a successful year for the Lithuanian film industry. Director Marija Kavtaradze’s film “Slow” is having an outstandingly successful festival tour this year. In general, there is an increase in the number of quality films made in Lithuania; we are certainly not entering a recession; our films are at a good, high-quality level.
Lithuanian production travels through festivals of various scopes and sizes. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean one movie is better than the other. Festival organizers also have their own tastes, and festivals have themes and an identity that is close to them. The result depends both on the sales agent, the producer, and luck.
As for films, this year I was surprised by the film “5 & 1⁄2 Love Stories in an Apartment in Vilnius” by director Tomas Vengris, which was seen at the Tallinn film festival “Black Nights”. We don’t have a lot of anthology movies that interweave multiple stories, this is not a very trendy genre at the moment. However, Tomas managed to convey the format in a very interesting way. I did not feel bored while watching the film, and I had no questions about the way of storytelling. The portrait of Vilnius was beautifully revealed in the film.
Have you noticed what kind of trends prevail among Lithuanian viewers? What have we been watching in recent years? What movies do we long for?
In the last five years, the attitude towards Lithuanian films has changed. Film festivals and distributors of quality films definitely contribute to the development of the audience’s taste.
I think that in Lithuania, just like in the rest of the world, people are starting to get tired of predictable action movies, endless box office hits’ sequels, or old movies’ remakes with younger actors. Viewers are weary of those products handed to them in another candy wrapper. No wonder people are interested in different films; everyone wants a breath of fresh air and looks for original content. Films like “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” proved this just last year; they exceeded all expectations, stood out for their originality, and are among the most successful works of recent years.
Thank you for the conversation.