DIFF workshop highlights shifting trends in movie reviewing

Fri Dec 11,2009

Film review content, deadline pressures and online issues were among the hot topics discussed at the second DIFF Young Journalist Award Open Workshop, ‘Reviewing Films’, held at DIFF 2009, in association with MBC Group.

Exploring the range of subjects on the panel were James Mottram, representing London’s Evening Standard; Peter Knegt from IndieWIRE; Saba Siddiqi from Murdoch University Dubai; Colin Brown, CNBC Business/Film Analyst; and Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker Magazine.

Freelancer James Mottram said working for various newspaper and magazines demands writing to specified word lengths, whereas many online sites tend to have fewer restrictions. As with any journalism, he said it was important to be objective and go into any film theatre with an open mind. “Whatever the film, there’s always something positive you can say. It’s not just about ripping into something for the sake of it.”

How much of a film’s plot should be revealed has always been a thorny issue, and one that constantly taxes reviewers’ minds. Mottram highlighted UK picture Moon – on view at DIFF 2009 (December 12 and 13, Cinestar Mall of the Emirates), directed by Duncan Jones – as a good recent example. “Something happens a third of the way into the movie which has a major impact – some reviewers have touched on it, others haven’t.”

Peter Knegt outlined the time and competitive pressures film reviewers work under. “The ability to be fast and good is important – and if you’re fast, but not good, that’s a problem.”

While Colin Brown posed the question as to whether ‘tweets’ were now more influential than reviews, Saba Siddiqi said big blockbusters don’t rely on film reviewers, however reviewers are vital in providing details about films and nurturing new talent.

Knegt didn’t foresee the demise in conventional reviews, since there was “no money in Twitter” and Mottram, while a reluctant Tweeter, acknowledged the changing face of the media landscape, which has spawned an industry of ‘DIY reviewers’.

“Rupert Murdoch has started introducing charges on his sites for online content and I hope it works, because as an industry we’re saying ‘actually something is worth paying for’,” he said. “While reviews work well online, there’s still something about reading a paper or magazine in your hand.”

Launched last year, the DIFF Young Journalist Awards is part of the Industry Office’s commitment to enhance the skills of the arts within the UAE. Topics covered in other workshops this week include film review and criticism, film business writing, and new technologies like blogging. The workshops are open to students in the UAE who are currently enrolled in either journalism, film studies, PR or mass media and communications courses.

Now in its sixth year, DIFF 2009 is held in association with Dubai Studio City and will be held from December 9 to 16. Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airline and Madinat Jumeirah are the principal sponsors of DIFF and the event is supported by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture). For more information on the festival, please visit

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