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Critics' Choice back at IFFR 2015 with new tools for the film critic

Film and film criticism. Image versus the word. But what happens when the critic starts using visual language too? Well, something like this, for instance: Transformers: The Premake, by Kevin B. Lee.

Romance of amour fou

It seems so obvious in today's digital online world. Is the video essay an answer to the crisis, perceived or otherwise, in art criticism? Film critics are entering this new territory at the Rotterdam Film Festival. The beginning of a beautiful romance, or just a disastrous amour fou, the programme booklet wonders.

(The Return of the) Critics' Choice

Initiators Dana Linssen and Jan Pieter Ekker restored a fine tradition at this year's IFFR. The Critics' Choice. Eight Dutch and foreign critics each present a film they think should definitely not be missed at the festival and provide it with an introduction. Special assignment: the introduction should be a video essay. For some participants this is already a matter of course, while others are trying it out for the first time.


Video essay is called it, but it is also called audiovisual film criticism, cine-poem, artwork or desktop documentary. This hybrid form of film research goes by many names.


Kevin B. Lee and the duo Cristina Álvarez López/Adrian Martin have been practising this genre for some time. Lee bit the bullet in Rotterdam on Friday. His film of choice was Life Itself by documentary filmmaker Steve James. A portrait of America's most famous film critic, Roger Ebert, who died in 2013. Lee's av introduction is a condensed tribute to Ebert. Images from his favourite films with excerpts from his reviews, voiced here by scribes associated with Ebert's website.


Dutch Bianca Stigter took the assignment freely and did the opposite. A three-minute home-movie shot in 1938 in the Jewish community of a Polish village what the starting point. Together with Glenn Kurtz, the grandson of the original filmmaker, Stigter expanded it into a film of her own.

Anonymous people smile and wave for the camera. That's what you see in three minutes. Barely half an hour later, Stigter and Kurtz have you discovering all that you have missed. A study and look. And also how researching faces makes people. Moving close-reading of the image.

Word and image

Are they very different stories the critic is going to tell that way? Not really, the discussion devoted to this showed on Sunday. Some things are easier and better to show. Other ideas are better captured in words. Together can be the strongest. In both examples above, words still have an important role to play. Words can make you see more. That home-movie from Poland becomes a poignant time travel as soon as you know you are watching people who were almost all dead a few years later.

Word plus image, it is actually nothing new, but as film criticism it is still fairly unexplored. What that looks like? Take a look at the selection which Kevin B. Lee (already author of some two hundred video essays himself) collected for us.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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