The silver lining to a decade that saw traditional critics in conventional media dwindle? The explosion of socially networked citizen critics who’ve helped create a multidimensional, democratic dialogue about the movies. San Francisco, with its panoply of film festivals, has, not surprisingly, spawned a wealth of such web-based writers. We checked in with a few of these writers, some of whom call themselves bloggers, to get a snapshot of what ’09 brought the web’s way as the economy faltered, and the community tweeted.
Michael Guillén, creator of The Evening Class website, told me that “Learning from films is the site’s curriculum, and The Evening Class conforms to and is, in fact, the most current inflection of a lifelong journal.” (Guillén named his site after a reference by Senegalese master director Ousmane Sembene about the role of film in adult life.) His film-blogging has increased and broadened the variety of his film going. But what makes Guillén’s blog unique are the interviews and transcriptions of public events, the primary source material he creates and provides. He is more interested in what filmmakers and film professionals have to say than reviewing or engaging in film criticism. [Guillén is also a contributor to SF360.org.]
What was different about ’09 for now veteran blogger Guillén, who’s gained an international following, was the impact of social networks, particularly micro-blogging tools like Twitter or Facebook. “Several writers on my ‘blogroll’ post less frequently and in less depth," Guillén said, "preferring to socialize [rather] than solipsize.” It will be interesting to see if this trend continues, what niche micro-blogging will fill in the larger web-based film writers’ community.
Brian Darr, with Hell on Frisco Bay, has an active Twitter feed bringing together other San Francisco film-bloggers. Guillén expressed concern regarding how such micro-blogging encourages a one-upmanship to announce news on a film event first at the expense of writing more substantive prose. But if Hell on Frisco Bay’s Twitter feed is any indication, some of the micro-blogging space will be used to announce more in-depth coverage elsewhere. Equally ameliorative of Guillén‘s concerns, Darr claimed the ephemeral nature of tweets, although alleviating some pressure to blog more often, has inversely motivated him to make sure each of his blog posts really counts.
Darr started Hell on Frisco Bay about four-and-a-half years ago in order to chronicle his experiences at the many film festivals and repertory theaters around the Bay Area. In some ways, it was also his way of giving back. And like many bloggers, these festivals and venues started giving back to Darr in the form of other new experiences. Besides Hell on Frisco Bay’s Twitter feed, something else new for Darr was that 2009 became his year of establishing a writer reputation offline. He has had three essays in the Silent Film Festival programs, a review of Big Man Japan in the print magazine First Person, and a chapter in the book Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction alongside Buffalo-based film-blogging luminary Girish Shambu and revered Australian film scholar Adrian Martin. We can see now why Darr needed some Twitter-enabled writer relief. (We can also see why Darr lets me write for his blog. Continuing this full disclosure, I also wrote a non-film-related piece for The Evening Class this year.)
Jason Wiener of Jason Watches Movies has also found himself “getting a little bit of a name out there” this year, but he admits that he doesn’t know what to do with that name recognition yet. He began acquiring press passes for local festivals and receiving screeners from filmmakers this year for his “way-too-time-consuming hobby." His most tiring year yet, he established a new film-watching record of 430 films! A mild-mannered physicist by day, he said he uses his blog as his lab notebook, crediting his uniqueness as his pledge to write about every film immediately after he’s seen it (with the obvious exception of those with stated press embargos). Although he mentioned favorite Bay Area film experiences this year (“the infamous Cinequest Lew Hunter/Diablo Cody interview trainwreck"; various screenings at his home-base theater, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum; and a three-film marathon that began with celebrating the 250th anniversary of Guinness), every film Wiener sees has him rushing to his computer to chronicle his experience.
What effect did the recession have on his film-blogging year? Wiener said it encouraged him to pass on his good fortune to have such a well-paying job when many people were losing theirs: He donated more money to more festivals than he did in years past.
Kimberly Lindbergs doesn’t write nearly as much as Wiener. Perhaps this is because her focus at Cinebeats started out as chronicling her “love affair with ‘60s- and ‘70s-era cinema." But this year’s big film-blogging difference for her was that she began to write more about contemporary cinema. She is enjoying expanding her writing beyond the mod-era to recent films that have a big impact on her. Ironically, the Bay Area-based film-watching experience that most inspired her to write was a film she didn’t write about, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, which she watched on Halloween at the Smith Rafael. She decided not to write about it in spite of the impact it had on her because so much had already been written about it, leaving her feeling pressure to say something new. Plus, Lindbergs is the type of writer who feels some films definitely require a second viewing before being discussed.
Lindbergs described the recession as having a huge impact on her work, keeping her out of the theater almost completely, with one of those exceptions being Halloween. She probably speaks to a larger film-watching demographic shift when she said, “I also stopped buying DVDs." This author can relate to the necessity of that particular financial adjustment, having gone from a two-DVD-a-month online purchasing habit in previous years to only buying Helvetica on DVD this year from Park Life in the Inner Richmond after checking it out from the Inner Richmond Public Library.
Michael Hawley also felt the recession pinch, but only as a pinch, saying that if there was a film he was “only marginally-interested in," he’d forgo a screening, whereas he might have given it a chance before. Also, he too has been weeding out films for big-screening, that is, if a film “doesn’t necessitate a ‘big screen’ experience," films such as (for him) documentaries, he’ll be more likely to add it to his Netflix queue rather than get into a theater queue to watch it.
A self-professed “film enthusiast/junkie” Hawley’s blog, film-415, mainly consists of festival line-up overviews and capsule reviews of films previewed for the press. These are often cross-posted at Guillén’s The Evening Class. (Which are then often cross-posted at Twitch, a Toronto-based blog with which provides Guillén with a place to crash during the Toronto International Film Festival.) Unique to the other film-bloggers here, Hawley confessed that “I never find myself rushing to the computer. I procrastinate as long as possible.” Considering that he says “It can take me 20 hours to write, polish and post something that might take two minutes to read," Hawley is a strong counterargument against the stereotype of blogging as unedited ramblings.
Adam Hartzell is a contributing writer for sf360.org, Koreanfilm.org, and Hell on Frisco Bay. He has written essays about Korean director Hong Sang-soo for GreenCine, the San Francisco Asian American International Retrospective on Hong Sang Soo in 2007, and specifically on Hong’s second film The Power of Kangwon Province for The Cinema of Japan and Korea, part of the Walflower Press 24 Frames series on national cinemas.
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