I went to a discussion panel on The role of the film critic in the digital age earlier this evening, and participated in a lively discussion, although I don't think anything that wasn't already fairly obvious to most attendees came up.
Fortunately the four panel members were entertaining and informative, comprising Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, Nick James from Sight and Sound, Sam Nichols who heads up film distribution at Momentum Pictures, and Hannah McGill who's the Artistic Director of the Edinburgh Film Festival. The audience, congregated in the BAFTA HQ in Piccadilly, was a small enough group, comprising about 50 attendees, that anybody who wanted to participate in the debate appeared to be able to do so.
I felt the discussion itself gravitated far too much towards the subject of "blogging", with surprising little about the more professional film sites like Rotten Tomatoes (referred to as 'blogging site Squashed tomatoes' by the Chair Rosie Millard at one point) or the move of the traditional print media online.
The audience make-up was different from that which I'd expected too, with surprisingly few bloggers, but a lot of film promotions staff, independent producers, directors, actors etc there to take part. My invitation had come through someone at The Guardian finding my blog, so I'd assumed the audience would be mainly bloggers like myself - bad assumption!
I thought it was interesting that Nick James regarded Sight and Sound as largely being about publishing an archive for the future, and Peter Bradshaw made some amusing remarks about being forced to exit the palace and mix with the peasants in the shit, when discussing his printed work and the new requirements to also blog.
Lord of the Rings fans came in for some criticisms when blogs were being discussed (at this point I kept my head down, although I have to say I had to agree with most of the criticisms made). One blog site (I really should have taken notes to give some URLs here), having complained about how over-rated the boring 'Lord of the Rings' films are, then had to admit that the most lively discussion on their blogs had been "Does 'The Hobbit' need Peter Jackson as director?", which struck me as evidence that the blog site had maybe misjudged their audience, and got it all a bit wrong!
I also derived some pleasure from the continual dissing of the 'Ain't It Cool' web site, which I've visited a few times, but which counts as one of the most hideous, ghastly web sites I've ever come across. It was a relief to hear that so many people had a similarly low opinion of it, particularly its susceptibility to 'fan boy' gushing, marketing from the film companies rather than independent review, and the quality of its spelling.
There were no real conclusions drawn, other than the rather obvious one that blogs can stimulate debate and help spread the word about films, which can only be "a good thing"! I did think that some of the traditional print media folks were burying their head in the sands in discussing how "TV was supposed to kill off radio and film. It didn't", as if this meant their jobs were secure for the forseeable future, ignoring the BBC report earlier this week which showed direct correlation between the rise in broadband sales vs the decline in newspaper sales. Yes, of course traditional print media will be around for some time to come, but it will have to operate with much-reduced costs and a dwindling audience. To my mind this can only mean a reduction in quality, and I'd argue that we're already seeing that reduction in quality in the pages of the monthly magazines like Empire and Total Film.
The debate itself is apparently going to be posted as a video and/or podcast on the Guardian or BAFTA site in three weeks time - which seemed rather ironic, given how much of the discussion had centred around the biggest strength of blogs being how immediate and instant they were. Clearly there's still some way t go when it comes to publicising things in the digital age!
I didn't stay for the after-discussion drinks, but spoke to some interesting folks working making independent films and in publicity at the bar before the formal panel kicked off. All-in-all, it was an interesting way to spend an hour or so on a Monday evening.