:: Von Caligari zu Hitler: Das deutsche Kino im Zeitalter der Massen [From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses]
(Rüdiger Suchsland, 2014) [LOOKSfilm / Arte / et al.]
When the Critics’ Choice returned to the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2015 it had been absent from the festival line-up for over a decade. We jokingly called the new edition (The Return of the) Critics’ Choice, like the sequel of a B-film, but in fact it was a whole new concept. From 1991 till 2003 IFFR had invited (international) film critics to introduce to the public at the festival a film that in their eyes could not be absent from the line-up. Compared to older and more established critics’ programs such as the Semaine de la Critique in Cannes and the Settimana internazionale della critica in Venice where a selection committee curates a more or less independent program, the Rotterdam Critics’ Choice was primarily initiated by the festival as a way to engage and platform critics.
By the time the first iteration of Critics’ Choice in Rotterdam came to an end the world of film criticism had significantly changed. There were many reasons why the program disappeared without anyone noticing (or maybe caring); most importantly the fact that critics attended the same festivals (and more and more less) as the festival programmers, and thus found it hard to present and advocate for real discoveries or omissions.
Our professional lives as critics have more or less coincided with a continuing crisis in film criticism that had both financial and more fundamental systemic origins and causes. These concerns were shared and discussed with our colleagues worldwide during film festivals and the obligatory panel on ‘the future of criticism’. Although due to the lack of a true international coalition of film critics to express solidarity and collaboration any real subsequent steps got lost between the everyday demands of deadlines, press screenings and pitches.
We discovered kindred spirits in the later founders of the Woche der Kritik, intended as a shadow festival or an antipode to the yearly Berlinale circus. And although our proposal to reinvent the Critics’ Choice in Rotterdam as a program for video-essays and the German team’s desire to establish an independently curated festival may have differed, we shared many similar strategies and philosophies when it came to the importance of debate and reflection, other forms of audience participation, diversity and inclusion, Q&A formats and the importance of critical examination on the notions and necessities of festival programming itself. A gentle people’s agreement was born: the how and the why were never formally ratified, but periodically we would exchange ideas and policies. And we have been doing so until today.
Due to our work as critics in the digital age Jan Pieter Ekker and I got more and more interested in the new forms of criticism that were enabled by the democratization of editing tools and the (sometimes informal) access to a wide range of films that had never been available before. With Critics’ Choice we not only intended to give the video-essay a bigger stage at an international film festival but also wanted to evaluate and reclaim the space and the role of the film critic outside of but more importantly within the festival context. Especially since more and more critics assumed the role of curators and festival programmers. Has the curatorial practice indeed become a form of criticism, or rather one of the roles a critic can perform?
:: Die Lügen der Sieger (The Lies of the Victors, Christoph Hochhäusler, 2014) [Heimatfilm / MACT Productions / et al.]
:: De noche los gatos son pardos (At Night All the Cats Are Black, Valentin Merz, 2022) [Andrea Film]
The first edition of Critics’ Choice and Woche der Kritik both screened Die Lügen der Sieger by Christoph Hochhäusler, in Rotterdam introduced by an excerpt of Rüdiger Suchsland’s archival footage film essay Von Caligari zu Hitler and followed by an in-depth conversation between Hochhäusler and Suchsland, who had suggested the film because it was a work that he felt that he could see in Kracauer’s tradition, and both defend and critically dissect. In Berlin, Die Lügen der Sieger was presented under the moniker ‘Controversy’ and followed by a debate with filmmakers Hochhäusler, Barbara Albert, Jan Bachmann and Florian Hoffmann who spoke about obstacles in the filmmaking process.
In turn Dana Linssen moderated a 2017 Woche der Kritik panel with filmmaker Eduardo Williams, whose The Human Surge (2016) was presented as an invitation to discuss time and ‘Future’.
When Critics’ Choice focused on forms of activist journalism and ‘Sustainable Criticism’ in 2018, the program committee of Woche der Kritik contributed to the Critics’ Choice publication provokingly stating that no such thing as sustainable criticism could or should exist. The relationship sustained however, as in 2019 Vivien Kristin Buchhorn made a video essay for Albert Serra’s Roi Soleil (2018) and participated in a debate on that year’s Critics’ Choice theme ‘Note(s) on Absence’.
Last year both programs shared a film again. Dennis Vetter made a video essay for Critics’Choice 9 - Play and was a Q&A guest for De noche los gatos son pardos by Valentin Merz, whose film was screened in the Hackesche Höfe Kino a few weeks later.
One could say that both programs grew out of love for cinema and cinema as discourse, and out of sadness about (festival) industries that favored economic worth over artistic and cultural values. Where Woche der Kritik has re-evalued the terms of festival programming and debate itself, Critics’ Choice has almost exclusively focused on forms of interventions and non-conforming formats of mediation and audience inclusion. Alongside the video essays, the audio visual has been expressed in 16 mm hacks of digital screenings, analogue data visualizations in knitted form, exploring forms of re-appropriation by remixing feature length films into full scale essays exploring toxic masculinity and notions of whiteness and racism in Hollywood’s histories, and a bootleg edition of the discontinued festival newspaper The Daily Tiger in 2023.
‘Filmkritik wird Programm’ [‘Film criticism becomes the program’] has been the slogan of the Woche der Kritik. Critics’ Choice has been inspired by that motto to turn program into criticism.
:: The Human Surge (Eduardo Williams, 2016) [Ruda Cine / Un Puma / et al.]
Dana Linssen and Jan Pieter Ekker reinstalled the Critics’ Choice at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2015 as a playground to produce, screen and discuss video essays and other forms of audiovisual criticism on the big screen and in a film festival context.
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